No Offense: The Irresistible Charm of a “Silent” Program

Vahram Martirosyan

Writer, screenwriter

On December 18, Ruzanna Karapetyan was a guest on the Public TV of Armenia program Chakertner (“Quotation Marks“), an interview-format program broadcast on weekdays after midnight, the producer and host of which is Artur Bakhtamyan (the director is Samvel Hakobyan and reporter is Seda Harutyunyan). 

The episode opens with brief information about the guest accompanied by a slideshow, while the discussion is comprised of the same questions, from her small personal preferences to her opinion on important public issues. 

The danger of regular questions is same or same type of answers, but Ruzanna, who’s deaf, is from a world where there is no sound, which she didn’t avoid talking about, and almost all the topics revealed this frankness from a completely unexpected aspect. 

Asked about film, Ruzanna said likes Bollywood movies. It seems there should be nothing surprising in this: Bollywood films were in Armenian movie theaters for months at a time during the Soviet years, and there is no shortage of Bollywood fans in Armenia today. But Ruzanna’s situation is different. The reason for her preference is the lively, emotional gestures of Indians: It makes it easier for viewers who communicate in sign language to follow the story.

During the interview, an excerpt from a Bollywood film was shown where the main characters communicate only in sign language, which continued in an even more expressive form when they began to sing and dance. 

Responding to other questions by the host, Ruzanna said she would like to be in London where there’s a king and queen; out of all the weapons, she likes the bow and arrow the most, a symbol of an obviously romantic character; she reads the Bible; she doesn’t like “infidelity or lies”; and it’s her dream to have complete hearing, though, nevertheless, she is content that she has eyes, hands, and feet, and is equal to all.

Ruzanna doesn’t have “speaking” friends; she is afraid of war and the dark, the latter because she doesn’t hear the sound of cars. She likes Armenia, and she would like to be employed: “We went to many employers, [but] they didn’t hire [me].”

(It would be worth organizing a collective screening of this program, say, in the ruling Republican Party of Armenia office, so that conceited, wealthy rulers remember that when one out of six people in “secure” Armenia is unemployed, people with disabilities can lose hope entirely that they will ever be able to enjoy their constitutional right to have employment.)

Ruzanna’s participation in Chakertner is an admirable example of how a well-chosen guest adorns the program. Fortunately, the talent of the creative team is not limited to this. Artur Bakhtamyan takes an interest in his guests, whom he doesn’t interrupt, as long as there is enthusiasm and something new in their words, while many other interviewers do, to remind viewers of their existence. Meanwhile, even if there is a monologue on air, which engulfs TV viewers, it is definitely a result of the work of the journalist and the team. 

The abundance of video content also contributed to viewing the program: excerpts from practice sessions of the deaf dance club, from Michael Kotanjyan’s “The Sound of Silence” video, with actors who are hard of hearing, and from a concert in which Ruzanna and her friends sing… in sign language. 

Having a deaf woman as a guest, the program reminds us how little space people with disabilities occupy on television — not counting news coverage of events organized predominantly with grants from Western donors. 

Another reminder could be the Netflix and Marvel Studios collaboration Daredevil (2014), with a blind main character who successfully fights street crime — unlike the street thugs in Armenian TV dramas who successfully fight law-abiding citizens. 

After the brief information about Ruzanna at the start of the show, that she is a member of the deaf dance club and “she likes to paint and always smile,” perhaps it’s unnecessary to conclude that “it’s all this that helps her to keep the rhythm of life, to remain faithful to her cheerful and optimistic type.” Better to leave assessments to the TV viewer — no matter how much, it seems, encouragement is an exception made for Ruzanna, whose “family is comprised of five people, who also have disabilities and don’t work.” 

Returning to the format of the program, I would like to draw the attention of H1 (First Channel of the Public TV of Armenia) and the program’s creators to the series of regular questions, which, though well comprised, remind one of school-age pastimes:

“What would you do if…
you had a million dollars?
you were the world’s president?
you were a boy/girl?
you knew that you had one/two/three days to live?” and so on.

Considering the program’s late time slot, the creators perhaps can not endeavor to make the conversation extremely dynamic but, on the contrary, increase the length?

I have seen many European TV stations’ favorite programs, which are long discussions and aired during prime time. Or, something a bit closer to home: Vladimir Pozner keeps TV viewers tense for one hour, only at the end of the program, asking guests questions from the Proust Questionnaire… and even Artur Bakhtamyan’s Kesgisherayin Jepyntats (“Midnight Express”), being a long conversation in a simple studio setting, likewise wasn’t boring. 

What’s important is that we see in the studio an image that has become rare on Armenian television: a guest who has something to say and a host who masters the art of listening. 

Vahram Martirosyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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