There are two reasons why such a book is of any interest now: it recalls a time when our skies had not been assaulted by Star Wars and it provides interesting data for those who follow trends in popular culture.The innocence of serials like Ados Pados, Hum Log and Buniyaad as well as the phenomenal popularity of Ramayana and Mahabharata are history today, with Baywatch and The Bold and the Beautiful replacing the terms of endearment. The shy but strong Lajoji and the saga of the feisty Buniyaad family are light years away from the shenanigans going on in Swabhimaan and Saans: one represented the middle class before liberalisation the other celebrates its post-lib avatar.
Another interesting discovery is that nearly all the faces we see today—Prannoy Roy, Simi Garewal, Priya Tendulkar, to name just a few—were there even when DD was situated in Jurassic Park. Prannoy was doing The World this Week, Simi was whispering sweet nothings to guests in a set that could have been designed by Barbara Cartland and Priya was doing that thing called Rajani. A little reflection and you discover why: S.S. Gill was then Secretary I&B and Bhaskar Ghose and Rathikant Basu manned Mandi House. In India, the more things change,the more they remain the same.
It is easy to see why Dharker's column was so popular. His light, breezy style and his sharp eye are a pleasant change from those media critics who display their softness for certain channels and personalities and repeat themselves every week with lofty platitudes. In 'To ji or not to ji', he draws attention to the pseudo patriotism so dear to DD reflected in a programme on Punjab, then in the throes of the worst phase of unrest. "Neither the sings nor the songhs are going to make any iota of difference to the burning Punjab." Similarly, his candid views on the handling of the mourning after Mrs G's assassination are worthy of being framed and placed over the portals of Mandi House. After saying commentators must take an oath of silence when reporting a state funeral, Dharker speaks for all of us when he says: "We need to be nudged, not overwhelmed, by the commentator's words."
"What," he asks elsewhere, "is Are you being served? doing on our television? It's time all patriotic Indians stood up, and with hand on heart, head held high, gave a sterling call for swaraj. If we must have mediocrity on our box, we prefer our own kind." Are you listening, Star TV?
Although Dharker is most enjoyable when he is being maliciously witty, there are occasions when he speaks as a serious critic ought to and he is most instructive. But his best comment for the hagiographic space permanently reserved for the Gandhi family on DD is: "PMdarshan, Episode 168": the entire piece spilling over two pages reads "Rajiv Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi..." ad nauseam.
Relentlessly, he drew attention to the hypocrisy and ineptitude of a DD trying to be "worthy" in his columns. But as is evident from the tone and quality of present programming, hardly anyone cares to listen. One wonders, therefore, whether this book will find any buyers.