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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 40, Dated Oct 11, 2008
CULTURE & SOCIETY  

Tony B Good

Aniruddha Bahal acts out mofussil interviewer Tony B, leaving his guests mocked and confused, says MANJULA NARAYAN

MUCH OF Indian television is laughable. You spend hours tittering at gurus with wild hairdos and at astrologers who exhort you to avoid sex during rahu kaal, and many more wondering why anchors on news channels shriek, and if their great urgency indicates an incipient urge to visit the bathroom.

Which brings you to Channel V’s Tony B, who makes it a point to let the viewer know, in a weird accent replete with mispronunciations, misplaced articles and malapropisms, when it’s time to “be going to the bathroom and doing the necessary thing”. A first-time viewer might take a while to gauge the tone of this new show. Tony B aka Aniruddha Bahal — a journalist known for sting operations, for winning the 2003 Bad Sex in Fiction Award for Bunker 13 and, currently, as editor-inchief of Cobrapost — manages to make his ridiculous disguise of ill-fitting wig, ugly suit and outsized YSL (no less!) glasses entirely believable. You are even taken in by the accent… for the first five seconds.

Tony B’s interviewees, however, aren’t as adept at spotting that they’re being needled: Manish Arora begins slowly to froth at the mouth as 41-yearold Bahal’s oafish persona asks, “How many hot cot you make?” “Haute couture,” Arora corrects him, with a sneer.

“He kept correcting everything I said… because he didn’t want to look bad!” laughs Bahal, who clearly has a finely-tuned bulls**t metre — a quality that probably makes it harder to maintain the accent and that straight face.

“Many of the show’s funny situations grow out of interviewees’ desperate urge to appear to be ‘in’. So, if I ask them what they think of the Dalai Lama being detained in Singur (which, sigh, never happened), they react to it. It’s surreal. People find it difficult to admit they don’t know about something. They’d rather admit to a falsity,” he says, adding that most people are mortally afraid of appearing unsophisticated.

Bahal’s exploration of this rich vein of intellectual status anxiety is what gives the Tony B show its edge. “It was a challenge because it’s unscripted humour. At the same time, these are also interviews. So you have to walk a very careful faultline, and you have to be conscious,” says Bahal, who believes he’s taken the unscripted humour format further than the UK’s Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen’s manic Ali G sketches used the device of the unreliable anchor to demolish everyone from politicians to pop culture figures, but lasted about 5 minutes each. “Nobody’s managed to sustain it for half an hour,” he says. “Very the true,” you mumble in a pale imitation of Tony B’s over-the-top mofussil accent.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 40, Dated Oct 11, 2008

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