Suhel Seth's spectacular success
To be fair, sexual misconduct isn't the only sort of harassment you can judge someone for, after an inevitable revelation
Popular guests on India's nightly television news debates, you'll notice, follow a pretty predictable pattern to stay on camera/screen, while equally frustrated folk on multiple windows jostle for the same attention at prime-time. The trick is simple.
The wily fellow, boisterous, loud -almost tending towards lewd - firstly chooses an opponent from the long line-up on screen. Having marked the target, he pretends to direct potent rage in all its glorious aggression, towards that one person alone. Cat-fight ensues. You don't know what's going on for a second or two.
At some point, on cue, the screen splits into two halves - between the cat, and the mouse - blanking out all other panellists. The war of words is heated, if not hilarious, enough to garner audience numbers. Temperatures continue to soar. Chaos is complete. The anchor eventually butts in, "Enough, enough," signalling that the debate finally deserves a supposedly larger picture.
This works all right, especially when creating self-serving binaries - national/anti-national; Right/Left; liberal/conservative; honest/hypocrite… Although everyone can see through this game now, one wasn't quite aware of the rules, when about a decade ago, I found myself under an unwarranted, virulent attack by a curly, grey mop-head, frothing from the mouth, yelling at me on NDTV; because, you know what?
We were frickin' discussing movies! More specifically, Slumdog Millionaire (2008). The film had become quite the unlikely toast at the Oscar nominations. Its co-director Loveleen Tandon, if I recall right, was on the panel. I was casually asserting that the film was essentially intended for a western audience, given that a decidedly non-slum boy, with a clipped British accent, had been chosen to play the main Mumbai character that he behaved, spoke, and looked nothing like.
"Analysis, analysis, analysis. Paralysis," thundered the curly mop-head, leaving me slightly stupefied by the unexpected stupidity of that statement that - one's diagnosed over the past decade or so - Suhel Seth is quite capable of. Seth carried on with his individually directed barbs.
And, here I am thinking: I see this random guy pontificate on everything, from Kashmir to Kanykumari, Mohamed to Katrina Kaif, night after night on TV. Tear into anybody's opinion on anything that doesn't sit well with his perfunctory ejaculation. And, he has a problem with a film critic making a point about a film? It was easy to tell, he hadn't even seen Slumdog while we were discussing it that day.
Evidently, he hadn't watched Sanju (2018) either, when I shared a panel with him last - again on NDTV, where discussions aren't usually cat-fights, and anchors, relatively calm, hardly look to hit and run. Yet, Seth had found a target (a female co-panellist), making it his point to blast away, and unabashedly attempt to prove that she was an idiot.
It's something this strangely foul-mouthed, uncouth interlocutor, dressed in expensive suits, flouting civilisational norms, flaunting his lack of insight, has been doing, and getting away with, for years. Why? Because he can. No, seriously; who is this guy - the omnipresent, ever ready spokesperson of the Everyman; or perhaps every rich man?
Surely this existentialist query would have crossed your mind. As it always did mine. Having bumped into him at a party once - the sorts where his obnoxious behaviour would be par for the main course - he did tell me to review/write about his presumably exemplary performances on the big screen ("Actor hain? Accha!"). In the well-circulated, take-down piece The Caravan did on him, and his self-help book Get To The Top, writer Mihir Sharma expressly likened the times we live in to the 'Age of Seth' - talking about people who are famous, for knowing people who are famous. At the time (2011), I thought this to be an over statement, only to observe in the intervening years, from the distance of Bombay, the halo of fame - party pics, inane columns, inaner interviews - around the mop-head grow larger still, along with the
insufferable brazenness and blather on TV.
How you are with one thing is how you are with everything else (I kinda find that true about people, most times). The #MeToo storm got to Seth (since nothing else could), as young girls (one of them aged 17 at the time of the incident), one after the other, began to reveal accounts of sexual assault/harassment/inappropriate proposition, related to the middle-aged, man-about-town, drunk on a bizarre sort of fame, and supposed power, plugging, harnessing, bartering connections with the upper-crust (including journalists, who, I'm told, were at least aware of his apparently casual misdemeanours).
Tentacles of #MeToo, of course, have spread wide in India. Within Bollywood, it didn't spare filmmaker Anurag Kashyap either, who had films, with hundreds in the crew, and him only as a co-producer, totally unfairly dropped from a film festival, after he didn't adequately act upon a sexual assault case against a former business/creative partner. If that's the dangerously moral high ground one's going to take (and you can only fall from that height), then what about news channels who foisted upon us Seth, the intellectual, for every cause, every night?
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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