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Sunday Sentiments

  • Are we Peeping Toms?

    Posted On March 16, 2005

    By Karan Thapar

    These days it’s not unusual for the phone to ring at midnight. Although I must admit I was taken aback the first time it happened. It was my colleague Ashok. He never fails to alert me when something unexpected occurs. But even he was uncharacteristically excited.

    “Guess what?” he began. It was an odd start to the conversation.

    “You tell me” I replied, trying to be cool and collected.

    “They’re making love on TV!”

    “Who?” I shouted. I’m afraid my voice betrayed my surprise. “Where?”

    “On India TV. Rajat Sharma’s channel has tricked some MLAs in Bihar. It’s a sting operation and he’s showing it no-holds-barred.”

    That was enough for me to switch on. For the next 45 minutes I sat glued to the box. I knew what I was seeing was deplorable but it was also irresistible. I decided to reproach myself in the morning but carry on for now.

    It was hazy, unclear and the best bits were covered with a mosaic pattern which made them hard to see. Yet it was obvious what was happening. Poor sods, I said, but kept watching. After a bit it wasn’t curiosity or even the ‘pornography’ value that retained my attention but schadenfreude – a sadistic pleasure in other people’s misery. I hated myself for it but I could not stop.

    A few days later Ashok rang again. Not surprisingly, at midnight.

    “Switch on India TV”. But this time he sounded less excited. “They’ve done a sting on Shakti Kapoor. The poor chap’s been caught trying to seduce a girl who wants to be an actress.”

    I watched for half an hour. This time it wasn’t someone clandestinely filmed making love but a middle-aged man embarrassing himself as a young siren egged him on. Ashok tells me that India TV plans to similarly expose other Bollywood and television stars. In fact earlier they showed priests at it. I get the feeling it’s become part of their weekly schedule; if it’s sunday, it’s some luckless fool caught in the act!

    I suppose from Rajat Sharma’s point of view this is a clever ploy. Behind the claim of good quality investigative journalism he’s broadcasting a diet of pornography, schadenfreude and famous people tricked into carelessness on camera. For a while, no doubt, people will watch. But the question is how often? And will this win their admiration and respect?

    The answer turns on three issues.

    First, what do you prove when you show people can be lured by sex? Nothing, except they’re just like the rest of us. Offer a man a woman and a chance to make love without obvious risk or a price to pay and most of us would accept. Some might pause a bit, others look over their shoulders, a few ask for reassurance but then, once fear and doubt have been laid to rest, many would say yes. That’s what the priests and MLAs did. That’s even what Shakti Kapoor thought would happen although, in his case, he seems to have created the opportunity for himself. But are any of them worse than us? In their place might we not have fallen into the same trap? Their problem is not their lapse but that they got caught.

    Second, falling for sex is not the same as accepting a bribe. It’s weakness of the flesh not proof of moral infirmity. May be in a priest it’s also hypocrisy but that’s hardly a cardinal sin leave aside a crime. And in a Bollywood actor/producer it’s probably a necessity.

    Third, do these exposes matter? No doubt they’re titillating but what do they amount to? We’re watching ordinary people who’ve been tricked into making a display of themselves. Quite frankly, I feel sorry for them. We can all be tempted or trapped into doing something silly and if someone broadcasts it he only shows that we’re human. Of course, he also proves he’s a monster– and I use the word advisedly!

    In fact, I would add a fourth issue. After hours of watching India TV if I’m left thinking of such concerns I can’t help feeling I’ve wasted my time. Would I therefore want to re-visit the channel?

    I put that question to Ashok but his reply took my breath away.

    “Oh no doubt you will”, he laughed. “Every time I ring you’ll switch on but I can’t guarantee for how long.”

    Does that mean Rajat has got the better of me? Or is the word better the opposite of what I mean?

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