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Sunday, April 27, 2014

The "Election Express" experience

The past week has been a good one for me. Some things which I have never thought about, even in my dreams, actually happened for real.

I've been following Headlines Today's "Election Express" series ever since they started promos of the bus. It instantly caught my attention & I ended up being fascinated with the idea, simply because it was a whole new thing in India. (Yeah, I know CNN has done it in the US etc, but in India, this is very new)

So, I shifted loyalties from The Newshour to this show and found it very interesting.
A. Like I said, the idea itself is so fresh &
B. It is such a welcome change from hearing the same old stale arguments that happen in closed TV studios.

& it is such a novel attempt, converting the Twitter handle of the whole channel, to that of the bus. The good part is the increased engagement with tweeters. Initially, I was a bit disappointed as Bangalore was not on the itinerary of the bus. But last week, I saw a tweet that said they are coming to Bangalore.

It was announced a day in advance. I had decided I was going to go. There was a last-minute hiccup though - Arvind Kejriwal had just sent out a barrage of tweets hitting out at Arnab. Twitter went into a frenzy, with thousands bracing themselves for Arnab's carnage of a response. So, for a moment, I just paused to think whether I should cancel my plan or not :P

But then I decided to go ahead with it - I could always watch the video online later. I would never get to see the bus and be a part of this show again. So I rode for an hour from office to Phoenix Marketcity post work.

I could already see the bus from the entrance. I parked my bike & came up to the arena. The bus looked amazing. It was being cleaned then.

It was around 6.30 pm by the time I reached. The arena was all set up - the chairs, the cut-outs of politicians, the speakers. I still had 1 and a half hours to go.

I tweeted to Rahul Kanwal & Pierre, asking them about what time it would start & to my surprise, both replied, saying it would start at 8 pm.

After clicking some selfies with the bus, I observed that the Aam Aadmi Party fans were already there. I could see many people wearing the AAP topis taking their seats ...kinda proves that AAP is most attracted towards the cameras, no? ;) ...okay, kidding. I could see some Congress supporters also arriving, Mr.Rajeev Gowda being the most recognizable one. Internet Hindus seemed nowhere around. There were drums being set up, some music was going to happen.

It was around 7.15 pm when Rahul Kanwal finally arrived.

He was having a word with people like Mr.Rajeev Gowda. I was still outside the arena near the door of the bus. When he finally came near the door and saw me, I introduced myself and said that I'm from The UnReal Times. He then invited me in, welcomed me, saying "Glad you could join us" and as I was looking for a seat, he jokingly said, "Don't make fun of us, okay!"

I took a seat behind a few Modi supporters, one of whom recognized me.

There was a band, Aurko, which was scheduled to perform there. They were testing the equipment. Rahul started engaging with the audience, telling them what the format of the show would be like, what issues they would like to discuss and so on.

He sounded me out to the crowd again - he said, "Please don't keep your bags in the way, otherwise I'll trip and fall & The UnReal Times will make fun of me. There's a gentleman from The UnReal Times here, where is he?" ...I raised my hand & all heads turned towards me. Some Modi supporters who were around said they enjoyed reading The UnReal Times. They offered me one of the saffron caps which they had! Hehe! I laughed and politely refused.

The one sitting next to me was asking me about our team etc. He didn't know my name. He said "I'm sorry, you are?" ...I said "I'm Ashwin" & he said, "Ohhhh! Ashwin! Wow, your articles are awesome" etc etc ...Hehe! Well, I thanked him & went about answering all questions he had about URT. All this felt really really odd - I was not used to getting attention in public & I was sort of unsettled when this happening. Hehe!

Anyway, soon enough, after rehearsing the band's start & the Kathak dancer's bit, Rahul urged the crowd to be noisy & cheerful. The cameras started rolling & after Aurko performed for a couple of minutes, the show started in traditional fashion - with Rahul making his entry from inside the bus. The first point discussed was the low voter turnout in Bangalore.

After that, the discussion shifted to whether there is a Modi wave or not. There were all sorts of points being made. Modi supporters enthusiastically cheered everything in their favour and booed everything that was against them. The point then went to people like Nilekani & Balakrishnan ushering in a whole new trend in politics.

At every break, Rahul asked the crowd what issues they wanted to discuss in the next segment. It was in the last segment when something hilarious happened - a Congress supporter who was standing right behind me, started a ruckus and made so much noise that Rahul had to scamper to him. He started yelling and screaming that the whole show was "fixed" and had only BJP & AAP supporters. He said "If you had told us, we could've got 1000 Congress people here. You should stop this! Right now!" etc.

It was fun to watch Rahul's expressions as this guy was hollering. I was sitting right over there and my laughter is clearly visible on camera :D ...With this act on camera, this guy just undid whatever good things Mr.Rajeev Gowda & other Congress supporters passionately spoke of. One of the Modi supporters said that this is the true face of the Congress. The shouting continued even as Rahul went back to the first row. Soon, a Congress supporter from the other side came over and calmed this guy down, explaining what the show is about. Phew! It was super fun to watch :D ...& a bit scary too! The way he was menacingly shouting, I thought he would beat up Rahul!

I was thinking if I would get a chance  to speak, but I didn't crave for it. Soon, the show got over & the band concluded with another song. People who were watching the show to see me expected me to speak, but I couldn't - well, the topics themselves were such that they were mainly relevant to the supporters of political parties :) Non-partisan folks like me could hardly have anything to say.

Anyway, being among the audience for such a novel & well-designed TV show in itself was such a honour and amazing experience. As people made their way out of the arena, Rahul was mobbed by various fans for photos. Unfortunately, my cell-battery was exhausted and I couldn't take pics on my camera. I ruled out the possibility of a photo of me and him. As I was leaving, Rahul once again thanked me for joining the program, when it was actually me who should've thanked him for allowing me in!

Anyway, to my luck, a fan of Modi said that he wanted a photo with me. I told him, "In that case, please take a photo of Rahul and I first, my battery is out" :D ...he then took this pic...

& then this one.

Thank you very much for this, Prateek! This was the first-ever time a fan / reader actually took a photo with me :D ...and I still don't know what to say! It feels really odd & overwhelming, more than anything else. I've never, ever been used to such attention & I really don't know how to react :D ...I'm just stunned!

Anyway, I shook hands with Rahul, who was still being mobbed for photographs & took leave. People finally requested him to return to Bangalore post May 16th. It was an UnReal day :) was great to meet one of India's top journalists. I never thought such a day would come in my life :D ...& I still can't believe this happened! :)

Anyway, like I tweeted, Rahul is a very nice chap - very warm & courteous. There was absolutely none of the snobbishness or arrogance in him, which you see in quite a few other anchors on air.

Phew! That's about it!
Do catch the Election Express whenever it comes to your city, it'll be worth it! :) It is a very well-designed show & you can really witness the hard work that is going into it, as it is being shot.
Fun time!

My photo album is here.


Thanks for your patience in reading this long post! :)

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