Tuesday, July 31, 2007

‘India with Sanjeev Bhaskar’

Not being a snob or cultural elitist, but a amidst the docu-soaps, reality TV, cookery channels and soaps, there is the odd BBC 2 programme with a mission to inform – ‘Restoration’ and ‘Coast’ to name but two.

How to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Indian independence? We were served by way of ‘India with Sanjeev Bhaskar’. The programme reeked to high heaven of lazy TV. I can just imagine the commissioning meeting, ‘India? Let’s get that guy from the Kumars. OK, what’s next Ancient Greece? Get Peter Andre, he’ll draw the punters in.’

I don’t object to celebrities or the famous for being famous presenting travel programmes, the problem was that at the start of ‘India with Sanjeev Bhaskar’ there was no attempt to explain his personal relationship with the country. At what age did he leave? How often has he returned? Does he have any relatives there? As a result we didn’t have any personal connection to the presenter.

We started with Sanjeev Bhaskar on the set of a popular Indian TV soap. If he’d made a programme on that aspect of popular culture it would have been illuminating. Could other ex-pats have presented programmes on cricket, religion or business?

He was keen to show the ‘New India’, no problem there, although it began to grate. It all went downhill when he was asked to judge the ‘Mrs India’ contest. The organiser was an ambitious, driven woman who made Margaret Thatcher look like a domestic drudge. There were moments of toe-curling embarrassment, one contestant an innocent air stewardess was quizzed about the ‘Mile High Club’. Then came that beamer ‘what do you think about marital rape?’ Where the hell were we going? ‘How many times a week do you do it? What positions?’

Sanjeev Bhaskar might be a comic actor but his default is to laugh, smirk or make light of everything. It was a bit like having a supercilious, immature teenager with no moral compass as your guide. Marital rape? At that moment he should have walked.

Just to give some ‘balance’ a lawyer gave him a guided tour of the recycling district. Every conceivable object – paper, cardboard, electric wires, cars, was scavenged. People eking out a living sorting other peoples’ rubbish. It’s interesting how seriously posh people regard penury as some kind of life-style choice. His lawyer friend assured him that they had two mobile phones, ‘One more than me’ smirked Bhaskar. He then started burbling about how recycling was so much better here than in London. No Sanjeev, they do it because they are dirt poor; it is the only way they can survive.

After half an hour we moved on to Bangalore the centre of the Indian computer industry. There’s no dispute that there is an expanding middle class and that the economy is growing exponentially. However, the fault line was that the programme was neither documentary, travelogue nor personal reminiscence.

There was no explanation or attempt to engage in debate or pose questions to the audience. The fact that 70% of Indians live in villages, without access to computers didn’t warrant a mention. A whole hour on India and nothing about the caste system or the large Muslim minority, you wouldn’t imagine that was possible.

Bhaskar was so concerned that the stereotype that India was all about snake charmers that all he succeeded in doing was presenting another stereotype – Bollywood, billionaires, Mrs India and IT geeks. In one hour he didn’t interview anyone that wasn’t comfortably off.

‘India with Sanjeev Bhaskar’ was stricken by the curse of ‘Celebrity TV’. The premise here is that the viewers are such drongoes with the attention span of a gnat that you can’t have a serious presenter (Boring!!) you have to throw in a celeb. As a result you get the inane, the vacuous and content-lite that this programme represented, devoid of any depth or analysis. It was more a vehicle for Sanjeev Bhaskar – ‘Look At Me’ – Sanjeev at the docu-soap, Sanjeev on the billionaire’s yacht, Sanjeev as a judge at ‘Mrs India’; the camera was never away from him.

Indian independence was one of the most momentous events in history, yet here reduced to celebrity-TV, a posturing, pretentious, jokey take on it. BBC 2 you have really ‘lost the plot’.

BBC 4 ‘Bombay Rail’ – an excellent programme, you’ll learn more in ten minutes than an hour of ‘India with Sanjeev Bhaskar’


Mr Read - i sent the comments below to the BBC website. Not as eloquent as your review but thought i would share......

This seemed more of a promotional visit for himself than letting us all in on the brave new world of India. Married womens' beauty pageants, millionaires, soap operas', somehow this doesn't look or sound like the India i know.

The BBC have been promoting this series for the past god knows how long, and there we were waiting in anticipation of what was billed as a journey through India since partition. It seemed Sanjeev was not prepared to get his hands dirty - he seemed quite happy talking to the rich and privileged but ignored the massed hordes who face a daily struggle to survive under his nose. Why?

The recent programmes about Bombay Railways were by far a more telling picture of India than Sanjeevs's journey ever could be. I expected more, much more from a programme billed in the manner it was and presented by Sanjeev Bhaskar. But i suppose in the end the arty farty types such as Sanjeev Bhaskar are all the same. They recognise and are happier with their 'own' kind regardless of what country they are in. His own kind here were the rich, privileged and famous.

India with Sanjeev Bhaskar, what a load of old shit
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