25/January/2021

The Solidity of TV in 2020

by: Sahiba Kaur Bhatia



Illustration by Fieni Aprilia
www.fiensh.com and Instagram: @Fiensh

The other day a friend and I were languidly sitting on his terrace. A joint being passed in between us, we went into a deep discussion that seems to populate most Netizens’ confabulation, small-talk, conversation, postulation, pontification, and argument: What are they watching?

Or what form of entertainment are they consuming? Or what are they bingeing? Or what is the meme-worthy show that’s making the trend these days?

Or something of this sort.

You know it, before it even transpires, that somehow you are going to mention to a friend or a colleague or even a parent ‘what did you watch over the weekend’? It’s a normative segue for our generation to fill in awkward silences or strike up a full-length conversation with a date -- mentally striking them off if their taste is too ‘blah’ for you -- or to even take ‘advice’ of people familiar and relatable with your choices.

Think of our generation as boiled milk and bingeing as the small dose of dahi (or as popularly known around my family, ‘khatta’) which ultimately results in a solidity of a conversation or even a start of it.

But I digress.

As my friend started listing shows he was watching, around the oddly comforting fairy lights that someone obviously forgot to remove after Diwali, I, in environmental apropos, found myself asking him to suggest something ‘comfortable’. Something in ‘The Office’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’ territory, I said. Because ‘Friends’ has been consumed and been socially overwhelmed while also paradoxically becoming socio-culturally unrelatable to an extent that it has turned, on a personal level, too jejune (at least for now).

While he racked his brain to fit my request, I was suddenly left pondering over why my mind automatically jumped to TV for that ‘comforting’ emotion, instead of jumping, or even slightly thinking, about a movie.

Come to think of it, I haven’t watched a movie in a long time, I wondered.

Neither had my friend. ‘’There’s something unappealing about that three-part structure of a film’’ He further admitted that if that movie was split into eight long episodes, preferably but not necessarily spawning three or more seasons, he’d readily watch it -- investing more time per day for the season but reluctant to finish a movie that takes considerably fewer hours.

Not that this justifies the Snowpiercer atrocity. But I digress again.

What I was stuck at was the ‘finish’ aspect of the movie. A movie is made to be watched in a single sitting -- we consume all characters, we digest their emotions, we cry with them, we laugh with them, we feel for them. And that, like any good entertainment, is wonderful. It’s art.

“Somehow you are going to mention to a friend or a colleague or even a parent ‘what did you watch over the weekend’? It’s a normative segue for our generation to fill in awkward silences or strike up a full-length conversation”


But 2020 has been a weird year, one which has seen real-life endings sometimes before they even began. We’ve lost lives we’d dreamt of until February -- getting hitched, completing a degree whilst going to a class, travelling to that dream destination we’d been saving for. The point is, there has been a substantial loss of solidity in most of our lives; dahi jami nahi iss saal. Instead, we were met with breath-sucking containment, both physically and metaphorically. With broken and unfulfilled dreams, we were stuck in front of one or more screens in our rooms, confined to a corner, getting gloom-ridden emails and, in a zombie-state, swallowing vitamin-c supplements.

Amidst all of this, the thought of ‘finishing’ (read: truncating) something, especially something as typically sporadic as a movie, in my opinion, would seem very daunting. The certainty that in a mere span of three hours or less you’ll get to know a certain someone on the screen in front of you, become their friend or enemy, cherish that time together, but at the end, it’ll be over. Done and dusted.

Just like your father called you one morning from India in the middle of March to tell you to pack your bags and get to Heathrow in a matter of three hours, leaving your tiny hostel room that you’d grown to adore tremendously, your wardrobe a beautiful mess of vivid yellow and red woollens brought for cheap from Primark, knick-knacks purchased from your visits to the gallery -- brilliant Van Gogh colouring books and artsy earrings for your sister -- forgotten beneath a cluster of things that populated your makeup drawer, your pressure cooker which while on the stove your non-desi flatmates would approach with apprehension, your two best friends who gave you the last drag of the joint you shared before hugging you goodbye and wiping your tears, your favourite Chinese take-away place wherein you’d consumed endless kung-pao, your steely university that you still had six months to breath of, that cute Pakistani barista at Costa with whom you’d grown ridiculously infatuated with and lastly the city, with its customary gloomy sky and swooshing red strips of public transport jettisoning across, and endless bridges that you’d not even seen completely, and delightfully strange street names evoking a sense that they’d perhaps been named by a 6-year-old (what is Elephant and castle?) and ancient buildings settled over adorable coffee shops and South Asian supermarkets smelling of cumin and, irrevocably, your last inhale of absolute, complete freedom. You left everything in a hope to claim it back one day.

We all did. But I digress, yet again.

A good movie promises a splendid encapsulation of a lot of emotions, which we are meant to feel very quickly. Jojo Rabbit made me cry and laugh at the same time, but it also left me slightly heartbroken. Capernaum’s sheer depth was spell-binding; it made me toss and turn all night. Little Woman inspired me to write more but it also evoked a sense of shame that I probably wasn’t a very hard-working writer like Jo March. I sobbed for an hour after finishing Garden State, feeling lonelier than ever. A lot of things inevitably occur when we watch a movie and then, as soon as they begin, their visual treat is over, and we are left processing our emotions on our own. And having lived something similar (though less theatrical), our very own borderline-apocalyptic movie with emotionally exhausting ramifications, we would not want to witness it again; at least I don't, for a long time. Movies are a fantastic distraction, if that’s what you are seeking, but they hardly become yours completely. There is an absence of both contextual diversity and longevity in movies as my wise terrace-friend pointed out, and that becomes ipso facto the issue, particularly for people who have already had something snatched from them this year.

TV is different though. Right from the beginning it pledges consistency. The characters tend to portray a fairly straightforward wavelength of mannerisms, minus a few rookie mistakes or sudden plot changes, which ultimately sediment their positive approachability. There’s a repetition of their traits, on and on in different environments and soon enough, it settles over us like a warm blanket. Or like stepping with relief into a dust-streaked, sunlit space from a terribly cold room. And you curl up in it, soak it up, enjoying the weight of familiarity and safety, knowing that they are there for the long run. They are yours.

Micheal Scott’s idiotic, raw shenanigans are mine. So is Rick’s madness. Leslie Knope’s eccentricity is mine and so are Moira Rose’s marvellous theatrics. On my most depressing days, Bojack’s self-hatred is mine (Stupid Piece of Shit) and on my not as depressing days, I sing with The Cranberries playlist in Derry Girls.  They are my family, all of them. They remain there, whenever I want them, in different scenarios which may or may not sit parallel to what I am feeling at that moment. Unlike a film, TV doesn't leave you clearing up the mess that it made. Instead, it sits with you for a long time, helping you make your way through the clutter and supporting you throughout by hardly ever breaking the concrete foundation it has laid in your life.

Because, with all that is said and done, in these uncertain times, we need some element of solidity with us, a sense of homeliness sometimes not even found in our childhood house.

Maybe it’s in a paper supply company in Scranton. Or in the fictional town of Pawnee where the Parks department restores a little faith in government operations. Or with a depressed horse in Hollywoo. Kyunki Yaha dahi jam jaati h. 

“TV is different though. Right from the beginning it pledges consistency. The characters tend to portray a fairly straightforward wavelength of mannerisms, minus a few rookie mistakes or sudden plot changes, which ultimately sediment their positive approachability. There’s a repetition of their traits [...] and you curl up in it, soak it up, enjoying the weight of familiarity and safety, knowing that they are there for the long run. They are yours.”


----

About the writer Sahiba Kaur Bhatia is a media and communications graduate from Goldsmiths who spends her time listening to Ali Sethi and trying to know more about an ancestral land that her nationality deems inaccessible, visit her on Instagram: @bhatia.sahiba











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