Chicken Pox and Wax Dilemma Inspires Novel on Indian TV

A television journalist's experiences become the basis for an absurd debut novel.

NEW DELHI -- Expletive-mouthing executives obsessed with PowerPoint presentations, an incoherent female talk show host with "thunder thighs" and a prime-time news anchor desperate for a knockout story that will hold India's attention.

All are part of Naomi Datta's debut novel The 6 pm Slot, which takes an irreverent look at India's ratings-hungry television industry and gives insight into its inner workings, with character traits drawn from the author's real-life observations.

The book, which launched in India this month, started out as a short story based on an absurd work dilemma faced by the former broadcast journalist while working for a music channel.

"One of our anchors contracted chicken pox and we had an emergency meeting on what we could do if the girl was not able to wax in time for the shoot," Datta said in an email interview. "It was a very genuine problem at that time and had all of us very worried. But even at that point, I found it very amusing." Datta added more characters and situations and the short story turned into a novel about an entertainment channel launching a "Love Calls" talk show with a scantily clad host in a bid to boost ratings.

When a dying girl calls up the helpline and is rebuffed by the inexperienced host, a TV news channel desperate for a big story blows the incident out of proportion, spearheading a prime-time campaign to locate the caller. The novel doesn't paint a pretty picture of the TV industry in India, blurring the line between news and entertainment journalism, but Datta says she didn't really intend to scare away wannabe television reporters.

"The intent was to be irreverent about television but some readers have told me that they found it rather scathing and a bit dark," she says. "It is a satire -- so I have highlighted the absurdity, and maybe that's why it seems like a negative portrayal."

Datta, who now freelances as a consultant in Mumbai, wrote the book while on an eight-month sabbatical from work and is still excited about working on a powerful medium like TV. "If you can develop a healthy sense of detachment and a sense of humor, you should be fine," she said.