Ted Talks: Episode One, Shahrukh Preaches Optimism and Openness

I watched it!  Meaning I am now backed up on all my other things.  This is what I do for you, the vocal Shahrukh fan readers.  My poor Malayalam readers are now going to be mad at me because I didn’t have time to write my Monday review.

Thank goodness, I don’t think I will have to give time to watching any of the other episodes.  I kind of got the sense of what the show is like and how it fits into Shahrukh’s star persona and stuff from this one episode, which is what I am interested in.

There were some words that kept coming  up in this episode, “Truth” “Imagine” “Better” “Talking”.  This is what Shahrukh wants to be about.  Or he wants this show to be about.  To confront the problems of today with truth, imagination, and most of all, talking about how things can be better.

The opposite of this would be “lies” “closed minds” “worse” “not talking”.  Which is pretty much everything wrong with a lot of the stuff the world in general and Indian film in particular is dealing with.  Lies about their content and their celebrities, closed minds not willing to see the other side, a vision of the world as inevitably getting worse, and no one talking to anyone else.  Or rather, no one listening to anyone else.

(This.  The “we should be our own Ram, we should rescue ourselves and we can rescue ourselves” idea.)

Shahrukh is highlighting people who are bringing hope and openness and solutions, instead of just agonizing over problems and pretending they are unsolveable.  And he wants them to be listened to, he is giving them a platform.  It’s pretty wonderful!

Not everything is wonderful.  First, I am just going to assume that these are superficial summaries of solutions that aren’t really ready to be used yet.  Second, if I see one more “thoughtful nodding audience reaction shot” I am going to throw my computer through the window.  Why do I need the audience in front of me?????  Why can’t I just decide for myself when something is worth a thoughtful nod???  GAAAAH!  Third, obviously they have picked people who don’t just have good ideas, but are super charismatic about how they present them, so there are probably good ideas out there going unnoticed since they are not invented by interesting people.

Or by desis.  That’s the other thing, the opening of the show explicitly says that Shahrukh is taking something “international” and making it “national”.  That is, he is closing off any ideas that are not presented by a desi.

But you can see why he is doing this, right?  The “bad people” are closing India down, shutting it off, driving it back to the middle ages.  And they are using as their weapons the argument that “everything is worse now than it used to be” “these problems are impossible to solve” and (most of all) “we don’t need any facts, solutions, or anything else from any outsiders”.  And so Shahrukh is offering optimism, solutions, facts, and he is giving them all from “us”, from straight up desis so you can’t ignore them.  And he is doing it in an easily digestible format so that the same common man that has gotten addicted to misinformation can now be addicted to information.  Even if it means so many “ah, now I understand!” reaction shots that I want to punch my computer screen.

(This.  Let all the stars shine together and be open-minded, and Shahrukh will lead the way)

So, what were the ideas he picked for this first episode?  They were a nice mixture.  He starts with one that everyone cares about, at least everyone who would be watching a formal Hindi language show on satellite TV, urban housing.  And right away there is the stuff I love, the talking about how we are talking about a problem.  An introduction to the audience of why words have power and how you can change the conversation and therefore find a solution.  The main thrust of the argument was “don’t call them ‘slums’ call them ‘settlements’.  And they aren’t the problem, they are the solution.”  The suggestion was, rather than fighting it, simply legalize and provide infrastructure to the settlements that have already sprung up.  Give the land to the people and let them stay there.  But forget the details of the discussion, what is important is the take away of “maybe the people you have dismissed and ignored and ‘othered’ are not the problem, maybe you are the problem and you just never realized it.”

Next up is a kind of boring one, a guy who builds urban jungles.  Which I already know all about from Ramante Edanttothan.  A little interesting because he is a former engineer-engineer who quit his job to become an “environmental engineer” and build jungles.  I find it interesting in the Indian context, bringing someone out as a model of a person who quit a “good” job and instead is doing something that he finds fulfilling and which matters to the world.  A nice message for all those people feeling overly pressured to stay in the “good” engineering job.

And then a music break!  A female composer comes out to show how she can make music using a computer program thing.  Which is not as cool to me, because I saw AR Rahman use the same computer program thing at a concert a few years back.  But I do find it hilarious that even in a TED Talk program, there is still a music break 20 minutes in!

(This kind of technology)

And then another desi comes out, but one who developed his program in the US with the help of an American scientist “Jim”.  The environmental engineer, similar thing, he took an idea from a Japanese scientist.  Another nice subconscious message, they are all desi scientists, but they achieved things only by working with scientists from all over the world.  India shouldn’t put up walls.

And then Manju Kapur, a female novelist comes out to talk about gender issues.  It’s incredibly remedial stuff, but it’s also really important.  She starts with a basic “boys and girls are raised differently and taught different things”.  And then moves on to “men, as adults, don’t understand enough to know how to fix things, or when things have done wrong.”  And uses an excellent example for the (presumed) new middle-class audience, the baby on the airplane.  The mother tries and tries to comfort it, the father tries for a few minutes and then gives up, has dinner, goes to sleep, while the mother is still trying to comfort.  And the father just doesn’t see the problem, doesn’t see the need.  In a clear way, she is explaining for the Indian context the meaning of gender divisions as learned behaviors not as biologically true, and their consequences in terms of unbalanced emotional labor.  And, she argues, it is not that men are incapable of doing these things, it’s that they have never bothered to learn how.

(Also, one of her novels was made into a soap opera!  Coincidentally, playing on THE SAME CHANNEL that is broadcasting her TED Talk!!!!  What are the odds!?!?!?)

Great little lesson, even if the only take away is “oh right, the things that little boys and girls learn do have an effect on what we think of as ‘man’ and ‘woman’ behavior!”  And perfect lesson for Shahrukh to present, he comes out to thanks her afterwards and mentions that he both cooks and puts his kids to sleep.  Which I believe, which is why he is perfect to present this show.  He is the perfect man and the perfect lover, and this nice woman just explained clearly to the audience why we find him the perfect man and the perfect lover.  If you want to be loved like SRK is loved, you should learn how to cook and carry your weight in raising the kids.

And finally, the closer!  A guy from MIT who moved back to India and is working on designing ink that can be made by gathering pollution particles.  Like the opening, this is an issue that all the urban types who are presumably watching this show will really care about.  And this is someone who chose to leave America and come back to India to do his work, which lets Shahrukh make a little Swades joke.  And is something that the audience will really respond to.

Speaking of audience response, the reason I hate those reaction shots SO MUCH is that they are pandering.  They are leading us to think these speakers are brilliant and wonderful and all that just because the nice people on the TV screen think they are brilliant and wonderful and all that.  The whole show is pandering a bit.  Mostly in the way it presents the desi-made discoveries.  Falls into that whole thing of “look look!  We are the best!  We need validation and reinforcement from international schools and societies so that we can believe we are the best!”  Which is just a very ugly look, I have to say.  Like that girl at the party who needs you to tell her how pretty she is every 5 minutes.

(Amisha did such a perfect job with her character in Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Lmtd.!  But that doesn’t mean I like that kind of a person)

But there is less here than there could be.  It’s not nearly as bad as a lot of other stuff I have seen.  And it feels like it was thrown in just to support the message, not that it is the message.  If you want the Indian audience to listen to you, to start to understand ideas and new thinking and so on, you need to reassure them that these are “good” ideas, that other people besides you think they are worthwhile.

What’s really ugly is Shahrukh’s hair!  He does a great job as host, is very pleasant to everyone, gives them a nice introduction, and a brief compliment when they are done, and sits in the front row looking interested the whole time.  But does not make it all about himself, not at all, it is about the ideas.  However, the entire time, TERRIBLE HAIR!!!!  That wet look slicked back thing like in the bridge scene in “Tujhe Dekho”, but worse because he has highlights.  His shirt isn’t great either, decorative black line on it that doesn’t really work, and unbuttoned but not cut for it.  Also, a cummerbund or a strange vest thing, I don’t understand it and it isn’t needed.  It’s like he is wearing a deconstructed tuxedo, but the deconstruction is a shabby job.

Related image

(I don’t understand what is happening)

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27 thoughts on “Ted Talks: Episode One, Shahrukh Preaches Optimism and Openness

  1. I know this is going to sound elitist but Indian tv is a wasteland. It can’t be watched at all. I’m not surprised that the TED show has been turned into something cheesy and pandering. This is precisely why I can’t stand Raju Hirani movies either. Same sort of issue with everything deliberately made corny to appeal to a certain demographic.
    Agree on the horrible hair too. I saw the ads and even the make-up is a travesty. They have applied some brown grayish looking gunk all over his face in the ads. It looks so horrible! Someone in the make-up and hair department needs to be fired.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Don’t know what the situation is in India but here in the US broadcast TV is in serious trouble. And it’s an elites vs. everyone else issue because the more educated you are and the higher your income the more likely you are to access media through the internet and to shun broadcast and even cable (cable subscriptions are way down). The audience is becoming increasingly older, poorer, rural and less educated and the programming increasingly reflects that. It wouldn’t surprise me if you have a similar situation in India, TV appealing to the audience that has limited media options and the more educated and affluent parts of the population using the internet for their media access.

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      • The situation in indian tv began around the 2000s when we went from progressive sitcoms promoting liberal values to soaps with regressive plotlines. Think Rajshri films on steroids. And everyone copied it. Now we don’t have any shows that aren’t regressive. A major theme in soaps right now is rebellious girl ends up married to a guy who hates her and she hates him and they discover love. Every single show has this theme. Every single show. Indian tv is an assault on intelligence.

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        • To add on some really basic information, Indian TV was state run and had essentially one channel, Doordarshan, until the satellite era began in the mid-90s. So Indian TV before satellite was tractor documentaries and stuff like that and the occasional popular high quality fiction show, and the occasional broadcast of a movie. And then suddenly there was this rush for content and everything changed. It’s also more common for the lower classes to have access to satellite TV than any other entertainment.

          I’m just telling you this because I know you are an American like me, and in America we never had the government broadcasting era, and we had the cable era bridging the gap between broadcast and satellite, and the cost of satellite TV is considerably higher here than it would be in India, all of which took me a while to get used to.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh the programming on state TV was very regular and glorious. The channel was off air at night. There were slots for entertainment shows, educational shows, kids shows (2-3 hours of cartoon every Sunday morning), live sports and music shows (chitrahaar was immensely popular) and a film every week.

            In the 90s, the state broadcaster got a second, entertainment only channel (DD Metro) which had a lot more entertainment only shows. I don’t know if you know this but Ekta Kapoor made immensely progressive shows in the 90s including Hum Paanch which was a sitcom about five unmarried sisters none of whom were worrying about getting married (like Ekta Kapoor shoes today) One of the girls was even a tomboy who never wore anything girly and behaved like a boy and wad even called Kajal Bhai. In terms of gender discourse, the show was ahead of its time. And then EK went on to make shows where girls’ sole purpose in life was to get married, be sanskari, not let the puja ka diya burn out, follow regressive archaic rules, be devoted to get family and hold no jobs or aspiration beyond her pati and sasural!!

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          • Hum Paanch: Also introduced the world to Vidya Balan!

            On Sun, Dec 10, 2017 at 11:17 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I kind of think TED was already cheesy and pandering? they just tweaked it ever so slightly for the Indian context.

      The only thing I can think of, is maybe they needed to make him up like that to make it last. So far as I can tell, he never had a chance to go touch up. He introduced the person, sat in the front row, went up and thanked them and then introduced the next person. I assume that they shot a whole bunch of episodes, maybe all of them, in one day. So that’s like 6 hours his make-up and hair have to stay looking decent.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree that Indian Television is absolute shit. Indians are emotional, but the way they milk it in the stupid dance and singing reality shows is an assault on the eyes and ears. Add to that the awful soaps with vengeful snakes and what not. I stopped watching TV long back.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I, as usual agree, but have one quibble. Some of your criticisms listed here are in fact not the fault of this version of TED but the actual international TED format. They do those reaction shots, they often have music TEDs etc. TED in general picks charismatic people because it is hard to hold an audience who isn’t interacting any other way.
    “….if I see one more “thoughtful nodding audience reaction shot” I am going to throw my computer through the window. …. obviously they have picked people who don’t just have good ideas, but are super charismatic about how they present them, so there are probably good ideas out there going unnoticed since they are not invented by interesting people.
    I completely agree about the hair. Why oh why doesn’t he wear it down like he as been doing in real life? (see the latest pics of him at Rani’s baby’s party).
    And lastly, I am super super impressed with your understanding of Hindi. I can get chunks of movie dialogue but this was way past me and I’ll have to wait for the subs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, don’t give me credit! I watched it on my computer on the hotstar website and it came with subtitles.

      And you are just confirming for me what I have always suspected, TED talks are not for me, Indian or otherwise.

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  3. Have you watched Satyamev Jayate presented by Amir Khan?

    I only watched a promo for TED Talks and it immediately felt like an award show/hindi dubbed evangelical missionary show. I felt no urge to watch it. Mostly because I hate the huge star on a huge stage format.

    Satyamev became legendary. Put people and causes on the map. It was very intimate.

    Ps, what did the environmental engineer propose about slums? To be honest, I find the English municipal housing to be a fascinating solution to slums.

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      • I havent watched this. But i did watch every episode of SMJ. It became a cult hit. I guess the episodes are available with subs now. I have a love/hate relationship with documentaries. I love the info but I hate the sadness and cynicism they leave me with.

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    • I have seen a little of SJ, and my friend Dina from the podcasts wrote a couple papers on it and I got to hear her reactions and brainstorming and all.

      What’s interesting is it feels like this show is the second half of SJ. SJ made you care about these issues and gave a little information about groups working on them. TED takes the heart out of it and brings in the brain, gives you solutions to issues it assumes you already care about. I don’t think it could have happened if SJ hadn’t happened first.

      And to be fair, Shahrukh is barely in it, serves only to give a little intro to each person, and then they give a speech on their own. And the big stage is built in to the idea, it’s not supposed to be intimate, it’s more like “I am giving a talk to all of India for them to consider” instead of “I am trying to convince you in particular on the otherside of this camera”. Again, more appealing to the mind than the heart. I still don’t like it, because it’s the babyfood version of ideas being spoonfed to you, but it’s not exactly a big star on big stage issue.

      The slum solution was simply to rephrase hte problem. The problem isn’t “settlements”, but lack of housing. Settlements are the solution, they should be accepted and legalized and regulated instead of trying to find a replacement.

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      • The settlements issue is a peculiar one because every town and every city has such settlements which are inhabited mostly by migrants. Unlike elsewhere, in India, you can just pitch a tent on an empty plot and start living there with no electricity or a proper toilet. Eventually a whole bunch of people start living there. That land may be public land or unclaimed private property. At any rate, regularizing these settlements doesn’t bring in the infrastructure because there’s little room for the infrastructure. Everywhere is part of someone’s home in these “settlements”. The only way to improve the civil structure within these settlements is to rebuild them from the ground up. Low income housing and resettlement of people from slums to other, properly built areas is the only solution because to put up a precedent where people can claim rights over anywhere they pitched up a tent is taking away rights of people who may have legally bought that land

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        • That last point is one of those things where you begin to realize that the idea is a lot more complicated than can be conveyed in a catchy TED talk. He nods towards the idea of limiting this to settlements on land that has gone unclaimed and unused for decades. And that they be legalized with limitations, residents have the right to live in their homes but not sell them.

          So the point of the TED talk is “don’t call them slums, call them settlements” and “the problem isn’t the settlements, it’s that these people have nowhere else to live”. But when it gets to an actual solution beyond that, the details become fuzzy and there’s a lot that isn’t thought through. I think all of them are probably like that, the central idea is just sort of opening up the conversation, but there are way way way too many details that are not worked out.

          On Sun, Dec 10, 2017 at 11:09 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • And that is where it differs from SMJ. SMJ had a well researched problem and people providing solutions. The interviews were intimate and in front of a small audience who also got to ask questions. SMJ led to real, on-ground changes.

            TED talks is most likely to fizzle out because the people naturally distrust a suited booted man giving them a lecture on real problems without workable, doable solutions. And we already have politicians doing that.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmmm…I still have to watch it, but it seems already that – at least here – the response isn’t really positive. As I don’t know any TEDTalk beside the one speech of ShahRukh (neither do I know the Aamir show), I will keep in mind what I read here (and in an article by Benjamin Bratton) when I watch it.

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  5. Some day I’ll watch these, and the Lux chatty thingies with the actresses. No time right now! I have also noticed the unfortunate hair and make up on the short ads for this show which I’ve seen on Twitter. Especially the bizarre white eyeliner on his bottom eyelid. Just–no!

    Thanks for your impressions. TED international has certainly come under criticism for going with style over substance. That is, charismatic people presenting cool ideas that get one excited, but only till you think about how to actually apply them in the real world. I don’t mind so much because I also believe in “blue sky thinking”, but only in combination with nuts and bolts grunt work.

    Liked by 1 person

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