Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lights, Camera, Argh!

Every lawyer dreams of gaining recognition as the expert on their subject - some people are recognized by a ever increasing clientele, some people by academic interventions, but the most sought after form of recognition is certainly the TV Interview. So when I was approached, after almost two seemingly unsuccessful years as a legal practitioner, for my thoughts on an aspect of criminal law which can only be described as explosive, why was I hiding under the table?

Well, first of all, the "show" in question was not a glamorous BBC debate, but rather, a show to decide who gets 25 lakhs on the basis of SMS votes (oh no, not that again). Secondly, because the 'cause' which was being represented, and for which I was sought to be roped in as a brand ambassador, had a very very dubious history for which you can look here.

Capt. Bahadur, who apparently still has not caught the eyes of the armed forced for falsely carrying on with a fake title attached to his name, is at it again. This time, he's managed to find a platform for his angst - a TV Channel has introduced a TV Show in which every day, one lucky person wins 5 lakh rupees on the basis of convincing an audience to send 5 rupee SMSes in his favour. At the end of the series, which till now has been consisting of people who want to go on a second honeymoon and people who want to build a golden plated commode (hmm...), there will be a bumper round wherein people will actually be competing for 25 lakhs. Obviously these 25 lakh guys will have to be bigger freaks than the ones with the gold fetish. And you can't get freakier than Capt. Bahadur, can you?

With the 25 lakhs, Capt. Bahadur wants to give a boost to the PAWAM Legal Aid Cell, and in addition to that, Petition the Supreme Court to introduce men-friendly laws. This is what was told to us when Capt. Bahadur peeped into the conference room a few months ago and asked Boss for a moment of his time.

"Yes, what is it, Captain?" my Boss asked, nonchalantly.

In stormed a huge crew of people, some holding cameras, some holding microphones, one with a Styrofoam board. I rushed out of the room in a panic, and partly out of spite, because I was having a particularly nasty encounter with my Boss that day and I thought it would serve him right to be stuck with the Captain and his crew of Media Jimboes.

Turns out, Captain needed a sound byte from reputed (ha ha ha) people who knew him.

"So," asked the crewman, "how do you know Captain Bahadur?"

"Well I met him when he appointed me as his lawyer to get him out of Jail when his wife put him behind bars."

Apparently even with an introduction like that, Captain managed to convince the Channel that he was an asset to their TRP ratings. I guess they realized that they'd be competing with the Indian Premier League and so they needed to pull out all the stops. Next, Captain needed to get some experts in the field to discuss the issues he was proposing and give their honest opinion on his work and, well, whatever. Captain has used Boss up for intro, he gets another senior lawyer (a constitutional criminal expert) to give his opinion, and then the Channel needed a female lawyer who works on Domestic Violence related issues who would be able to give a few bytes on the subject.

One Saturday morning, my Boss gives me a call. "Captain wants you to go with him for a shooting. He wants some thoughts on all this 498A B whatever he does, you know."

I use some okay-to-use-in-front-of-boss expletives.

"Feel free to say whatever you want - that he's crazy or whatever."

Unfortunately I had a meeting in office, and thereafter a plan to head home with Lax and make big plans for our Absinthe party. Despite Captain's fervent requests - he was being nice to a woman, which makes you realize how desperate he really was - I manged to switch my phone off and the rest of the day is a subject of an earlier post.

The other day, however, dodging him was not so easy, but I was smooth and did not take any calls from unknown numbers, and finally found myself trapped at one end of the conference table having finished with all the conferences for the day, when there was a tap on the door.

It was a dead end. I had screwed up royally by not assigning a matter that was on a date on which I was at home, and so I owed one to Boss. After being assured that there was only one minute of shooting time left, I was led to a corner of the office where a crew - a smaller one this time - let me have one minute to brush my hair and set my new haircut (with bangs!) and put a little lipstick on my lips which I had chewed to a pulp in the Sessions Court.

I was made to stand, and then sit, turn my head, look up and down, until they found an angle to cover both me and the lawbooks which were behind me. The lawbooks were important to establish my credibility, of course. I asked a guy in the crew if I looked okay.

"You don't look like a lawyer", he smiled.

Apparently that was a compliment!

After achieving an acceptable angle, I was getting used to the strange bent of neck when I noticed something sliding up to me. I lowered my eyes to see a man holding a long black pole, on which a foam mike was mounted, and positioning it next to my lap. I looked at Sameer, the in-charge, very disconcertingly.

"Try not to look at it" he suggested helpfully.

Yeah, right.

The interview began with a few plain questions which were easy enough. Then he asked me about me about the 'legal' aspects of the issues which got me a little excited, at which Sameer remarked that I was the best of the lot that was interviewed. I smiled in spite of my scary-criminal-lawyer-who-means-business efforts. As I began to answer (the camera was paused while I let the colour drain from my cheeks), the cameraman clicked his tongue in disappointment - they were all out of reel.
No problems, said Sameer, they'd just reshoot. And reshoot they did. A few more questions on why this cause should get the 25 lakhs - "Well, it's a cause which certainly will find it tough to make money - you don't find too many men saying 'hey, my wife harassed me, so I'm donating 25 lakhs to the cause" - and on Capt. Bahadur where I stated very diplomatically "well a lot of people go through bad experiences when they are falsely accused of committing crimes, but Bahadur is actually using his experiences to make a difference...".
Interview over, amidst kudos for my poise, I asked if I could see myself on camera. Why not?
The Camera view flap was opened, a headphone set was pushed onto my head and the reel began.
They say the Camera adds 10 pounds. Guess what? They lie. It's more like 20.
I gaped in horror as my face took up all of the screen in the horrid close up view they took of me. My bangs, which I thought were smartly pulled in a side parting, were puffed up, looking like I had worn 3 toupees to work. And the light dabbing of lipstick made me look like I was on the Balaji Telefilms payroll.
"Uh... Sameer? can I talk to you for a second?"
"What's up?"
"Don't you think I look a little funny?"
"Oh this is a small frame. It'll look fine on the big screen."
I furrowed my brow. "Look, I think I look a little - um..." and averting my eyes from Sameer who was spilling out of the swivel chair on which he was seated,", fat."
"Oh you women," he laughed. "Don't worry." He suddenly looked very puzzled. "Don't you want to know when it'll be aired?"
I smiled. "I'll be in touch".
I then realized how a lot of the things I said on camera can be effectively cut pasted to make it look like I was a Dick in a Chick's clothing. Oh well. Just remember one thing - please don't believe everything you see on TV.
Pretty please?

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