Peepli Live started it. And The 6pm Slot carries it forward. If you thought Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live focused too much on caricaturizing Indian television’s larger-than-life anchors, then as you read The 6pm Slot, you cannot help but wish that ex-TV-employees-turned-film-makers or authors would cure themselves of the affliction of giving space to TV personalities in their scripts and books.
While Rizvi restricted herself to TV anchors, Naomi Datta casts her net wider—she has included a Jesus-crazy item girl and a sex-change operation candidate in one character; a self-obsessed, holier-than-thou prime time TV anchor (is there no way to be rid of this bearded gent in avatar after avatar?); a Marathi mulgi pretending to be memsahib as a host; and, of course, Stetson Ganesh (unfortunately in a tepid, teeny-meeny role in spite of a fabulous CV), who is perhaps a tribute to the man who spent a large part of the 1990s establishing the Indian music channel culture in the country.
The 6pm Slot: Random House India, 294 pages, Rs 199.
The 6pm Slot is about Tania, a television producer/director who is asked to work on an agony aunt show for a channel that targets young viewers. The brief is clear: It has to be sexy, sleazy and in your face, and it must garner TRPs almost as soon as it hits the 6pm slot. Tania is either a “helpless” or “naive” (take your pick) professional, who must do whatever her obnoxious but stupid boss and his “sweaty triple-chinned sweat factory” sidekick throw at her.
Why she puts up with this nonsense is really never clear in the book—and it’s perhaps the most glaring stumbling block in the story. In a bid to secure TRPs, Tania does what most TV producers seem to succumb to—cross the line between real and imaginary. She gives in to fabricating questions, ropes in fake callers to get more interesting problems for her host and commits professional hara-kiri by not monitoring every fake call that goes live, and she is finally overruled by her boss when she wants to delete that call on the edit table.
How she survives the ordeal after being made the fall girl for this mistake is dealt with in literally the last 31 pages of the book; 263 pages are spent on the twists and turns of on-screen styling disasters, shaving legs, ponytailed creative directors, 40-something “mood of the nation” dictating prime time anchors and their “decorative prop” teary partners, with “sneaky but lazy” reporter boyfriends.
That Datta knows the Indian television business inside out is a given. She brings to life not just the glamorous people of showbiz with her amusing descriptors, but also highlights the absurdity of demands made on production managers and heads of sales—a breed often glossed over when we talk about television and its absurdities. This multitude of characters sprinkled throughout the book delight, and keep the story from spiralling headlong into just another cheesy chick-lit novella.
Datta knows how to introduce and build her male protagonists: the suave Rahul, the sleazy Harish and the charming Aditya—will all leave a lingering resonance in your mind. But with the female characters, Datta flounders. In fact, poor Tania is never given a chance to create an impact on the reader because she comes across as a simpering people-pleaser who cannot save her job from a two-bit intern, and finally needs the largesse of the prime time rabble-rouser to vindicate her. Even to do that she needs her almost-boyfriend Aditya to prod her into fighting for her rights.
Hence it becomes tough to applaud Tania’s comeback and not see it as a gimmick. After all, Tania has no proof (in the form of emails or memos) of her side of the story. Yet her 5 minutes of fame gets her a new, much improved assignment and her idiot boss the sack. And please, being a sex symbol does not automatically qualify one as a bimbo. The stereotyping of Marathi mulgi Vrushali’s character is just plain lazy writing.