Monday, August 14, 2006

Inside: Face the music

I sat there precariously in the first row, not sure why I was here and that too on a Sunday. The stage was all set but the players missing. I squinted as strobe lights shone at their beaming best, making it unbearably hot and difficult to see, only for a while though. At this point I heard some strains of soothing rhythm strings accentuated by a lucid drum roll. Now I was at ease.

I was at the taping of an episode of ‘Face the music’, a politically correct talk show which is aired on NDTV on Saturday nights, hosted by the prolific and very talented editor of Hindustan Times Mr. Veer Sanghvi. The band featured on the show was ‘Zero’, a Bombay band (PSP 12” baby!!), with one of the finest lead guitarist. Much of my enthusiasm was dulled down because of the rising heat and an almost endless wait to start rolling.

The guests on the show, sitting MP from the Mumbai north-west parliamentary seat Priya Dutt, the very exuberant and lively Farah Khan and the king of rehashing classic oldies with a modern twist, Neeraj from the Bombay Vikings are not exactly known for their vibrant antics on any platform. So the show was going to be docile, no mercury rising here!

The man himself was atypically dressed casually and sat comfortably in a chair. There was one of my icons, youngest editor in the history of Indian media, author of many critically acclaimed books sitting just paces away, aptly on a pedestal. He looked a bit older in person and also nervous but the characteristic charm and affable smile were self-assuredly in place.

The first guest was on stage now, Priya Dutt, wearing a motley print which was in complete contradiction to her “title”, was greeted with a polite handshake. Amidst the pseudo-fog it was time to begin and stop again as Veer bungled his opener. Ah, he too is fallible!

One of the pre-requisites for a good interviewer is his ability to engage a person in an honest conversation, which can be difficult with a live audience, and Mr. Sanghvi possesses this quality in abandon. The chat begins with the most expected and clich├ęd questions, not exactly hard-talk this. Yes, she wasn’t interested in movies, helped her Mum’s project at the Spastics Society of India in the 80’s and misses her loving father dearly.

It is indeed impressive that within six days of having a baby Priya was back to her political campaign and won with a thumping majority. When asked if she was impressed with the “noises of regret” made by Sanjay Nirupam, she answered with en emphatic “NO!” “case is going to be pursued”. On the current parliamentary trend to rush to the well she replied, “…motivates people to play to the cameras…many times I do feel let down”, point taken Ma’am, as she seems to be blissfully unaware of the audience in front of her, not the one to play to the gallery. She admitted that her brother’s case was an “axe hanging over our heads” and hoped for a rapid and permanent respite.

The second guest Farah Khan was quick to acknowledge the people in the small hall with a filmi wave. After a jocular interlude about getting married, living with her brother and gaining or rather trying to lose weight the conversation veered towards her first break in ‘Jo jeeta woh sikander’ when Saroj Khan didn’t turn up for the shoot. Since then there has been no looking back for this exuberant choreographer who was involved with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Westend hit ‘Bombay Dreams’ and now is slated to work with the effervescent Shakira. The rest of the talk was predictable, with an expected mention of ‘Shahrukh and Gauri’ being the perfect couple and Hrithik being the “next Michael Jackson.” A connection was made with Priya when she talked about how Sanjay froze at the IIFA awards last year. She proclaimed Shahid kapoor and Deepika Padukone, the newcomer in her next ‘fun period film set in the 70’s (shades of Main hoon na do we suspect), as the most promising youngsters in the industry.

The last guest Neeraj, after about three takes of his opening song after the ‘break’ got it right, but have to admit the man can sing! Tracing the roots of the title of his band which was formerly ‘Vikings’ as the rest of his mates were Swedish where he grew up, which explains the misplaced accent, they added the ‘Bombay’ in 1999 to give it a local flavour. “You need to have lots of respect for the songs… don’t want to be closer to the original”, he replied when questioned about his intent of remaking. It certainly introduces an entirely new generation to classic tunes which they wouldn’t come across otherwise and in a language that is urban, current. Also the song ‘woh chali’ featured Priya’s father, Sunil Dutt, a pleasant coincidence. He belted his own rendition and the original as well, on request of course.

The last segment was a routine chat amongst all, as decided with prior consensus. Here Mr. Neeraj feeling a bit thirsty and maybe out of place was furiously gesturing for some water, fidgeting with his throat, which was given promptly. The show ended with a Zero tune probably the high point of the show where the audience felt alive.

Although I did not have any delusions of a vital debate on core issues taking place on the show, it was a bit of a let down. The conversations felt generic and routine and did nothing to inspire curiosity or excitement. Also towards the end we couldn’t hear what was being said on the stage, an explanation finally for every time I try and adjust the volume of my TV set during the show, low production values. It is a talk show with an English-speaking urban audience in mind and its strength lies in an assorted list of guests who usually have nothing in common, meant purely for easy viewing. It does not pretend to take a stand per se which most shows in the guise of informal discussion aspire to do. The next episode was to be taped at 4.30, with Narayan Rane and Shaimak Davar slated to make an appearance. I decided not to stay and left in search of the 3 hours on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, which I would never get back.

Alegd Wit proclaims:
How many Arjun Singhs does it take to change a light bulb?
None. Because he passes a bill to make darkness a norm, inorder to "protect" minority interests!

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