Ms. Winfrey, the one and only Oprah Winfrey, says she was flummoxed to find that India, a country that prides itself on its close-knit families and respect for elders could also need shelters to house widows shunned by their families. After her visit Oprah called Maria Shriver, and both of them resolved to help fund the organization that runs the widows ‘shelter.
The audience applauded. The audience comprised mainly writers, critics and other participants at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). Ms Winfrey was being interviewed for telecast by NDTV’s Barkha Dutt. Viewership for the show telecast, prime time, was high. And Oprah was at her scintillating self; said a lot of sensible things. Loved the show.
My issue, however, is with the Jaipur festival folk who hosted the Oprah show. Someone with celebrity status such as Oprah needs no promotion; she commands media attention wherever she goes. The same cannot be said for many others at the literature festival who deserve to be heard by a wider audience. I wish the organisers programmed their proceedings in ways that enable lesser known participants gain much-needed media exposure. I know, festival organisers can turn around and say they host varied programmes . They can’t be faulted if such festival proceedings go unnoticed in the media. Organisers cannot tell newspaper reporters and TV channels whom or what to cover at the festival.
And the media always goes after celebrities. The reason why persons of social stature and celebrtiy status are invited to such events is understandable. The festival organisers need participation of the likes of Oprah and Rushdie much more than their need to participate at Jaipur. In the process the celebrity invitees take up virtually the entire space, and media attention, leaving most other participants crowded out of the limelight.
The Oprah show at Jaipur took up media time/space that could have otherwise gone to other participants who could do with some publicity to further their career. The factor that drives lesser known, but promising, writers to Jaipur is the possibility it holds for networking and for media attention. A person of Oprah’s calibre and celebrity status has scores of platforms open to her. Ms Dutt could have done her interview in a studio setting. The festival organizers could have hosted a round-table format, with Oprah interacting with a group of writers who deserve to be heard and seen on TV .
What dominates media coverage at Jaipur is the protest-reading by four writers , of passages from The Satanic Verses, and the controversy over the proposed visit to Jaipur of author Salman Rushdie. And then we had him announce that he wasn’t coming, after all. Rushdie’s announcement came with a much publicised statement, citing intelligence report that held him back from Jaipur. Apparently, Rushdie knows how to gain publicity mileage even in absentia.