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Bangalore RJs are cautious, but pranks are still risky

Thursday, 27 June 2013 11:11 Written by 

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The radio jockey who reportedly caused the death of a nurse in London has just won an award, triggering more outrage. Bangalore’s prank show hosts talk about their fears, and reveal how far they would go

In December 2012, Indian nurse Jacintha Saldhana, working in London, killed herself soon after she received a prank call from a radio station. She was tricked into believing Buckingham Palace was calling her, and unwittingly revealed the sex of the child that Prince William and Kate Middleton were expecting. Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the Australian radio jockeys who worked for the Sydney-based 2Day FM channel, tendered a tearful apology soon after. Their show, Hot 30, went off the air.




Jacintha Saldhana


But two months after he made the call, and once the brouhaha had settled, Michael returned to work. Mel, however, never went back. Michael has just been awarded the ‘next top jock’ prize by his employers, triggering another round of criticism. In India, RJs routinely make prank calls. The prank concept has been around here for more than a decade (Cyrus Broacha used to run a show on TV called Bakra), but prank calls became popular on radio only after the advent of private FM channels. The government-run All India Radio, which has a history of 83 years, has never pulled a prank on its listeners till date. In Bangalore, radio prank segments have been around for seven years. RJ Prithvi from Radio One is one of the oldest prank callers on the Bangalore airwaves.


His shows Birthday Bakra and Trin Trin have won him some laughs, but he has now stopped the latter show because it required him to be rude. “Basically, we are all sadists and like to laugh at another’s cost,” says RJ Rohit of Big FM. His prank segment, No Tension, has been on air for fiveand- a-half years now. He says the idea is to relieve a listener of his or her problems by “giving someone else tension”. RJ Danish Sait’s Supari on Fever 104, where he puts on many accents, has been on air for three months. He enjoys 3,237 followers on his SoundCloud account.One of his most popular pranks—a fuel station attendant calling up a customer and telling him he filled diesel in the tank of a petrol car—has garnered over two and a half lakh hits on audio sharing site SoundCloud.>


When a prank misfires


Pranks can, and do, go wrong. Rohit has encountered situations where people, especially women, have broken down and cried. “Once I played a prank on a girl and she was in tears.I had to apologise,” he says. Prithvi stopped hosting Trin Trin, where he had to take listeners by surprise and launch a diatribe. “I would pretend I had complaints with them and yell. I got fed up of yelling and stopped,” he says. He had once pranked a girl about to get married. The call didn’t go as expected. “The moment I sensed she was uncomfortable, I stopped,” recalls Prithvi. He asked her if he could air the recording. She refused, and he abandoned it.


Danish has had his share of scares. He once received a call from a father who wanted to prank his son. “I pretended to be the principal and called the mother and said her son had copied in the exam. Unfortunately the son was around and she gave the phone to him and asked me to speak to him. I could figure out how scared he was. That’s when I decided to stop the prank,” he says. Victims sometimes get furious, abuse the RJs, and cut the call. But that doesn’t discourage the radio stations. “People love it when I get abused on air. I actually look forward to such moments. This doesn’t hurt me or affect me in any way since I think they are abusing the character I play and not me personally,” says Danish. The moment people sound irritated, Rohit knows a prank has worked.


Sometimes people hang up even before RJs reveal themselves. “That’s when I call back and tell them this was a prank,” he says. Given the frequency of the prank shows, many people are familiar with the RJs’ voices, and prank calls often fall flat. Some people recognise Prithvi’s voice and call his bluff. “That’s when I look up for another bakra,” he says. Some things the RJs will never do while pulling a prank. “I never play a prank on someone who has been to a hospital and back. I sometimes get requests from guys who want to prank their girlfriends. I completely refuse to do that,” adds Danish. Though there are no hard and fast rules, Prithvi says he knows where to draw the line. “My intention is not to hurt people but to make them laugh at the end of the prank,” he says.


Hundreds of requests


The number of prank requests is overwhelming. Rohit receives close to 100 requests every day via email, Facebook and SMS. Prithvi and Danish sometimes find it difficult to choose from the pile of requests. They pick the ones that sound interesting to them personally. Over the years the content and the format of the prank calls have also changed. RJs agree the calls have become funnier, nastier and outrageous too at times.


Pranks have no boundaries. They have gone from subtle to outrageous,” Prithvi says. Shiny Alexander, a fashion designer, was recently pranked by Danish and says she found the experience “pretty funny.” “I had no clue it was a prank. Danish called me when I was in Goa and said I had to be in Bangalore for a fashion show. I refused, saying I couldn’t be there at such short notice. He then asked what I was doing in Goa, only eating fish and crab, which I found funny. He tried his best to irritate me,” she says. Later on, she found out that the prank was requested by her friend.


No pranks on AIR


While private FM channels encourage this format, FM stations like AIR FM Rainbow strictly refrain from going anywhere near them. N Raghu, Programme Executive of Amrutha Varshini, All India Radio’s classical music channel, says his station’s RJs are told to steer clear of such concepts. “Our motto is the well-being of listeners. We feel pranks affect them adversely,” he says.


He personally believes prank shows are market-driven, even unethical. “You can’t take advantage of your not being seen,” he says. “They are aired because people who control this market want such shows, and not the audience.” The prank shows have their critics. “It is not funny because I feel RJs publicly humiliate people. You never know what is going on in the victim’s mind. It’s okay if they create a funny situation, but calling them names is not acceptable,” says Dominic Legori, an IT professional who listens to the radio regularly.


Danish made his first prank call when he was in Bahrain. “I had picked up the Arab accent. My first prank was where I tried to imitate some Arabs,” he recalls. After that he moved to Dubai, where he worked in another radio station and got to co-host a show with Krithika Rawat, whom he regards as “the mother of all pranksters.” He says he can do the Malayali, American, and Kannada accents well. For Prithvi, the next prank is always on his mind. “Much depends on the victim’s reaction. It has to be spontaneous,” he says.

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Read 368 times Last modified on Friday, 28 June 2013 06:57

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