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Mean Girls

Cats fights, tantrums & exhibitionism are a staple of reality TV, but beware — new research suggests that young women are confusing the on-screen drama with real life.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2011 21:22 IST
Shalini Singh

I was glued to this week’s episodes of Bigg Boss,” says Delhi-based Supra Agarwal. “The fights were at an all-time high,” adds the 29-year-old who runs a restaurant chain and is hooked to her Blackberry messenger updates on the drama peaking on her favourite reality show. And this is not the first season of addiction for Agarwal.

“For me, the word bitchy came from Dolly Bindra’s antics in the last season of Bigg Boss. Veena Malik’s act where she seemed to orgasm got her tremendous popularity. Even Shweta Tiwari’s bikini scene from Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao (IJSMB) (2009) went viral on Youtube,” says Agarwal, a fan of reality television shows. But this love for drama doesn’t end when the TV is switched off. It carries over in her real life. “If am unwell, I pretend it is worse than it is, in front of my in-laws to get my way with them. If my looks can help me get what I want, I use them. If I don’t do a bit of nautanki no one will bother. People want attention,” she says.

For another reality TV fan, Chandni Awasthi, 30, who never misses an episode of Masterchef Australia and Bigg Boss it’s about the ‘character-connect’. “We all have shades of grey. I relate to them because they remind me of people I know. A friend told me she found it thrilling to watch Pooja Mishra being verbally abused because she found Mishra’s character similar to her mother-in-law’s!” says the homemaker and mother of two.

Agarwal and Awasthi are not the only ones addicted to this TV bashing.

A recent nationwide survey done in the United States by the Girls Scouts organisation found that girls who watch reality TV expect more drama in their lives. Such girls tend to rate physical appearances higher than real effort. Nearly 70% of those surveyed thought that girls are catty and competitive by nature as compared with 50% of non-reality TV viewers.

“Shows like Bigg Boss and Emotional Atyachaar show wildly explicit contents with conversations laden with expletives. These affect women as they tend to copy the women characters of the show,” says Dr Bhavna Burmi, psychologist at Delhi’s Escorts Heart and Research Institute. Contestants in the Bigg Boss ‘family’ pick fights without a valid reason, she says. “Women watching these shows do the same over trivial issues without understanding that their family is different from the Bigg Boss ‘family’.”

Aping the worst
While the survey was carried out among teens aged 11-17 in the US, experts say it could affect women from any age group. “It’s usually housewives who watch these scripted reality shows, and tend to plan similar strategies at home even for minor issues. These could be throwing tantrums, forming groups for their selfish purposes,” says Burmi. Some carry the ‘act’ to the workplace. “I know girls who dress up for office to get noticed. How they project themselves is more important than the work they put in,” says Agarwal.

Pooja Chauhan, 24, who has worked as a producer on several reality shows says certain characters are role models for young girls. Chauhan says, “When Bani became popular after Roadies-4 and is now a VJ on MTV, girls who came for auditions said they wanted to be like her even though they hated her.” And while “not taking any shit” is what Chauhan feels her school going younger sister and cousins emulate the most from Bani, it is also her “black nail paint and Goth-style kajal” that became the new fashion trends for these young ones. “They see Bani wearing all that and love it. Today it matters how much you manage to impress people with your looks and character even if it’s a bad character,” says Chauhan.

In relationship-based shows like Emotional Atyachaar (testing a partner’s loyalty) or Splitsvilla (competing for a boy/girl friend), a new gamut of emotions and a jungle view of politics is on offer for children and adults in the prime time TV segment. The grammar of these shows breaks into three aspects says social scientist Shiv Visvanathan. “First, being calculative scores over being ethical and right. Then, aggression is important than gentle manners and lastly, presence of violence, both via emotions and physically,” he says. The gamely behaviour or even a feeling of sportsmanship is negated feels Visvanathan. “It is now all about competition,” he adds. “The women are shown to be mean as hell and aggressive, like ‘masculine vamps’. Viewers then imagine these exaggerated ideas as a way to succeed in life.”

The information and broadcasting ministry did object to the prime-time telecast timings of Bigg Boss (season 4) bringing the show under the scanner for objectionable content. The anger between contestants and the rise in spiteful conversations has not decreased. According to Dale Bhagwagar, celebrity publicist who has coached several contestants on Bigg Boss says season 1-5 show a rising trend of aggression on the show. “It was Dolly Bindra screaming in the last season and Pooja Mishra and Shradha Sharma using words objectionable words in the current season. A fortnight ago, Shakti Kapoor spanked Vida Samadzai’s butt and Siddharth Bhardwaj used the F-word at Pooja Mishra, which was discussed for nearly an hour on the show. Kids are watching all this.”

The hype market
Bad publicity works best, and ugly is even better. “Manipulation is to give contestants tricks to twist situations,” he says. “Like Shakti Kapoor tried for an image makeover in Bigg Boss after the India TV episode. Every participant goes in with a motive and strategy,” adds Bhagawar. Pleasing the voyeuristic viewer is taken very serious in the reality television business say insiders. Characters are made out of participants. “Bigg Boss 4 was centred on Shweta Tiwari whose ‘nice girl’ image went for a toss after the bikini scene in IJSMB,” says a show producer who doesn’t wish to be named. Not just women, people in general are getting more violent feels singer Neha Bhasin who took part in the first reality show in India and now hosts a relationship programme on radio. “It’s not just women clawing each other, men also abuse you equally to get attention,” she says.

But not everyone is turning into a drama queen. “People are smarter than we think,” says Bhasin. Socialite Tanisha Mohan says,“We don’t associate our lives with these shows; our lives are not scripted like theirs.” Visvanathan believes for every young person becoming mean watching mean TV, there are others who know where to draw the line. He says, “The young people who came in support of Anna Hazare were focussed on anti-corruption, than on Hazare himself. There are people on whom reality shows, thankfully, don’t work.”