Rising India: longest single-theme TV programming with some soul in it

NEW DELHI: India's longest and largest single-theme television programming - "Rising India" from the TV 18 group's CNN IBN and IBN 7 - is poised to stun the viewers with an array of episodes such as a renowned historian explaining history through cricket, or a modern music icon leading a host of rock bands in an ensemble of patriotic songs in a modern package.

In an exclusive interview, Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor in Chief of CNN IBN and Ashutosh, Managing Editor, IBN 7 told the idea was to showcase Indian achievements on TV in the 60th year of Independence since even at the time of the Golden Jubilee, TV had not really taken off.

The programme will air every day from August 10 to mark the occasion of Independence Day, but has really started from 1 January, when the series started off, and is about to reach its flashiest best, in content and presentation.

The key question is about showcasing Indianness, which Ashutosh said should be the modern India of software engineers and scientists - not the jholawallahs treated as cabbies in the West - and the rural India."

Ashutosh laughs nervously at the question that has baffled almost everyone, and says: "India is changing so fast it is really difficult to put it one word, so Rising India" series is about the present India as it has evolved, and is nicely poised for the next big leap forward."

Sardesai added that it is about the "fantastic diversity and enormous freedom that we as Indians enjoy. This is not there in any other country, and we are living it… we did not have proper TV when India turned 50 and we do not know if we will be there when it turns 75, surely not when she turns 100, so this was the best timing possible."

Sardesai says: "The story, as Nandan Nilekani (Infosys head) said once to me, is about the glass being half full, rather than half empty… there is so much we can actually show that is so typically Indian and innovative, it is about survival, the quintessential Indian-ness,

"When India was born, everyone said it would break up, and here we are, a bustling and vibrant democracy and a fast developing economy… and they had said Pakistan would be a much more unified force, but Pakistan is just falling apart. That is how we conceived Rising India."

Sardesai's allusion to being innovative survivalists may find some endearing examples in the episode "Only in India", which about Indians having a knack of doing a lot of things in our own quirky "ishtyle" that makes us who we are and differentiates us from the rest of the world.

This half-hour light-hearted show (14 August at 8:30 pm) takes a look at things like galli Cricket, lassi preparations using a washing machine, among other innovative Indian take-offs from what was originally a Western concept.

But it is not just about frivolity, there's tonnes of stuff between tomorrow and 15 August.

Here is a stunning episode of the Ten Defining Moments of Indian history, moments that have changed the course of the country, and presenting this with Sardesai would be historian Ram Chandra Guha who, Sardesai says is the best intellectual who can carry the most serious message across to the least discerning.

"He would perhaps be talking Sunil Gavsakar till you realise he is teaching you serious history," Sardesi said.

Due to various factors, this particular episode has been cut short drastically, especially due to shortage of archival material, but the channel had given viewers 100 such moments to choose from and taken a poll, then cut it down to 60 and finally to 10 of the most defining moments, Sardesai said.

Both the editors are especially excited about the series featuring India's real heroes, in the programme of the same name.

The preparation for the massive programming had started almost the same month a year ago, and it was the idea of Ritu Kapoor and her Features team to showcase the real heroes.

As a statement from the channels says: "CNN-IBN identifies 24 unsung heroes from four zones - East, West, South, North - (six from each zone) across the country. Capsules through the day will be aired daily to celebrate their achievements along with regular stories on the news wheel and weekend specials.

Every week, six heroes from a particular zone will be profiled and a dedicated half an hour will be aired every Saturday at 1:30 pm summarising the entire zone. The series will be aired as follows:

South Zone (11 August) 

North zone (18 August) 

East Zone (25 August) 

West Zone (1 September) 

"After we decided on this, our bureaus across the country identified the real grassroots level heroes and were selected and filmed. This is about the real India," Ashutosh said.

Taking a look at the gamut of the programmes, it encompasses what CNN IBN and IBN & is trying to do as a group: the programme genres cover everything from popular programmes (60 years of Indian cinema, Cricket 360 Special - India's dream team, or Only In India); history (Defining Moments), entertainment like Best of India Rocks).

Besides, it has contemporary programming and then looking at the future, like a discussion to be hosted on Indian economy and other issues by TV 18 patriarch Raghav Bahl.

"It is not just about what the people want to see but what they ought to know, and the point is about how to tell them, which is our forte. Why should Rehman or Indian Ocean, or Euphoria or Silk Route not sing patriotic songs and make it relevant to the present generation?" Sardesai asks.

The programmes would be aired on both the Hindi and English channels, which brought about the question of will Hindi audiences take it, given the statements of another news channel that Hindi viewers want just gore and violence?

Ashutosh does not at an eyelid: "Why not? Journalism is about making things available and accessible to the people, so if we understand the medium, it does not matter what language you speak in or your viewers hear in".

For instance, who would not listen to the first ever opinion poll across India and Pakistan on issue of common interest, whatever be the language of discussion? This is a unique programme, in which Indians and Pakistanis would be asked serious questions such as Kashmir issue, as also emotional subject who Pakistanis think is an Indian Idol and vice versa.

There will be two important fallout of the programming, and one of them is also perhaps the first of its kind for a TV channel to undertake. The corporate sector has agreed to sponsors each of the 24 Real Heroes for their future, Sardesai revealed.

"We do not believe in just showcasing such heroes for eyeballs, we feel it is for us to bring them up and approach the corporates to empower them," he said.

Te other fallout would be in the field of education, for the 10 Defining Moments programming would be put on CDs and given to schools free of cost as their educational tools.

Both are some serious, sustainable corporate social responsibility through programming!

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