The doubting Thomases can shut up now — 16,755 girls, many NRIs among them, want to marry Rahul Mahajan. That’s the number of applications NDTV Imagine received until Wednesday, when registrations closed for Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, the television show in which Mahajan will choose a wife from among the short-listed applicants. It’s scheduled to go on air some time in December. The show, the second in the Swayamvar series, has got 40 per cent more applicants than it did last season, when actress Rakhi Sawant had offered her hand in marriage to the winner.
Life, it would seem, is finally looking up for 34-year-old Mahajan who has had a rough time since the violent death of his father, politician Pramod Mahajan, in 2006. An alleged drug overdose nearly killed him, then came accusations of wife-beating by his (now divorced) wife Shweta. Last year, his shenanigans with his housemates Payal Rohatgi and Monica Bedi on Bigg Boss 2 added to his infamy.
To his friends, however, Mahajan is more sinned against than sinning. “Rahul has been demonised because of the power and status of his father,” says TV software professional, S.M.M. Ausaja, a close friend who has known him since 1998. “He has faced disillusionment in his personal life but that’s because he trusts people easily, so they take advantage of him. He’s never said no to me for anything.”
For Mahajan, his second shy at reality TV is a “calculated risk”. He seems well aware that the cameras are going to be trained on him no matter what he does. “You’ve seen me getting married (and divorced) all on television before, so you’ll see it again. If you’ve gone through a bypass surgery, a scratch can’t bother you,” he says animatedly.
Mahajan is not new to the television business, having run a production house, Vibrant Cinema, back in the late 1990s. Having bagged a deal with Doordarshan, Mahajan produced a number of shows, most notably Taste of India, which aired on DD2.
But TV is not what gives Mahajan his thrills — flying does. The student of the Marathi-medium Ghatkopar High School did his pilot training in Indore in 1996, and later in the US. For a while in the 1990s, both Mahajan and his ex-wife were commercial pilots for Jet Airways.
A self-confessed gadget freak, Mahajan says he loves “experimenting, with everything, from setting off toy cars with rockets to playing with magnets and electronics”. But the high point of his early life was running a cycle repair shop for pocket money. “It made me happy earning Rs 12 on my own and eating vada pao.”
Today it takes far more to satisfy him. “I want to work hard and earn money to live a comfortable life, I can’t compromise on my comfort. Apni Lexus ke uppar lal batti lagi hui buri thodi lagegi (Who doesn’t want a Lexus with a red light on top?),” he says breaking into a laugh.
So is TV a stepping stone to politics? Mahajan’s response to that reveals the gameplan. “I’ve been called several things, from a bad son to a wife-beater but viewers from six to 60 years have stood by me. So I feel it’s more important to be human and be loved as a human. People will choose a good person and make him their leader. I’m looking forward to the 2014 election.”
But for now, it’s marriage and TV. “Mom’s the head of the family and has been looking for a girl for me to settle down with. Besides, Sameer (Nair, the CEO of NDTV Imagine) is a friend, so I can trust him… And, of course, I can trust the people of this country; if they can elect a government they sure know what to think of whom.”
Even so, Mahajan is taking no chances. His astrologer is sifting through the applications to choose only those whose horoscopes match his. After all, having come this far, Mahajan can’t have the stars play spoilsport.