ALL RISE Kiran Bedi says dispensing justice has always been her true calling
Indiaâ€™s first attempt at â€˜legal televisionâ€™, helmed by Kiran Bedi, is on its way. But will it be about TRPs or social justice, wonders
Does your husband (or wife) beat you? Are you victimised by your children? Is your daughter-in-law denying you access to your grandchildren? Have you been groaning under the strain of a property dispute? Worry not. Former supercop and Magsaysay award winner Dr Kiran Bedi will show you a way out.
Later this month, India will vicariously participate in the conflicts of dozens of families via a mock television court called Aap Ki Kachehri (Your Court) presided over by Judge Bedi. The judgments have no legal validity of courseâ€”but the feisty ex-cop says the show is a small attempt to fill the gap that exists between the needs of society and the delivery of justice by the judiciary and police. â€œItâ€™s a wake-up call,â€™â€™ she declares. â€œOver the last few decades we have moved away from social and civil society roles to heavy dependence on the police and courts. We have marginalised value-based peace-making systems, which need to be brought back centre-stage. AKK will perhaps achieve this end.â€™â€™
India, unlike the West, has never had televised social justice apart from the stray live programmeâ€”like the one on Gudia who remarried after her first husband disappeared only to see him walk back into her life and claim his child. In September 2004, a news channel got Gudia, Arif (her first husband) and Taufeeq (the second husband) into the studio, along with Islamic scholars and clerics, who then pronounced that Gudia belonged to Arif, and annulled her marriage with Taufeeq as â€˜anti-Islamicâ€™. It riveted the nation, perhaps a taste of what legal television could be like.
In US and Europe, legal TV has been around for decades on numerous dedicated channels, sometimes with a retired judge helming them. Petitioners are selected based on television ads, as well as from small claims court where production executives hunt down cases suited to the cameras: the juicier the
case, the better. Those selected have to sign an agreement that the television arbitration is final and cannot be pursued elsewhere, though in some cases rulings have been overturned.
The cases handled by Bedi will be those that have not yet reached the courts and are not criminal in nature. A production team, helped by NGOs, will source them, conduct an investigation into their authenticity, and ascertain that the contesting parties are willing to bring their dispute on camera.
â€œThe final decision is based on what emerges from the open questioning for all the viewers to see. The best part is that the parties themselves, through the questioning, come to certain realisations,â€™â€™ says Bedi, adding, â€œWhere Aap Ki Kacheri ends, I as a person will be there to help the participants through my two NGOs. And the parties know that.â€™â€™
The reason that a seasoned civil servant like Bedi agreed to do the show is because she believes the programme will bring out her strengths and her insight into the ways that Indian courts and the police function. â€œDelivering and dispensing justice has always been my true calling,â€™â€™ she says.
But then, whether Bedi likes it or not, she will be marketed as a brand, and even her â€˜social justiceâ€™ will be delivered via branding. Bangalore-based brand consultant Harish Bijoor says that Bedi is a positive brand. â€œI do believe she can be marketed. But she should be marketed with a credibility tag which, I feel, is beyond the scope of mass entertainmentoriented television. She needs to be handled with care. High-decibel is not for her image. Maturity is. If a television channel can achieve this, then the task will be well attempted,â€™â€™ he says.
And therein lies the crux. Indian TV is not for nothing called the TRP slave. But Bedi is convinced she can rise above the TRP trap. â€œI am resolving issues not with an eye on the TRPs but strictly on what comes before the kachehri,â€™â€™ she says. â€œIn the end, if these human interest stories translate into good viewership, it is good for everyone. One thing I am certain of is that this programme will generate innumerable â€˜judgmentsâ€™ by the viewers themselves.â€™â€™
While media critic Sevanti Ninan has her doubts whether Star TV would want the programme to rise above TV ratings, others feel it could be a venture the production house has undertaken for its image rather than TRP ratings. Says Shola Ramachandran, who heads the publicity department of rival channel Sony, â€œSome showsâ€”like Coffee With Karan or Rendezvous With Simi Garewalâ€”are made to enhance the image of the channel and not to garner TRP ratings. Itâ€™s niche programming, and Aap Ki Kachehri could also be that, though one has to wait for the actual telecast before forming any opinion.â€™â€™
And if the intent is TRP, then God save the queen, says Bijoor. â€œIf the intent is social justice, the programme will be different,â€™â€™ he says. â€œThe tone, tenor and decibel of the program on Day 1 will tell it all.â€™â€™ TNN