By Ila Ananya
Originally published on 5 August 2016.
If, like me, the first Real Telangana TV video you watch is the one about the rising prices of groceries, you will fall in love. On screen is shot after shot of Prime Minister Narendra Modi eating at events abroad, while in the background, the anchor announces morosely, “Unho alag alag mulkon mein phirke alag alag dishon ke maze udate phire. Aate jaa rahein jaate jaa rahein [He has travelled to different places and enjoyed different dishes. He comes. He goes].”
When you recover from this, you hear her saying, “Humich haule hai, jo unka matlab nahi samjhe [We were the foolish ones who didn’t understand what he meant],” referring to Modi’s promise of “acche din”, which she says applies only to him. “Pehleich ke dinaa aa gaye toh bhi achha hai [If the old days come only it will be better],” she says. If for some reason you haven’t noticed this so far, you will now realise she’s speaking in Deccani Urdu. Initially you pay attention to how she adds –ich and –aan at the end of certain words, as though this is as important as the news itself. Din becomes dinaa, dal becomes dalaa— it’s like standing in the middle of chudi bazaar in Hyderabad’s Charminar and hearing stray bits of conversation from everyone milling around.
I first saw Real Telangana TV when a colleague showed it to me. None of my friends in Hyderabad seem to have heard of it either, even though it was started in 2011 by the Ruby Group of Companies, which also owns Ruby Channel.
Real Telangana TV’s existence mocks other media organisations’ diversity policies. A lot of the people who work there are proudly “pakka” local Hyderabadi people with no background in journalism. “Many of them would run autos, or sell things locally, and now they help us write the script for the videos because they know the language and the accents well,” said Mohammed Manzoor, Real Telangana TV’s manager. Where else on Indian news do we see women in hijabs as anchors, or news shows created by working class writers?
Manzoor gave me examples of what he meant by knowing the language well, speaking in rapid Deccani about a political leader. Real Telangana TV wants to make news engaging for people who don’t know Urdu, or who might not know the names of political leaders, but deserve to know the news. This means one wonderful thing: Real Telangana is able to reach the audience they want, simply because those who write the news belong to the same class as the audience.
Real Telangana TV announces on its Facebook page, “First Time in the history of news world, news in Deccani language”. While lakhs of people in south India speak Deccani and it has a splendid literary history, today it is seen (even within Real Telangana TV) as the language for people who are not lucky enough to learn the real thing, Urdu. When I was in school in Hyderabad, my friends who spoke in Deccani were often laughed at. I’m also used to hearing Deccani in movies merely for comic effect, and have read that getting Deccani movies to play in theatres is difficult because the language is dismissed since it is neither Hindi nor Telugu. This is the casually vicious hierarchy.Urdu means you are educated and suave — in a permanent sherwani of the mind. Deccani is thought of as the language spoken by people of a lower class, with less access to Urdu education. Even Manzoor said Ruby Channel has news in pure Urdu because of which it isn’t accessible to autowallahs or chaiwalas—“they will say ‘tashrif rakhiye’, and ‘pharmaiye’ on the channel, which not everybody understands.”
But let’s be honest: the women anchors in hijabs are the biggest reason I like watching Real Telangana TV. They sit straight, looking absolutely serious (a comment on a video on Facebook describes their way of talking as “bahout khatarnak”[very dangerous]) when they talk about presenting a “khaas” [special] news report. When I watched the videos, I found myself wondering whether the women who I’ve become so fond of watching laughed when the videos were being recorded, whether they struggled to keep up their monotone. Afshia Banu, one of the anchors, said she has worked in tele-marketing before, which helped her delivery of the news. Banu, who joined Real Telangana TV six years ago, sounds both confident and stern when she says she is the anchor of only news stories, not entertainment ones. “Bachpan se aim tha, aaj pura hua [It was my aim when I was a child, today that is complete],” she said, about being an anchor.
I know at least one person who thinks that Real Telangana TV is like Cyrus Broacha’s comment show The Week That Wasn’ton CNN-News18, but the more I watch Real Telangana TV, the more I disagree. Broacha’s show is very obviously satirical and staged, complete with wigs and accents, and canned laughter. Real Telangana TV has none of this — just imagine your most sarcastic friend talking to you, muttering sidey comments during everyday conversation.
A part of the experience of watching videos by Real Telangana TV is seeing the stock photographs slide by one after the other. Watch their video on Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah being kissed by a woman, Girija Srinivas, at a public event when he presents her with an award. The video begins with photos of men in suits being attacked by eggs and tomatoes, because that’s how (according to Real Telanagana TV) people have historically reacted to politicians in public. Then it suddenly shifts to a photograph of Siddaramaiah and the anchor announces in her serious voice that something has happened to him that he has probably never dreamt would. “Kaiku bole toh aise khwabaan unke umar mein dekhna accha nahi hai, [Because it is not good for him to dream of such things at his age]” she adds, before jumping to talking about the woman’s “betuki harkat” [ridiculous behaviour]. She goes on to say that Siddaramaiah started seeing stars after this incident, and the screen erupts in these sparkling stars. Then we see through stock images, all the things that Real Telangana TV thinks the kisser Srinivas could have done instead (like saying namaste, or touching Siddaramaiah’s feet). You laugh but continue watching video after video almost obsessively, because the anchors are saying unexpected things sharply and unapologetically.
The same language politics also plays out among the people who watch Real Telangana TV’s videos for the jollies. The truth is that the segment on rising food prices isn’t actually funny because dal becomes dalaa. It’s funny because of the completely unexpected way we are shown photographs of Modi eating fancy food in various countries, while in India, the anchor asks severely, if we should just eat rice and salt because they come at subsidised prices. Some of their videos are comical — sometimes they are even meant to be comical — but perhaps we also think they are funny when they’re absolutely serious because we have come to expect news delivered to us in a certain way.
If you shed the hierarchy of language politics and what we have grown used to from television studios, the aesthetics of the channel’s news curation and writing becomes clear. It is a sophisticated one, despite its ruthless and kitschy use of stock-photo images (with watermarks!). The deadpan and morose delivery reflects a rare thing in television news: wit for grown-ups.
Real Telangana TV may not have had me as its intended audience but I’d be lying if I said I had access to any television news that had so much panache.