Media Focus----Practice makes perfect

BY Lalitha Sridhar| IN Opinion | 02/12/2002


Media Focus----Practice makes perfect


It must take quality resources and a great team of writers to write such jam-packed narratives.

Lalitha Sridhar

There are only two kinds of TV watchers I can think of : (a) Those who like The Practice and (b) Those who don’t. Part (b) can only comprise of two kinds of people (i) Those who have not heard of The Practice and (ii) Those who have not tuned into it. Bottom line, TRPs be damned, The Practice is the best thing that happened to Indian television in a long time.

I don’t remember exactly how I started watching it, must have been 4 or 5 years back. Must have also been word of mouth because so rarely has a great show been accorded so little publicity. Star World likes to go to town with a silly thing like "Temptation Island" (which eventually got shelved and good riddance too) but it prefers to treat The Practice fans like they don’t exist. They keep yanking the award-winning serial off the air and never adequately publicize its return. Now, of course, even that dubious luxury is not available - something called Titus has replaced the show (heaven knows what it is about - did they really think The Practice viewers would settle for anything else?). Clearly, Star World imagines that we need practice in watching The Practice.

There are several things that make the show perfect prime time material. The screenplay is taut and the stories cover a whole range of issues - sometimes grave, sometimes frivolous, sometimes impossible and always interesting. The casting is perfect - overworked lawyers, eccentric judges, suspect defendants et al. Even the ‘guest’ actors who walk in and out of the cases appear to be tailored for the role - be it the curly haired man who looks like an angel and likes to strangle chicken and women or the mafia gangster’s shifty-eyed bookkeeper. Above all, the story. Well-researched, non-stereotypical, incisive and with that un-switch-off-ability which surfaces successfully week after week after week to keep us guessing. Edge-of- the- seat suspense,  and forcing the viewer to take a stand on - or at least be disturbed by - complex ethical issues, the stories are to die for. And that often does turn out to be the case - the writers had no compunction about killing off the critical supporting role of Deputy Attorney Richard Bay, Helen Gamble’s possible love interest - and all one could do was gape with disbelief because the story would not allow us to even see it coming.

Compare this to the over-the-top, weird and ludicrous antics of and in Ally McBeal, also a David E.Kelly production launched at about the same time, which most Indian viewers quickly tired of. Yet, in the media, we hear more about Calista "Allie McBeal" Flockhart’s problems with anorexia and the details of her newest love affair with good old Harrison Ford. But ask anybody, including a Practice fan, who plays Lindsay Donell or Helen Gamble and they will remain largely clueless. The Practice is not about star-power, not about tear-jerking mush, not about flamboyant adventure. Why, Practice is not even about law, silly. Why are you even asking? The viewer can only blink from the stupor of some riveting storytelling which throws black and white out of the window and redefines grey - introspective, ethical, confounding, thought-provoking, brilliant grey.

It must take quality resources and a great team of writers to write such jam-packed narratives. Barring a few slower-than-average, relatively insipid stories, the serial would always have two or three cases running simultaneously, all very satisfactorily resolved or temporarily postponed, though never at the deciding juncture. Indian soaps or thrillers or dramas or whatever slot one wants to give these drag-them-as-long-as-you-can shows are hugely stingy about parting with the story - probably because they have so little to share. Episodes end with ridiculous turning points - a telephone call or a villainous smirk, in an obvious paucity of imagination and/or will. The think tanks behind Practice give the impression that the pace must be kept moving at the speed of at least two dozen ideas per minute. It would be interesting if our soap-sters can be challenged into writing one, just one, episode of Practice. Doubtful if even practice will help.

Contact Lalitha Sridhar



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