And so another rather lackadaisical TV week goes by. The latest is that scriptwriter-turned-lyricist Javed Akhtar is doing an Ashok Kumar on us. No, he’s not puffing away at a ubiquitous cigarette. (In these times? When smoking is only a slightly less heinous crime than double homicide? You’ve got to be kidding.) Nor is Javed saab wearing dark glasses and gustily sighing hum log every few minutes. But yes, he is, like Ashok Kumar, appearing on our TV screens after every episode of a particular serial. Ashok Kumar did it on Doordarshan for Hum Log all those years ago (in the Eighties, to be precise). Javed Akhtar is doing it now on Star Plus for the channel’s new serial, Chand Chhupa Badal Mein. If a trend-setting, hugely successful former scriptwriter such as Javed Akhtar lends the full weight of his (Fab India kurta-clad) persona to a television serial, you expect the serial to be something truly special. But whatever little I’ve seen of Chand Chhupa Badal Mein, it doesn’t seem specially, well, special.
It’s set in Simla and is supposed to be the love story of an inhibited young girl and her neighbour, a young man who arrives in the hill station from Chandigarh. The heroine, for whom the words ‘shrinking violet’ seem to have been invented, looks traumatised every time she sees him. He appears fairly normal. The best thing I can say about the serial (so far) is that it actually seems to have been shot on location. And it’s a nice change to see outdoor shots in soaps which are invariably set in rather hideous interiors (most of them look like sets left over from those Seventies social dramas, where curving staircases would sweep down to a living room the size of a football field; the overall effect being one of tacky ostentation).
The reality shows are also getting along on all the general entertainment channels, each one desperate to create some controversy/excitement to keep viewer interest alive. In Zara Nachke Dikha (Star Plus), the girls’ team, Masakalli, includes Rakhi Sawant and the boys’ team (Mast Kalandars) includes her former boyfriend Abhishek Awasthi. So whenever one of them takes to the dance floor, he or she is asked some pointed question about boyfriends/girlfriends, and the camera instantly zooms in to the other person to get his/her reaction. (Usually there’s none). Frankly if you have to use Rakhi Sawant and her former boyfriend to create a buzz, well…
In Desi Girl (The Simple Life rip-off on Imagine, where showbiz starlets slum it out in a Punjab village), the girls (the ones left on the show; many of them have been eliminated) chose a local boy each and put up song-dance performances for the benefit of the village — and going by the crowd, most of the surrounding villages too. The village elders, sitting on their manjis, watched expressionlessly while the more youthful members of the audience clapped and whistled. This is the kind of show where you wish you could be a fly on the wall so that you could see for yourself how much of it is a set up and how much of it is genuine. In fact, that is true of pretty much all reality shows. Even in a music contest like Indian Idol (Sony), when there is so much weeping during the elimination rounds, a cynical part of you can’t help but wonder — how much of it is due to genuine disappointment (which, of course, there must be some amount of) and how much due to some hard-headed playing to the gallery?
But unless we start working for TV channels, I guess we’ll never know!