Idiot Box: Silicon booby TRAP

Rakhi Sawant, the titillating host, has been in the middle of too many cheap, often manufactured controversies, the kind which makes TV moguls and sections of viewers salivate
Hardnews Bureau 

"Reality TV is big money," says an expert who has been associated with reality shows like Sach ka Saamna, the Indian version of international hit The Moment of Truth. This concept is not new in India. The trend started with Meri Awaz Suno, which catapulted Sunidhi Chauhan, now a leading playback singer. With cable and satellite TV expanding, there has been an onslaught of international formats adapted for Indian viewers. Most of these shows are basically outrageous, sensationalist and mindless. The social relevance or responsibility of TV has taken a backseat in what has become a crass fight for TRPs and quick cash. In a sense, this too is a reflection of the reality of the new political economy of globalisation.

Intrinsically different from regular talent hunts like the Indian Idol or even Kaun Banega Crorepati, these shows seem to be targeting private lives of people, in and outside the public realm, and airing them to viewers. To make it peppier, like in a show called Emotional Atyachar, we now have young girls luring boys or vice versa, taking them to apartments, smooching them in front of the camera. 

Cheap, vulgar, abusive and violent behaviour have also become an inherent part of TV content. Rahul ka Swayamwar had girls competing to get married to Rahul Mahajan, infamous for violent and aberrant behaviour, a former wife-beater and drug addict. Uncannily, Dimpy, the winner and later Rahul's wife, was later beaten up by him. This 'reality event' itself became big breaking news. 

Rakhi ka Insaaf, on NDTV Imagine, has broken all records of aesthetic or social conduct. Rakhi Sawant, the crass and titillating host, has been in the middle of too many cheap, often manufactured controversies, the kind which makes TV moguls and sections of viewers salivate. A contestant recently committed suicide after she called him 'impotent' on air. The show is known for its morbid language and attention-seeking stunts, which sometime turn violent with husbands and wives hurling sandals at each other. "This is no different than a khap panchayat, maybe a TV version of it," comments a housewife.

Big Boss, a prime-time show aired on Colors TV, marks a new low on the idiot box. It chooses to have participants with questionable pasts. Veena Malik was recently embroiled in the match-fixing scandal involving a Pakistani fast bowler earlier charged with compulsive drug misuse. Rahul Bhatt was a part of the David Headley controversy. Shweta Tiwari recently got divorced from Raja (also an ex- Big Boss participant) on grounds of domestic violence. Bunty Chor has had a criminal past. Ashmit Patel was videographed in a sleazy MMS involving Ria Sen. 

The catch is clear. "We try to get people who have a story to tell," says Aradhana Bhola, a producer. So to grab more eyeballs, voyeurism mixed with crime, sexual innuendo etc is used. There are also the ones who have a penchant for generating controversies like Ali Merchant and Sara Ali Khan who got married on the show. The marriage did the trick and several Muslim clerics denounced the act saying it was against the Shariah. Ali and Sara were reportedly paid Rs 50 lakh for the staged nuptials. "These are people at the fringes. Mostly people who want to become popular," explains Bhola.

 Such contestants come handy in order to awe and shock viewers and thus increase the show's viewership. The line between fiction and reality in these so-called reality shows is thinner than a soap bubble. However, they think this is superb stuff: "There is no need for manipulation. That reality can unfold in such fascinating and unpredictable ways, surprises the makers as well," says Anupama Mandloi, former head of programming at Star and Sony TV networks. Hence, shows are edited in such a manner that only the juiciest parts are aired. "All shows can't be socially relevant."

"TV is hardcore entertainment. We do extensive market research first and then dole out content which the viewers would want to watch," says Shoaib Choudhary, a TV producer. "The viewers always have a choice. They have their TV remotes," he adds.

A society satiated with its daily oppressions and absences, is now being lured and seduced by cheap and crass reality shows enacted by retards with less-than-tunnel visions. This too is economic and cultural change, inverted, perverted, third-rated. High on TRPs. As sexy as sensex. No wonder, even Prannoy Roy loves them.

Footnote: A latest SMS joke doing the rounds says: What is the first American gift to India after Obama's boom boom visit? Pamela Anderson's Silicon Valley.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2010