Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Reality Bites

Picture this- Shah Rukh Khan, Salmaan Khan, Urmila Matondkar, Juhi Chawla, Akshay Kumar, the eponymous Rakhi Sawant and her latest threat to the item girl tag, Rosa Catallano. No, this is not the ensemble cast of the latest Bollywood potboiler. They are my friends who are over at my place for a high tea, this weekend. Don’t shriek yet guys. Remember figurative speech? Well they are at my place all right, but did I ever say we shared cutlery? Guys I only mean they are here, there, all over the tube and hence join me for my high tea at primetime weeknights or weekends.

The plethora of Bollywood stars and starlets making their small-screen debut is at an all time high. Given the thrill of “reality” TV and the wonders it had done to TRPs, I guess finding sponsors who shoulder the star fees and star tantrums is no big deal. After all, you have glossy sets, star judges (never mind if some of them can barely belch out Hindi) and contestants who are wannabe starlets in their own right so why not a star anchor? And then I guess it is the script’s demand. Yes dahlings its scripted, manufactured and tailored reality. All the bickering among judges and contestants that you get to get to see, all the Blackberrys that the contestants try to sell and all the tears that they shed, right down to the last detail of dress and mannerisms are carefully scripted to gather publicity, rake in more TRPs, generate drama and make a mockery of reality on your favourite reality shows.

In so far as it goes, reality TV started out pretty decent (I am talking of the Hindi general entertainment channels). After all, didn’t we have a Sa Re Ga Ma (it was called so back then) on Zee TV where we saw a juvenile Sonu Nigam crooning his way into the ladies’ hearts. And then there was a certain Antakshari where too, thanks to fiesty Annu Kapoor and his ever-changing female anchors, singing abilities mattered. And voila, there was this talent hunt on Doordarshan (Meri Awaaz Suno) where we had a Sunidhi Chauhan who wasn’t bit by the item song bug yet. Even Kunal Ganjawala and Shreya Ghoshal are Gajjendra Singh finds. And then came the Big B with a certain KBC 1 and television in India was never to be the same again. STAR’s sinking fortunes were salvaged and more than anyone else, Ekta Kapoor raked in the moolah. Two more KBC seasons came and went but Ekta went on (at least by the looks of it) forever.

So first, there were singing entertainment shows (Antakshari), then singing reality shows (Meri Awaaz Suno) later there were semi reality shows (Indian Idol, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Voice of India) and then there were the seasoned and pickled singing-cum-dancing fiascos (Chak De Bacche, where most of the kids were teenagers). As for talent, well what’s that? TRPs and SMS / IVR revenues matter. So promote regionalism through national television and happily pass the buck on to a certain Shiv Sena supremo.

As for dance, thank your stars that we still have a Boogie Woogie that remains true to format. There was a certain Nach Baliye with real life celebrity couples. Then, there was a second season where even couples just dating were allowed and then came the third season when manufactured couples were also allowed, and declared their single status barely after the competition closed. And spicing it up was our very own desi Rakhi Sawant who cried herself hoarse over alleged tampering of votes. No wonder, the original production house, SOL (which also gave us Koffee with Karan and Nach Le Ve) backed out this time.

There was also comedy and acting reality shows and chat shows which however failed to rake in as much TRPs as their singing and dancing counterparts. Moving on, we had the first intelligent celebrity chat show on Zee called Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai with the affable Farooque Shaikh as host. The show never seemed the same after Shaikh was replaced by Suresh Oberoi and in a first of sorts; father was spilling the beans of his son Viveck Oberoi’s life in one of the episodes. And then there was Sony’s Bigg Boss (at best a very poor spoof of Channel 8’s Celebrity Big Brother) where long-dead actors were resurrected and given a life.

Then came the me-too series. For game shows, we had Sawaal Dus Crore Ka on Zee where hosts Anupam Kher and Monisha Koirala couldn’t stop washing dirty linen in public, and some horrendous Sony show with Govinda. In the offing is Dus Ka Dum, Sony’s answer to Paanchvi Pass saying if you have Shah Rukh, we have Slamaan and if you can give away 5 crores, we can give away 10 and if you have juvenile questions, we have nonsensical ones.

For dance, we had Jhalak Dikhlaja, Yeh Hai Jalwa and now Rock and Roll Family where 3 generations of a family gyrate together on infamous item songs. In the offing is a real-life couple dance show on Star Plus christened Rock and Roll Soniye (guys couldn’t you have worked out a better name for the true-blue Nach Baliye?). For Star One’s The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, we had a Sony coup in Comedy Circus.

For singing, we had a Voice of India, an Indian Idol, a Jjhoom India, a Dhoom Macha De, a Say Shaava Shaava and lest I forget, the answer to Zee’s dancing family, Sony’s singing family show Waar Parivaar. So ain’t 9X or Sahara One thinking of a singing and dancing parivaar? So much for creativity guys. Concepts and formats apart, even the names and judges keep spawning. Also in the offing is Junoon, Kuch Kar Dikhane Ka where we shall have 3 teams of singers who sing 3 genres of music and yet have the cheek to compete with each other in the same contest. Yes, they shall be fought over, shamed, almost stripped and least of all, coached, by 3 gurus. The me-toos in talk shows were Koffee with Karan, Ranvir, Vinay aur Kaun and Arrested by Rakhi.

And then there were a series of spoof shows where contestants from reality shows across all channels gathered to prove their mettle once again. Not that they had much of it anyway. And there is a me-too in this area too. Ustaadon Ka Ustaad spawned Jo Jeeta Wahi Superstar on Star Plus that is if I take their small-screen release dates into consideration. But it’s hard to believe going by Sony’s copy-cat syndrome.

Here is where I would like to give credit where it is due. Guys take a cue from Balaji Telefilms. Though you cannot tell one show from another, what with actors spilling over, and plots majestically getting replicated and merged and gimmicks done to death, Ekta Kapoor sure has her vocabulary right. For one, she never sells her serials as reality shows and two; she does not believe in herd (nay nerd) mentality that our reality show makers cash in on. She calls a spade a spade and lets her content rather than her characters do the talking. It’s all right guys to call these contestants characters. After all, they survive the tears and the hugs and the tag of being ‘controversy’s child’ all for their fifteen minutes of fame. And then MTV Roadies, Anmol and Shambhavi have captured Ekta’s imagination as had Indian Idol finalist Amit Tandon. Ekta sure has a knack of spotting acting talent.

An IPL in full swing and mother hen Smriti Irani back in Star Plus’ channel-driver Kyunki later too, the reality bug refuses to die. In fact, by the looks of it, it is here to stay. Sony’s Indian Idol, “Bharat Ki Shaan” auditions are almost underway and Saibaba Telefilms (of Gajjendra Singh fame) is on a diarrhea of sorts with shows in most of the channels except his home turf Zee who have managed it very well without him and host Shaan (Aditya Narayan donned his hat very well).

Not that I have a problem with reality shows. But I certainly do have a problem with semi reality, manufactured reality, tailored reality and spoof and cliché shows. And until they call themselves that, I refuse to stop critiquing them.

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