Bye-bye Barkha Dutt and NDTV

NDTV Bye bye Barkha Dutt and NDTV

This is my first Sunday without Barkha Dutt’s We the People in several years now, and it’s been quite an adjustment.

I signed on to Directv’s offering of Hindi channels back in 2006 and it wasn’t long before Barkha Dutt was competing with Tim Russert, then David Gregory and Fareed Zakaria for my attention over coffee and the Sunday papers every week.  I loved being able – at the press of a button on a TV remote – to have a steady stream of news live from India flow into the living room, kitchen and so on.  For someone like me, who has grown up with the television as almost another member of the household, it was lovely to be able to remain that much more connected to what was going on 9000 miles away.  If RTE were also available, I’d probably be handing over part of my paycheck for them too.  If I ever won the Lotto, some cable or satellite provider would be very happy, as my subscription to a slew of other channels would be one of the changes I’d make early on.

There were other news shows and other hosts (Shekhar Gupta, Srinivasan Jain, Anupama Chopra, Amitabh Revi) I also made it a point to never miss, and whose absence I also feel.

Yes, I am aware that @BDUTT has taken a lot of brickbats for her talkative 26/11 coverage and then the recent recordings with politicians that were released in 2011, but the variety of current affairs her Sunday panels on the show would cover – everything from blogging in India, to the use of Twitter, to the situation in Kashmir, to women in the film business and on and on – I found had value.

True, some guests were on an awful lot, no matter what the subject (Suhel Seth, for example), but for me, it was an interesting (albeit limited) window into the current state of affairs in urban India, given that it was being broadcast on a primarily English-language satellite channel, so both guests and audience too were mostly from that segment of society.  But still, beyond the guest speakers on the often times too large a panel, there were also the audience members to hear from.

In addition to NDTV 24/7, the Hindi Direct package also included NDTV Profit and NDTV Good Times, from where I got hooked on Rocky and Mayur’s Highway on My Plate, and Ritu Dalmia’s Italian Khana (two shows to never watch on an empty stomach), and the Saturday morning broadcast of Sunil Sethi’s Just Books, which kept me up-to-date on the book market in India, new releases, and also the goings-on at literary festivals around the Subcontinent.

And last weekend, as if to make the pain of imminent loss that much more acute, first, on Sunday, there was the Jaipur LitFest and the mega star Oprah as the only guest for the 60 minutes+ of We the People, with Barkha and Oprah sitting onstage, chatting from their matching peacock armchairs.  And just 24 hours later, the latest installment in l’affaire Rushdie erupted, garnering wall-to-wall coverage by NDTV, including Barkha Dutt getting to finally do that interview with Sir Salman, though not up on a big screen in Rajasthan.

But Directv, surely looking at some bottom line, decided, as they did one year ago with the Tamil channel Star Vijay, that they no longer wished to pay what it was costing them to offer the NDTV channels as part of their two Hindi packages, and so, on the morning of January 25th, the tap went dry.  Sure, I’ve still got access to MTV India and the Star channels, but the sexist images of that Grind show makes me want to scream at the TV, and all I get from the Star channels are the weekend films, and the award shows, having so far managed to escape the siren call of the matching-matching bindis and bangles on the many soaps .  Sadly, I’ve yet to see one decent news programme on the Star channels, and don’t get me started on the state of the homegrown US-desi ads.

And for the sin of lobbing off the NDTV trio of channels, Directv – already too pricey – have reduced my monthly bill by only a few dollars.

Yes, yes, I know, you can see a ton of NDTV content online, but sorry, for me, it’s just not the same as being able to switch on the TV and get my news or other programmes there, rather than on my laptop.

And lo and behold, what appeared on NDTV’s website the same day that Directv dropped them?  A press release trumpeting their partnership with Dish Network in the US.  Clearly, Directv is slowly throwing up its corporate hands as far as the South Asian viewer is concerned, and ceding the territory to the Dish Network.

So now I have to decide if I want to go through the hassle of switching to Dish (ugh, what will that entail?  Two sets of technicians – one to remove the Directv dish, another to put up the Dish dish?  After my recent dealings with Directv and their multiple faulty and moribund DVRs over the holidays, the thought of all that makes me want to lie down in a dark room with a cool compress on my forehead.)

There’s also Optimum, but they have no decent news channels that I’m aware of, and there’s this new service from Mela.com, who have a great line-up of Southern channels, but no NDTV.

Can’t some bright MBA out there in the industry come up with a way that the customer can actually get what she wants, namely, a long a la carte list of channels, instead of all these dreadful prepackaged sets?

Anyone out there who uses Dish or Mela.com, or anything else, please do write in and tell me what you think.

Desert Island Discs – Happy 70th!

did%20logo%202 Desert Island Discs   Happy 70th!

Today marks the 70th anniversary of BBC Radio 4′s Desert Island Discs, a wonderful programme that you really must check out, if you haven’t listened to it before.

For the uninitiated, here’s how the show functions: after a little bit of very languid music and seagull calls, the host speaks to that episode’s guest (a writer, politician, sports figure, actor or musician) and asks him or her to talk about eight recordings he or she has chosen to take along,  if ever stranded on a desert island.

The guest’s life and career are discussed with those eight songs punctuating the talk.  At the conclusion, the guests are also asked which one book and one luxury item they would like to bring.

Sometimes, when working late at office, I’ll go to the DID archives and select a recording, sometimes to great surprise and delight, especially for the little details about a person’s life that you may not have known before (for example, British actor Richard Briers is a cousin of Terry Thomas, or Hanif Kurieshi’s father was born in Madras).

If you are fond of Indian or South Asian authors or directors or actors, you can listen to episodes with Ismail Merchant, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Salman Rushdie, Imran Khan (the cricketer), Hanif Kureishi, Mark Tully, and (premiered just a week back) Vikram Seth.

On the Irish side, guests have included Seamus Heaney, Bob Geldof, Christy Moore, Paddy Moloney, Edna O’Brien (twice a guest), Maeve Binchy, James Nesbitt, Sinead Cusack (who has been on twice), and Frank McCourt.

And then there are some glorious recordings with other British writers and film and theater people, such as Emma Thompson, Sir Patrick Stewart, Anthony Andrews, Sir Michael Caine, Richard Briers, and Jeremy Irons (actor and husband to Sinead Cusack).

Congrats to the Beeb for such delightful content, and here’s to another 70 years!