The prize of prizes
EVERY industry must be permitted the luxury of self-congratulation, particularly if no one else is too eager to do the honours. The foundations of this modern excess were laid in the little town of Hollywood, created in the late 19th century by an eccentric millionaire determined to nurture the ideals of abstinence. Look where good intentions got us.
When Hollywood grew up and rewarded itself with stars, sex and alcohol, it realised the need for some symbol of recognition for its art form. Ergo, the Oscars. Statues breed statuettes. There are more categories of awards now than cinema knew existed when it was born.
It is surprising that journalism, which is no less creative than Hollywood, has not yet invented an award for the best news factories, the assembly line of politicians who become famous by issuing an endless stream of statements.
The number of contenders would be within limits. The major parties have about a dozen each; the smaller ones two or three. Most of them are official nominees, but there are an irrepressible few who float in some greater realm, their legitimacy assured by proximity to higher powers or celebrity status inherited from an earlier career. To paraphrase the charming P.G. Wodehouse, master of the English language, the former are gruntled, the latter largely disgruntled.
We could begin with just one Spokesbite of the Year award. Later, we could diversify: Best Example of Law of Unintended Consequences; Finest Double Entendre by Ageing Celebrity in Search of Rajya Sabha Seat; Best Misunderstanding of Hindi Slang Lost in Translation into English, to name a few.
The possibilities are fertile: Best Mismatch of English Grammar and Indian Meaning; Worst Distortion of Intent by Twitter Limitations; Most Acrobatic Fall on Flattery Oil; Finest Self-Goal in Competition for Minority Vote Bank; or even Most Creative Abuse of Existing Foe who Might be Tomorrow’s Friend. There should be no shortage of sponsors either, since this part of the ceremony is bound to be infinitely entertaining.
Sceptics will wonder whether any politicians will actually come to pick up their awards. Audiences, inside or outside a theatre, would be bewildered if the recipient was unable to thank a Supreme Leader, wife, husband, parents, ghost writer, constituents and that wise-cracking pal who dreamt up the gag in the first place.
Sceptics are vastly mistaken. Politicians are far smarter than them. They know that 90pc of a television audience only remembers that you got an award, not why you got it.
The only reasonable condition that politicians would impose was that the award be handed over by a celebrity who is still celebrated, like a film star who remains in play when high-profile roles are being discussed by the big bosses of popular movies.
If Amitabh Bachchan is unavailable and Katrina Kaif is busy, there are others. But there is nothing to be gained by receiving an award from anyone reduced to the art cinema circuit. Even worse would be Raj Babbar smiling at Shatrughan Sinha and, for the next award, Sinha returning the favour to Babbar. Nor would anyone care too much for a mutual back-scratch between Digvijay Singh and Shakeel Ahmad.
The Prize of Prizes should be reserved for a Best Hasty Pudding Prize, offered for verbal concoctions cooked up within the blink of a sleepy eyelid. This would be a test of intrinsic individual capability, rather than a paragraph patiently constructed over a languorous afternoon.
Judges would measure worth by the taste of the pudding; it would be of no concern to them whether it was healthy or not, since only political parties suffer ill-effects from the instant wit and wisdom of their preferred chefs.
Media’s gratitude emanates from the fact that journalism is the best restaurant where such pudding can be served. Nothing sells news more efficiently than politicians bleeding to death from self-inflicted wounds. The laughter of the audience is both free and contagious, two virtues that media values above all else.
These great chefs of mass consumption slip from their high standards only because the temptation to produce fast food has become almost irresistible in an age when social media is as popular as a hamburger. Social media is a term that reveals all with the stark simplicity of nudity. Any comment longer than 140 characters, or a slapdash pastry thrown on the face of a screen page, is ipso facto anti-social.
Discourse, therefore, is about accusation, not comprehension. This is perfect for the latest version of television dialogue, which bridges brevity with hysteria. Anyone who seeks any more is dumped into the dustbin of boredom. Do not blame journalists alone. This is what the viewer wants; this is what the viewer gets.
Obviously there should be a lifetime achievement award as well, for shortest sentence with maximum impact. It would be inappropriate to hand out a statue for this. A tweezer could be a good substitute.
The writer is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and editorial director, India Today and Headlines Today.