Grandma\’s Tales

January 17, 2007

Grammar – 24 Ambiguity and Shilpa Shetty

Filed under: Language,Society — Rajesh @ 9:13 pm

The news channels are spilling over with clippings, news, opinions and debates about the Shilpa Shetty episode on Channel 4’s reality show Big Brother.

Shilpa Shetty, a Bollywood actor signed a contract with Channel 4 to be part of the reality show Big Brother in return for Rs. 3 crores. Her mom was asked why Shilpa chose to be on a show where cameras watch (and telecast) her every move, all day, for weeks, while sharing a room with half a dozen people. The mom said Shilpa was always followed by an entourage during her movie shooting schedules and was waited upon. The poor girl thought of this as an opportunity to be on her own.  And perhaps learn a few lessons on taking independent decisions.

Well, Shilpa is learning her lessons the hard way. Her “housemates” – one TV channel called them “housemaids” – are giving her a few unforgettable pointers in racism as it obtains in the UK. One kept referring to her as Indian(? – with a derogative smirk?), another called her “Paki”, a third found fault with her accent, a fourth went to the extent of referring to her as “dog”. A pretty picture all this made.

From what I saw on the clippings, I thought Shilpa took it all very well. She said, “My name is Shilpa. Why don’t you learn to say it? You can try!” rather sweetly. the answer to that from a woman was, “I am British, I can’t help it if I can’t pronounce your name!” Eventually, Shilpa broke down and was seen being consoled by a concerned guy.

One opinion suggested that on a reality show the participants are expected to behave (as their natural selves?) in a way to add pep to the episodes.  Who is interested in good, well-mannered people anyway? We see such behaviour on sitcoms, don’t we? Question is, should such remarks be allowed anywhere? Question also is, why did the channel thought it necessary to air those shots?

We know the answers. More than 15,000 complaints reached a watchdog organisation, a few less went to Channel 4, the labour MP Keith Vaz raised the issue in the British parliament and PM Tony Blair made a statement. Here, our I & B minister promised to “look into the matter”. The Channel could not have asked for more. And Shilpa Shetty got huge dollops of sympathy and publicity.

It’s strange her “co-stars” on the show should comment on Shilpa’s accent. Anyone who watched My Fair Lady would know what one of the best British writers thought of the way Britishers spoke their language.  Prof. Higgins said famously, “Why can’t the British teach their children to speak?”
Now, the ambiguity. NDTV ran this strip line on the story.
Tony Blair condemns  allegations of  racism on Big Brother.
The first time this line appeared, my husband shouted, “Hey, Blair doesn’t want anyone  complaining about racism!” (“condemns allegations”)
Do you see how he understood the word “allegations”? The word is of course used as a safety net. As in “In Nithari, Maninder Singh allegedly abused and killed dozens of kids.”
The next two sentences made his stand clear. He wanted racist attacks to be deleted, probably participants warned. You hear about language slur in sports all the time, now you hear them in publicly-aired shows.
The “white man’s burden” hasn’t eased, has it?

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