Who’ll be UK’s PM?

April 17 : It was meant to be bigger than Britain’s Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor all rolled into one. Only it should have been called Who Wants To Be The Prime Minister?

This was the great leadership debate held this week, vigorously hyped up by newspapers and television channels, which hoped that more than 20 million viewers would tune in. Because we live in a world of instant decisions, we were told that in the short course of 90 minutes, we could decide on the next Prime Minister of the country. All we had to do was remain on our sofas and stare carefully at the TV screen on which the meticulously choreographed event was being presented. There was no need to think too deeply about policies or manifestos — if we liked the bloke on the screen, he could be crowned Prime Minister. As simple as that.
Each leader got a chance to make an opening statement, in front of a pre-selected live audience, after which questions were placed before them and none of them got more than a few minutes to present an answer. It was the perfect platform during which a good soundbyte could change the course of an election. And, much to the surprise of most, it actually did. The debate turned out to be a real game changer. The leader who had been lagging behind in the polls till yesterday has now suddenly raced ahead. Much to our surprise, the first debate seems to have been won by a dark horse whose dreams for the keys to No. 10 no longer seem to be a joke. There are still two more debates left to go through… but now the situation has become even more volatile. 
Therefore, the event has become historic already especially since it was the first time that such a debate, on live television, was being held, American style. The three leaders: Gordon Brown for Labour, David Cameron for the Conservatives, and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats had been preparing for the big moment for a long time. They had their own advisers — which included those who had groomed US President Barack Obama. Many feel that the TV debate is now an essential especially since the opinion poll lead between the Conservatives and the Labour Party has narrowed in recent months.
Though it may be a frivolous way to push the argument, the prevailing wisdom is that it is these leadership debates which will ultimately help voters to make up their minds.
So over the past few weeks, we had been fed information about what the leaders were expected to say on air and what their body language and their gestures would mean; we had also been told to look out for their weak links. The outgoing Prime Minister Mr Brown had been told to keep a leash on his temper, while Mr Cameron had been told to communicate gravitas. However, Mr Clegg, the leader of the Labour Democrats from whom no one expected anything, had no such restrictions placed upon him. And this turned out to work to his advantage. It was the first time that the leader of the Liberal Democrats had been given such a terrific platform — on par with the Conservatives and the Labour Party. And Mr Clegg, the unknown entity, used it to his advantage. He was able to trash the older parties and lay all the problems the country is facing at their doorstep. Quite correctly he was able to point out that he, and not the Conservatives, was offering the real change — because the Lib Dems so far have never held power at the Centre.
It was an infallible argument — and Mr Clegg (about whom till now the only interesting thing we had learnt was that he had slept with more than 30 women) is now leading the pack. And this is where we have to respect the wonderful bookies of the United Kingdom. Even before the debate began they had indicated that Mr Clegg would win it, and they were right. So now suddenly all bets are off again — and the election will now definitely go down to the wire. But is this game-show format, with instant polls proclaiming a winner at the end of the debate, the best way to choose a Prime Minister? I don’t think anyone wants to answer that question right now.

MEANWHILE, ANOTHER surprise this week was Gurinder Chaddha’s latest film, It’s a Wonderful Afterlife which had a red carpet premiere at London’s Leicester Square. A little wilder than her earlier films and definitely meant for those with a strong stomach, it is, as someone said rather kindly, “a bit of mindless fun”. Looking back at the extraordinary simplicity and effectiveness of Bend it Like Beckham, one is perplexed with the needlessly chaotic plot of It’s A Wonderful Afterlife. It is as though she took a bit from Monsoon Wedding, a bit from Shaun of the Dead, some bits from Carrie, shook them all up, shoved in a Gurudwara, Bollywood bhangra, some murders, a few ghosts and then sat back hoping for the best. It is meant be a comedy but there are very few moments that one can actually laugh. In fact, the so-called “funny” portions in the film are actually completely gross: a sort of high-school humour that perhaps appeals to a certain age group. However, my biggest problem with the film was the tackiness of the presentation. Right from the opening sequence, to the grey paint on the ghosts, to the visuals of Southall — the presentation was awkward.
At a time when it is difficult to make films in the UK, when the country and the industry is just coming out of recession, perhaps we need to really examine the kind of cinema which is being made and not waste any opportunity.
Shabana Azmi missed the premiere because she had broken her foot — and quite honestly, she, along with Sally Hawkins, are perhaps the only two reasons why you should even attempt to see the film. However, I do think that even a great actress like Shabana was definitely under-utilised. Well, we are hoping that Gurinder will recover from this foray and come back to Bend it Like Beckham standards quite soon.

By Kishwar Desai
The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com

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