Well, it didn’t last long, did it? Not that anyone seriously expected it to. But even the most die-hard cynic among us would not have foreseen that the end would come so quickly. Yes, just a couple of months after Rakhi Sawant staged her swayamvar and chose Elesh Unpronounceable as her fiancé, the newly-engaged pair has decided to call it quits. At stake is Rakhi’s career – as Bollywood item girl and reality TV star – and she is unwilling to sacrifice it and follow Elesh to Toronto to make a new life as your average Canadian housewife. Also, says Rakhi sadly, Elesh never really understood Indian culture having spent so much time abroad. Hence the two of them came up against irreconcilable differences in their short time together.
So, the engagement is off, and Rakhi is in the market yet again for a perfect husband – so do queue up in an orderly fashion when they audition for the next series of Swayamvar. But wait. The second series of Swayamvar is already in the works. And Rakhi will have to wait her turn while Rahul Mahajan, fresh from his travails on Bigg Boss, stages a swayamvar of his own. Yes, the drug-taking, wife-beating star of reality television will soon be on a plasma screen in front of you, choosing the second Mrs Rahul Mahajan while the rest of the country watches agog.
And you can bet that everyone will be watching. You know as well as I do that this is exactly the kind of programming that gets the Indian TV audiences’ juices flowing. All those politically correct noises about how reality TV is the bane of modern-day civilisation notwithstanding, none of us can resist a tired old re-tread of a tried and tested reality TV formula. We may go on and on about how such shows herald the end of Indian culture as we know it. But when it comes to the crunch, all of us plop down on our couches to watch this rubbish.
If we didn’t, there is no way such crappy shows could get the TRPs they do. We may complain, we may carp, we may criticise, we may excoriate. But at the end of the day, we faithfully tune in to the channel in question to get our daily fix of trash TV. That’s how shows like the excruciating Bigg Boss and the execrable Spiltsvilla survive. Because they appeal to the lowest common denominator – yes, that’s you and me – and that has proven to be a fail-safe strategy when it comes to attracting eyeballs.
Think about it. All those people who complained endlessly about Sach Ka Saamna, raised questions about it in Parliament, wrote angry letters to newspapers, and raged about it on social media like Facebook and Twitter, what did they have in common? Yes, all of them had seen the show, and most of them had sat through many episodes going by their familiarity with the concept and the questions asked of participants. Well, doesn’t that beg the obvious question? If you hate the show so much, why on earth are you watching day after day? Do you have nothing better to do with your time? Do you not possess a remote control? Are you unfamiliar with the off button? Or are you just a glutton for punishment?
If you ask me, it isn’t any of the above. The truth is that most of us enjoy watching reality TV, just as so many of us love reading trashy tabloids. There is a reason why these shows and publications survive, indeed proliferate. It’s because all of us gobble up the dirt they dish out – and then faithfully come back for more. We may swear till we are blue in the face that we hate this stuff, but the truth is that we positively revel in it.
But then, this kind of hypocrisy seems to be par for the course when it comes to public tastes and the mass media. Remember how everyone went on and on about how the paparazzi had killed Princess Diana by relentlessly pursuing her to her death? And yet, there would have been no market for the ruthlessly invasive, sometimes downright prurient paparazzi shots of Diana if the magazines that published them did not sell millions more copies as a consequence. That is to say, if there weren’t millions of people queuing up to buy them, tut-tutting all the way to the newspaper stand.
Celebrity journalism seems to thrive on unflattering shots of celebrities for the same reason. We like the idea of gawping at someone’s cellulite, gasping over their weight gain or loss, expressing shock-horror about their tangled love lives. It makes us feel better about ourselves, and indeed about our own lives.
And so it is with trash TV. We may make the mandatory noises about how awful it is. We may sneer at TV channels for staging swayamvars that never were. We may pretend to be shocked at the invasive questions that are asked of people on national television. We may even make out as if we wouldn’t be caught dead watching the shows in question. And yet, there we are. Safe behind closed doors, sitting on the sofa, Diet Coke close at hand, a bowl of chips beside us, goggling away at the latest offering from reality TV. Shaming, isn’t it?