I missed SPARK. Sure, I missed and continue to miss a whole lot of plays, films and other events and this due to the fact that I hardly find the time and what little time I get tends to be spent (or wasted) doing nothing. And yet, SPARK was special. At a time when the government is emphasising on the importance of fostering innovation and creativity, the event, organised by Royal College and held from September 25 to 28, was a veritable exhibition (or an ‘Innovation Expo’) showcasing what a typical student (more than 100,000 students from over 500 schools took part), given enough leeway, could do with what he picks up from his studies. It was one of a kind, though not unprecedented, and it was representative of the whole country.
On day three at the college hall, an announcement was made and a website was launched. Both had to do with the inauguration of a TV channel, unconnected to the Expo. Well, SPARK is gone and I am sad to say that I missed it. But that channel, TV Royal, is yet to make the waves. It will be aired on October 26, 27 and 28 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) on PEO TV. It will air pre-scripted episodes, live streamed events, even a short film competition. Sure, it has nothing to do with SPARK. But it has everything to do with the spirit of innovation that SPARK stood for.
People have preferences. This is known. And this applies to the media. Television used to be about storytelling, documentaries and creative advertising. Now it is about crass mega series, propaganda pieces and senseless 30-second spots that neither grab attention nor relay a coherent message. And yet, that’s what people demand.
I’m guessing that most of us want to wade through what little free time we get after school or work with programmes that are easy on the eyes. That is how mega serials have become a huge market. That is how Poya Day serials, so memorable back then, have become so bowdlerised now. Banality is the name of the game here and programmers aren’t just cautious about treading on new territory, they are terrified. It took years and years for the team behind ‘Koombiyo’ to get it on the air after all, let’s not forget.
TV Royal fulfils two aims. The first, Kaif Sally, one of the two organisers behind the project, told me, is “selfish.” There are at present 48 clubs and societies extending to almost every field of activity, from astronomy to zoology, at Royal. As Kaif put it, “they are drawn to the competition that results from the pressure of proving that your club is better than your friend’s.” For this reason, TV Royal will attempt to bring out the sense of kinship between them.
The second aim, which I am interested in, is “selfless” and it entails “setting a trend” for other schools to follow. To put it more succinctly, this is the first time that a school here will telecast its own channel. “We do not want to set a precedent and then prevent others from matching that precedent. We want them to equal us, do better than us and along the way, reinvigorate the concept of media units in the country,” Kaif told me.
The problem, as he points out, is that there is a serious dearth of such media units in Sri Lanka. The way I see it, this is buttressed by the lack of three things: equipment, interest among the students and a set of media competitions.
It is not that schools, even those outside Colombo, lack willpower. Just three months ago, for instance, St. Anne’s College, Kurunegala organised “Sanvidha Sanjani” (which I missed, though for reasons of health), which delved into several facets of the media, from broadcasting to scriptwriting. But such events are more the exception than the norm (“Sanvidha” was held after a long time) and they depend, for the most, on the interest of a student or a group of students. That is the issue TV Royal is trying to resolve, just as SPARK tried to resolve (in its own special way) the virtual absence of a culture of innovation in our students. To this end, a brief note on the organisers, the episodes and the objective that the project is set to achieve, is called for.
TV Royal is the brainchild of one institution, MURC. That’s the Media Unit of Royal College. It is unique, not only because of the resources it and the school it is affiliated to are endowed with, but also because it has managed to “step out” to. Established in 2001, it traces its beginnings to the late 1990s, when the Sinhala Literary Association went beyond its comfort zone and set up an “unofficial” media unit that facilitated news broadcasts. “We were limited in what we did when we started out. It was all about announcing. After 2007, we moved. We ‘embraced’ photography, videography, graphic designing and live streaming.” All these boil down to four outfits: the News Team, the Video Crew, MURC Creatives (covering everything from photography to event management), and Le Postre (something of a talent agency that enables students to take their creativity beyond the school).
Today, MURC is everything a media company can be. It organises workshops every year and practically every month, to select and groom students who wish to engage in the media. Be it graphic designing or photography or even announcing, the process is the same: the senior selects the students who then “become” his understudies. This system, despite its share of flaws, works. It works because, as Kaif tells me, seniors are shrewd enough to pick students who exhibit merit. It is this intricate relationship, between seniors and juniors, that found its way to TV Royal: mooted in 2014 by the MURC board, it became the “idea of the year” four years later, THIS year, for Kaif and the other main organiser, Abdul Rizvie.
In essence, the project, budgeted at five million rupees, will involve 10 directors, 22 managers (that is, the chairmen of the clubs and societies), and around 40 or 50 crew members. As Abdul puts it, “it is easier to think of a television line-up than to actually plan one,” which is probably why, even with the involvement of so many young professionals, there have been edits, cuts and inordinate delays.
TV Royal will highlight these bodies. There is the Scouts Association, the Western Orchestra, the Oriental Music Society, the Red Cross Society and the Library Readers’ Association. These are not the only clubs, but with what little time I had, I only managed to talk with their chairmen, to know what they have planned out.
The scouts will feature a “hike” across Mandaram Nuwara. The orchestra will feature some western classical pieces and English songs and a recounting of their history. The Oriental Music Society will feature some old Sinhala songs (from “Sanda Hiru Tharu” to “Mage Punchi Rosa Male”) and a “reading” of their lyrics. The Red Cross Society, with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Project, will feature the elephant-human conflict and one innovative way through which it can be resolved (a hint: “pani dodam”). The Library Readers’ Association will feature a certain writer and a montage of clips on the world of literature. These clubs and projects are “in-house,” but at the same time, they are about things that exist outside their walls, their perimeters.
TV Royal is the brainchild of one institution, MURC. That’s the Media Unit of Royal College. It is unique, not only because of the resources it and the school it is affiliated to are endowed with, but also because it has managed to “step out” to
Sahan Kithmina, Chairman of the Readers’ Association, summed up for me what he wanted to do with his society: “Api ramuwen eliyata yanna oni.” In other words, get out of the frame. The same can be said of the projects, going beyond the four walls of an institution that other clubs will indulge in. I’m guessing it will be “easy on the eyes.” But I’m also guessing it will offer a veritable “alternative” to what television, so long in the hands of crass commercialists and profiteers, have offered or ever will offer. So no, I won’t miss it. Not for the world.