Why TED Talks India Nayi Soch is TV’s Most Intellectual Offering

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Why TED Talks India Nayi Soch is TV’s Most Intellectual Offering

Illustration: Shruti Yatam/Arré

Great news: Star Plus has apparently fired the kid who kept coming up with all those cringeworthy reality show ideas — “let’s do the same thing… but with kids” — to give us programming that has the potential to make Indian television great again. The Shah Rukh Khan-hosted “TED Talks India Nayi Soch” premiered yesterday hidden somewhere between season 22 of “Kidz Gone Wild” and the season premiere of “Plebs Meet Celebs”, and it’s probably already the most intellectual offering from Indian television in the last 10 years.

The episode opened with the charismatic Shah Rukh Khan not sharpening his knives or glaring at any contestant. It did not end with a panel of judges bursting into theatrical tears. With a noticeable lack of drama, the first speaker, Dr Gautam Bhan, observed that more emphasis was being put on the demolition of settlements in cities, rather than their upgradation. He cited Thailand’s massive housing upgrade as a successful model for us to follow, and that was that. No sob story about how his 24 grandchildren live in a gutter without clothes, no conflict generated via a team of enthusiastic slum demolishers.

Consecutive speakers ranged from novelists, to musicians, to a man who quit his job in the automobile industry to create forests. None of the speakers were judged by a panel of has-been actor/entertainers, and none faced elimination at the end of the week. This is why the new TED Talks could be one of the most important shows on Indian television today. It’s placing Indian innovators in a position of equal prominence as sick dance moves. It is making science as cool as arguments between saas and bahu. And it’s also challenging Star Plus viewers — so far notorious for being that uncle on the local train — to think, if not big, then certainly better.

Aamir Khan tried a few years ago to crack intelligent, massy television, but ended up overtaking onion-cutting as the number one cause for tears shed in the country. Satyamev Jayate started out talking about relevant topics but no one could see what was happening by season 2 because the tears were flowing so thick and fast. The hyper drama made the show fairly unbearable to watch and we never heard from it again. Amitabh Bachchan took a crack at making tv smarter with Kaun Banega Crorepati, but he takes so long to ask the question that people usually fall asleep by the time the smart parts start. Salman Khan decided to fuck that shit and went on to host the many public urinators that make up Bigg Boss.

Shah Rukh Khan, with TED Talks, has landed in a nice little sweet spot.

I believe TED Talks could be India’s first step toward creating television that isn’t peddling brain-dead and rehearsed ideas. Plus it relies little on celebrities, choosing in case to showcase brilliant, but everyday Indians, who can still be inspiring without having spent years cultivating a stage persona. TED Talks India Nayi Soch has the ability to change the general discourse at the tapri from #Virushka’s secret wedding to the conservation of water in drought-hit areas. It has the potential to inspire change.

Until it lasts.