First introduced two decades ago, the Women's Reservation Bill that promises 33% reservation to women in elections to Lok Sabha and Assemblies might yet see the light of the day but there is another 33% that is quietly making waves in Tamil Nadu’s media scene.
Launched around elections, the television show titled 33% airs on News7 Tamil on weekdays and has women hosting and anchoring it. Last week, 33% completed 100 episodes – no means a feat in a television environment skewed towards men.
Sample this: A study conducted by Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) showed that regional channels had only 24% of women's representation among anchors. In Tamil, women anchors doing hard political shows continue to be far and few. Almost all the news channels in Tamil do have women anchoring prime time shows but not many have been able to cut through the rigid glass ceiling.
V Saradha, who has done prime time shows in a television channel, argues that the challenges ‘are double for women anchoring prime time shows.’
“Personally, I know the body language and the attitudes are strikingly different when a woman moderates a show. I have had people use patronising language to me when anchoring the show. Most panellists don’t consider women anchors as equal. Such attitudes also rub off on the viewers. So I have to establish that I know what I am talking about and that I run the show. I should get the message across to the viewers too. This is something male anchors can easily get away with. No matter how young they are, no panellist would talk patronisingly to them," she says.
Journalist and a regular panellist in Tamil television shows R Mani agrees that there needs to be more women anchors doing hard-hitting shows.
“I have been talking about more women anchoring the shows and panels for four years now. In Tamil, women dominate the news reading scene and men the prime time shows. There is definitely an improvement. There are women anchoring prime time shows but it is certainly not enough. I feel it is the collective responsibility of the management, editorial and the viewers to make this happen. No stakeholder, including us, can shy away from that responsibility," he says.
In bringing the 33% show to the viewers, News7 Tamil might have taken that first small step. The one-hour show has three women anchors having a no-holds barred discussion on anything under the sun.
“But if you expect us to talk what you deem as regular stuff that women generally talk, you will be disappointed,” says Sugitha Sarangaraj, Associate Editor at News7 Tamil and producer of the show. She also anchors prime time debates on the channel. Also, just because it is run by and features women, the show is not on women.
“We, of course, talk about women’s issues too but do not confine ourselves to that. The seven women who take turns in appearing on the show - Lavanya, Mrinalini, Sivasankari, Sarayu, Sowmya, Mumtaj and I - have this unquenchable thirst for news and other issues. We talk about that, sometimes it is also a bit overwhelming in that all of us have strong opinions on many issues," she says.
On most days, it is so overwhelming that it spills over to their WhatsApp discussions, too, “which may go well beyond midnight when we are talking about the content and ideas for the show next day.”
So, you can hear them giving their take on breaking news, their perspectives on developing stories (yes, they do have it) and their concerns about issues like environment etc. They have fun, too. Lavanya, one of the anchors in the show, once walked in with a helmet on a day when a fine of Rs 10,000 was announced for not wearing helmets. The show in which they had intense discussions on water scarcity was a runaway hit.
“It was trending on YouTube, and we have had tremendous feedback. The episode in which we shared perspectives on debut speeches of women MPs in Parliament was well-received too. In fact, several of our episodes have trended on social media," says Sugitha.
With such positive feedback, the management thought the show shouldn’t stop with elections, as it was originally planned. “I should say the idea for this show came from our editor Kosal Ram and Chief Operating officer Chandru. I am glad the trust they reposed on us has paid off,” Sugitha says.
This is perhaps what Saradha means when she talks about the support of the management. “Even the male psyche, I wouldn’t exactly call it a hurdle. It needs extra effort but we can break it. The managements of news channels should come forward to give more opportunities to women anchors to do prime time shows. Having said that, I should also add that things are definitely changing for better.”
Like the finally happening 33%.
Kavitha Muralidharan is a journalist with two decades of experience, writing on politics, culture, literature and cinema.