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No ticket for evening shows

Though reality shows have place for the aspirations of hick town India, copying their western counterparts can spell trouble for them, as happened this week. Kamayani Singh writes.

delhi Updated: Nov 19, 2010 02:35 IST
Kamayani Singh

The ministry of information and broadcasting this week ordered two reality shows to be moved from prime time to late night because the programmes were felt to be not suitable for universal viewing.

The ministry has said that the reality TV shows, Rakhi Ka Insaaf on Imagine and Bigg Boss on Colours, should be aired between 11 pm and 5 am and can't be transmitted outside this interval on any channel. (The Bombay High Court said on Thursday the show can go on.)

Protests against Rakhi Ka Insaaf started after the death of 25-year-old Laxman Prasad from Jhansi just a few weeks after appearing on the show. His family now alleges that the humiliation meted out to him by show host Rakhi Sawant pushed him into depression and eventually resulted in his death.

Meanwhile, Bigg Boss on Colours has been criticised for telecasting, among other things, scenes from the wedding night of two housemates who got married to each other on the show last week.

Questions are now raised not only about whether these shows should be banned but also the reasons behind the popularity of reality TV in India.

"One could either blame television channels for creating such programmes or blame the Indian audience for watching them," said Anand Kumar, professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Changing reality of India
A crucial factor fuelling the popularity of reality television, particularly in India, is the growth of television viewers in the country.

Between 2000 and 2010 paid-television penetration increased from approximately 40% of total viewership to almost 80% in India. This has made the television audience of India more diverse.

Till a few years ago, paid-television in India was mostly in big cities. However, now the same programmes are watched by people in smaller towns as well.

"The response to reality television in smaller towns is very different from the one in bigger cities," said Kumar.

"Television is closely tied to the aspirations of people in smaller towns as it represents a means to get closer to the urban and prosperous India."

Though Bigg Boss season one was won by Bollywood actor Rahul Roy, the winner of season two of the show was Ashutosh Kaushik, a dhaba (a roadside eatery) owner from Sarahanpur, western UP.

"In the last three-four years the presence of participants from small towns has increased dramatically on our reality show MTV Roadies," said an MTV spokesperson.

What happens abroad?
Prasad's death wasn't the first incident of a traumatised reality television participant.

Two years ago, a 16-year-old girl from Kolkata went into shock and was paralysed for six months after the judges made harsh comments about her performance on a dance reality show.

Several reality television shows in India are imitations of their western counterparts. Kaun Banega Crorepati, the first reality television show in India, was based on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Many reality shows such as Indian Idol, India's Got Talent, Bigg Boss and Sachh Ka Saamna are copies of western reality shows.

But are things any different in western countries, which are the birthplace of modern-day reality shows?

"Many of the sources I had interviewed were either suffering from psychological illnesses or had been hospitalised under stress," said Vaughn Alaine-Marshall, reality-television expert and author of Uberstar, a book that looks at the world's largest reality shows.

"Some as a counter were now regular alcohol and drug users."

Nearly all the people I interview regretted the experience, he said.

Just as in India, judges on shows in the US are given the freedom to say what they want even if they don't have the required qualification to make those comments.

However, fear of an adverse reaction from the public that can jeopardise the popularity and profitability of the show often keeps the behaviour of the judges on shows abroad in check.

One of the biggest reasons why contestants remain quiet about the humiliation meted out to them is the non-disclosure deal they are made to sign.

"In these agreements, the contestants sign away their rights on how they are betrayed, even if it is a legal infringement of their moral rights," said Marshall.

'The show must go on'
"All reality shows can't be put under one umbrella," said Neil Nongkynrih, director of Shillong Chamber Choir.

"Some reality shows, especially the ones that don't thrive on disputes, allegations, manipulation of emotions and fights, give common people opportunities to jumpstart their career."

Shillong Chamber Choir won the reality talent hunt show India's Got Talent last month.

"There might be a need to control shows that are all about negativity and voyeurism," Nongkynrih said.

At the end of the day a good show must go on, he said.