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Displaying rare staying power

For the last 10 years Nammal Thammil has given viewers a chance to voice, and debate sensitive issues. PREMA MANMADHAN spoke to Sreekandan Nair after its 400th episode


THE GIFT of the gab can make people either seek you or flee from you. But this quality has made Sreekandan Nair famous, rich and a much sought-after guy. His talking power has been on for 10 years now, culminating in the 400th episode of Nammal Thammil, the show he hosts, Saturday last. In celebration mode, it was telecast live, with viewers from the US, Japan, Europe and home, chipping in with their comments and questions. There is a proposal to make all Nammal Thammil live, but it is only under consideration, said its creator.

The subject of this 400th episode was in keeping with the `Marunadan Malayali' interest. Translated loosely, it was, `Must the Malayali go abroad to do well? The underlying theory was that the Malayali works quite well abroad, but back home, he is adept at indulging in all sorts of trade unionism that spells doom for the employer.

Entrepreneurs who burnt their fingers were called in as guests and on the panel were both employers and trade unionists to add pep to the debate. But the representation of women on the panel was very poor. "We have a problem getting women to present their views. But in this case, as the programme was live, many men chickened out too. Nearly 50 people backed out, some after confirming," Mr Nair disclosed.

Usually, the popularity ratings of a show cannot withstand the rigorous public demands, and the host is likely to be shown the door. But Nammal Thammil has been fortunate.


How did he take to talkathons? As a teacher in Kerala Varma College, Thrissur, after getting an M.Phi in Politics, he got this urge to do something else and started a Just-A-Minute programme on AIR, which turned out to be a hit. He joined AIR as a Programme Executive then. From that, took off a Doordarshan show in the same vein, after he was transferred to the capital. It was book talk this time. That was when Asianet sensed the talking material in him and invited him to do the show. The first one was a programme on Super fast buses. It was the talking point then, of the newly introduced super fast buses knocking down people. Mr. Nair had this funny theory spelt out: If 84 people got run over by 500 super fast buses in one and a half years, how many people would be killed in five years? That show became a hit, especially as the panel consisted of a sacked driver and victims' kin. It was super-charged with emotions and thus Nammal Thammil, as we know it, was born.

It was not a cakewalk, however. There were instances when threats came his way. His wife would get threatening calls when a sensitive issue was dealt with in a show. His favourites are the ones on goondaism, on the Abhaya case and the one on sex workers, because they were brought together with great risk, which ultimately paid off.

Mr. Nair complains that political leaders would shoot off their views, sans caution in the early episodes, but later, learnt to be careful, which robbed the shows of their raw nature. The embarrassed faces of well known personalities and the way in which they were cornered had added to the selling points of the show, but after all these years, what Mr Nair has learnt is `to tone down uncomfortable questions so as not to hurt the sentiments of anyone.' One more thing he had better learn is never to go on talking when the viewers would like the participants to talk. In some of the episodes, this flaw is manifest.

What about the rolls and rolls of self-censored tape that may eventually get some sort of moral declassification? "There are several such scenes that were cut so as not to harm the interests of participants, but I don't know if those can ever be shown," he said. Talk on, for people love a fight, especially a verbal duel, and creating an arena for that satisfies the Peeping Tom in us all!

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