Monday, June 21, 2010

Coming Soon, the end of good writing

In recent years Indian television has given us exploitative reality shows, tacky and regressive soaps, sensationalist news coverage and, for a brief period, Ekta Kapoor's Kahaani Hamaaray Mahabharat Ki. I’m sure there are many insightful behind-the-scenes books waiting to be written about the TV industry and what it tells us about the voyeurism and exhibitionism in our society. Unfortunately, Omkar Sane’s Coming Soon. The End is not one of those books.

Sane’s allegorical premise has four friends, each of whom works for a different TV channel: Bass is the girl from the music channel, Crass is the guy in general get the drift. They meet in a bar to catch up and a stranger named Mass (a stand-in for the average viewer) joins them to learn about how the industry functions. He’s so naïve that his jaw drops when he learns that Kareena Kapoor says things in an Airtel ad because Airtel pays her to say them. In other words he has a lot to learn, and it’s going to be a long night.

Simple-minded though this set-up is, it could still have been executed better than it is here. Reading Coming Soon. The End, one senses a deep-rooted bitterness, an anger, that might have been very effective if it were filtered through wit or dark satire. Instead, Sane expresses his contempt for the dumbing down of TV through dumbed-down writing: a never-ending parade of poor jokes, bad puns and non sequiturs. Here’s the sort of banal exchange you might find by simply opening a page at random:
“Oh, you guys work in television?” the fat man interrupted, waiting for his bill.
“No, we’re whores,” Bass replied.
“Oh, I thought I heard you say Television,” the fat man said apologetically.
“It’s the same thing.”
Or this:
“This is the story of the West?”
“You know that almost rhymes with the West – Yes.”
“I didn’t mean to rhyme.”
“It’s no crime.”
“Now that rhymes.”
“Let’s not waste our time.”
And so on. On the few occasions that the PJs dry up, we get pedantic explanations of technical terms and processes, interspersed with mini-chapters that exist for little reason other than to make up the book’s word-count. Like the random two-page chapter “Anchors Aren’t Anchors”, comprising a list of phrases commonly used by TV-news anchors. (This material would have seemed trite even in an email forward doing the rounds in 1997.) Or the pseudo-philosophising in “Cool. Or Uncool. TV’s Like That”:
In a nutshell, cool is what is not cool according to the uncool.
But who decides who is cool and uncool?
The uncool call the cool uncool, the cool call the uncool, uncool.
The thing is, uncool isn’t even a real word. Just like cool isn’t a real state of being.
For some time now, Indian publishers have been increasing their lists of accessible, fast-paced books for the “metro” reader, which in itself is no bad thing. But if the writing on display in Coming Soon. The End (a book that will take you no more than 40 excruciating minutes to finish) is in any way representative of the future of publishing, we’re all better off watching bad television.


  1. Hey dude, thanks for the warnin... It's a pity that the goddamn shelves are burgeonin each week with new works by debutants that just add to the already existing crass. How can publishers be so dumb? One wonders. It's akin to rollin out B-grade movies to fill in dull seasons in multiplexes.

  2. "we’re all better off watching bad television".. aye aye to that!

  3. But this is not a trend new enough to merit a whole post! Or maybe this book symbolizes the absolute bottom.

    We have seen way too many painful books like My Friend Sancho posing as thoughtful writing over the last few years. And this trend only seems to head downwards.

    But maybe that's the price we pay in order to discover some worthwhile authors.

  4. Ask me if you want to know more about the author. I interviewed him once for a job.... NEVER AGAIN!

  5. But this is not a trend new enough to merit a whole post!

    Ramanand: I'm not as concerned with "trends" as you think. I wrote something about this book for one of my newspaper columns (mainly because I was so annoyed by it) and thought I'd put the same text up here.