No longer the <i>Idiot-Box</i>

I would like to convey my apologies to Ray Bradbury, who had warned me of that “…insidious beast, that Medusa, which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little,” way back in 1953.

Some (not all) of my Muslim friends call it sin. “Watching semi clad models on the television set walking the ramp is Haram for us,” a friend of mine often remarks.

“It just makes you impure, clouds your thinking and lures you in doing all those things which is prohibited in Islam,” he had remarked.

I agree with him, albeit partially. There is a downside of being a couch potato for a box which intelligentsia calls idiot. One does tend to gain weight.

But last December, it was that time of the year when we, in the media, were busy churning out the best and the worst of 2009 of just about anything and everything. Some of my friends were lucky enough to wind up early and take a week off, get into some groovy New Year parties at affordable destinations.

Yours truly was not one of those lucky guys. Simply because the seemingly endless recession had dented my potential of bearing the damages that come along with such trips. No qualms, though.

Television had come to my rescue with pomp and shows, movies and an expensive and skimpily clad Bipasha Basu performing at a New Year gig.

Long time back, in some other era in Hastinapur , there used to be a King named Dhritrashtra. He was blind and hence could not go to the battlefield where the epic Mahabharata was being fought. But he didn’t miss the action. Courtesy Sanjay, his charioteer, the King had minute by minute details described to him. It was the live coverage of the proceedings in the battlefield much before the Gulf war era.

I was feeling like Dhritrashtra as I tuned into some live shots coming in from across the globe where the rich and the famous were dancing and drinking and doing other unmentionable stuff to welcome the year 2010. Of course, the majority of time was reserved for live images beaming from Paris as FTV played some ‘beautifully’ dressed super and normal models.

Just as the last night of the last year descended on to January 1st morning, I wondered why some people go to pubs or call friends for wine and chicken evenings (Westerners read it as wine and cheese evenings). That night, I had settled for white rum. Dry and smooth. It may sound very girlish, but believe me there is nothing that tastes better than rum on the rocks. A close second would be Bollinger champagne- rich, food-friendly and impressive, FYI.

As the flavour sunk in, I wondered why it is bad to boast of your favorite companion in public. Star Plus relayed Jashn – a starry night with performances from the who’s who of Bollywood. News channels kept drooling over the best of the decade in a bid to outsmart and out think rivals. Bad for them- all channels did exactly that.

Small screen is changing and changing for good, by and large. So many of us take it for granted- it is always there to while away time. Earlier we heard pet dialogues from PYTs (pretty young things) ’Oh….Saas –Bahu soaps….I am sick of them.’ Now there is Baalika Vadhu replacing saas-bahu, slowly though.

Last year saw Indian television take on social issues like Child Marriage, Women emancipation, child infanticide, senior citizens’ abuse etc.

We may differ on how Balika Vadhu, one of Colors most watched show, is excessively melodramatic or how NDTV Imgaine’s Ramayana was miles away from the original Ramayana on Doordarshan. In a sense, the success of a few tele-serials and the dramatic collapse of some others, indicates that good and engaging scripts often win the viewers heart.

At least 130 million homes have a TV set today and the Cable/Satellite TV market is growing fast. And increasingly we are heading towards a world order guided not by super powers but by public opinion. Considering the role of television in swaying public opinion, one can easily say that the name idiot box is just not justified. Or at least it needs changing, urgently.

In India particularly, it has now become a platform for a huge talent pool which boasts of giving Bollywood its top most singers. Zee TV’s Saa Re Ga Ma Pa, the musical talent show, alone boasts of introducing today’s stars like Kunal Ganjawala, Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chouhan etc.

Outside India, news channels like British Broadcasting Corporation (popularly known as BBC) and CNN have a dedicated following. Often the two news channels have provided a stage for discussion on the pressing issues faced by governments across the world and the future roadmap.

The debate in the run-up to US presidential elections was one of the world’s most watched television programmes and re-emphasized television’s power in defining community.

On the other hand channels like National Geographic - whose tagline goes as ‘Inspiring people to care about planet’ - have carved a niche audience for themselves. The channel also helps in supporting exploration, education and wildlife conservation.

I am not here to counter Bradbury’s argument, as statistics are proof enough that it need not worry of penetration. If the last decade was a revolution in terms of reach, then the next one will definitely be a revolution of choice. ‘Choice’ will ensure that if channels don’t cater to public interest or capture their imagination, then their survival will be challenged in the age of ever changing market dynamics.

A survey conducted by the US magazine Foreign Policy revealed some eye-popping facts. The magazine says, “By 2013, half of the world's televisions will be receiving digital signals, which means access to many more channels. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of households in India with a TV already have a cable or satellite connection.”

Television across the globe is changing and that is a fact. It is reaching adolescence in India and that, as we know, is a sensitive age. Why, it can make or break a growing up individual. Whether this growing up colorful lad is good or bad, the debate will continue. But one thing is for sure- idiot box can’t afford to be idiotic anymore and is indeed proving the same, slowly but surely.