I have been in the television industry for the past seven years now – 14 if you count the way they do in jails. An important part of this job is to spend hours thinking of concepts, program topics and scripts, especially when we are working with a new host whom the viewers haven’t yet accepted as their savior, or somebody who for some reason has lost the ratings he or she used to enjoy.
The procedure goes something like this: We first try to come up with something new, which we hardly, if ever, achieve – there’s nothing new left, what with so much of programming and so many hosts continuously doing five-days-a-week shows. So the next best thing to finding something new is finding something that will make people cry! Yes, this is the ‘new’ thing. One would imagine that the frustrated audience would like shows like Hasbe Haal and Khabarnaak – they do, as is evident from their consistent ratings – but what absolutely blows the roof are shows that make people cry.
There’s no shortage of stories that make people cry, but there are times when for some reason (like time constraint) we are unable to find one, and we know that the Saith is not going to tolerate one more show with low ratings. As a result, even while biting a few fingernails, we have the consolation of knowing that we still have one trick up our sleeves, and which does the job more often than not. This tried and tested formula amounts to inviting an astrologist, palmist, numerologist and such, with two distinct advantages. One, no executive committee or any other board worth its salt would even think of rejecting the idea. Two, these people give you a lot of flexibility:
You can ask these experts about future political occurrences, ups and downs in the lives of celebrities, and conjugal fortunes of even the ordinary Jamil and Jamila. TV hosts make them comment on the downfalls of politicians they (the hosts) don’t like, and celebrities that don’t turn up on their shows. Housewives and girls who can’t wait to become brides love calling them up on live shows to hear good things about themselves, and for their five minutes of fame. Young men want to know whether they can somehow get their degree, survive the competitive atmosphere and get the wife right out of their dreams. In short, the solution makes everybody happy.
I am not complaining, but a few things about this state of affairs are mystifying, to say the least. For example, people enthusiastically seeking marriage consultation with an expert (who will remain anonymous as far as this piece is concerned) and who, as is well-known, herself is a divorcee is beyond me. Not that I have anything against people who opt for divorce; only in this case if the lady’s astrological knowledge couldn’t help her own marriage, what are the odds for others? You would recall the funny incident where Mamu’s wife (no less) lost the election for neighborhood councilor. One would have expected Mamu, with all his foresight, to have told her not to compete in the first place, unless he wanted her to lose (something that can’t entirely be ruled out).
A few years ago I had invited Sheikh Rasheed along with two other politicians on a program we did those days. For the “lighter” part, we had lined up a few astronomers. (The “lighter” part is what we call the part after the last break, usually reserved for singers, palmists, naat khwaans or inspirational stories, etc.). The other two panelists (politicians) couldn’t make it, and we at the last hour had to make a decision to either drop the program or to keep on going with Sheikh Rasheed alone. (In the interest of airing differing viewpoints, having one politician for the duration of the show is usually avoided.) It was ultimately decided to strike a balance by devoting the first half to the Sheikh saab alone and in the second half bringing in the “experts” on set with him. It was 2009 (if I am not mistaken), and all the prophets on the show were convinced that the Zardari government won’t last another three months. Sheikh Rasheed too concurred with the prediction. What happened right after that show aired was a huge surprise: all the channels started calling Rasheed to their shows mainly for predictions and prophesies; which initially he loved. However, later, when on board a flight the passenger on his right asked him, ‘Jee aage kya hone ja raha hai?’ he realised what had happened. He told me later, ‘Marwa diya yaar tumne, logon nein mujhe najoomi samajhna shuru kar diya hai!’ These days, however, he again doesn’t mind attention (of any sort), and he has a number of program hosting offers too, which I believe he should accept since it is highly unlikely he will win another election even if it is held inside Lal Haveli. The fact that he has recently endorsed a cough syrup might be an indication that we will soon see him as a TV host. And why not! He is through and through a media person, and knows the art of prophesy, that is, saying what everybody wants to hear, e.g., ‘Hakoomat ja rahi hai’.
There was a time when we used to have astrologers, palmists and numerologists ruling our media industry. Then, like a breath of fresh air, came experts who told us which stones to wear for what desired end. Now the wazeefa industry is also not doing too shabbily. I recently lost a friend when I was unable to make Bilal Kutb talk to his wife. (What use is a friend working for media, if he can’t even arrange a telephonic conversation with Kutb!)
A sub-inspector in Lahore, a very dear friend, told me that the toughest assignment he was ever given was the crackdown on pirs, the Aamil Nadir Kaliyas of Lahore. The instructions from Shahbaz Sharif to the police were simple: Put every ‘practitioner’ behind bars without exception. Shahbaz even gave all the SHOs his personal number in case influential people pressurised them. All hoardings were removed and arrests took place where there was resistance. Although finally they got rid of everybody publicly doing it (it must be going on underground), the amazing aspect was IGs and DSPs calling my friend up for the release of certain practitioners!
I know of multimillionaire industrialists who have these fortune tellers offer their priceless opinions, which are not only considered seriously by the owner; but employees, such as retailing heads (even if they are Oxford graduates, with experience of working for Harrods), are made to have meetings with them for the organisation’s good.
Hasan Nisar summed it up very well. We were having a chat on the subject and he said something like, ‘This is a nation in which a successful man is one who owns a blackberry, an iPad and has an EVO device in his Mercedes; while he makes it a point to have regular consultations with his aamil on how he should go about his life.’
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.