Seduction, cheating, loss and betrayal. An insider’s account of what happened to her belief in love while producing the show that titillated the nation. Shifa Maitra spills
NO, I AM not a cheater, neither did I do a “loyalty test” on my partner. I am the creative director on the show that people love or hate. Emotional Atyachaar on UTV BINDASS is a show that has changed lives — Not just those of the 21 couples who were featured in season one, but also those of the people watching it, and finally those of the people behind it. Any mention of the show evokes a visible change in people — the look in their eyes, the tone of their voice. Either I am an ogre they hate or someone they admire. Then follows the barrage of questions — Is it real? Do they hit each other some more after the cameras are turned off? Do they split for good? The show is real, the emotions, real and the process a huge emotional drain.
When the production house (UTV Content) first came to us with the concept I was sceptical. Until a little tweaking resulted in a show that we realised was needed. Young people, who in the first flush of love were committing to a relationship that they believed was “forever”, nevertheless often lived with a niggling doubt that the other wasn’t as committed. Suspicion and doubt can be a havoc-wreaking slow poison like nothing else. This show then became a platform to save such people from future ‘emotional atyachaar.’ Hidden cameras would follow the suspected cheater round the clock, with the help of common friends or undercover agents and the gathered footage would be shown to the partner who came to us. The intention was clear across the board that we were there to help. And help we did, which is what kept us sane.
The first season of the show is over and only one of the 21 couples, has had a happy ending. It’s not without irony that the suspect who did not give in to temptation was Rahul Mahajan, a known casanova. Unpredictability is the name of this game. Maybe two months into the marriage was too soon to do a check!
Each couple who finally made it to the show were real people, with whom we developed a bond. The partner who came to us, had to have implicit trust in the process and it was never easy. It was not just their relationship but almost their entire life that they were willing to put out there. So, young people who came in thinking this was just another reality show often vanished after the first meeting. It was the kids who came to us in search of answers, who made it. Their lives mirrored those of the viewers in their life decisions, hence, lay lessons to be learnt. The host Angad Bedi’s open support to the ones cheated upon, made him the pal everyone wants to have.
As soon as the promos were out we had a slew of callers. As the show progressed I was stunned at the response — paradise seemed a troubled place. We had a sister who wanted her brother tested because she felt his girlfriend, Rosa, was getting a raw deal. Rosa agreed and as the events unfolded, a 10-year-long relationship lay in shambles. Rosa actually thanked Angad and the sister, after she threw the engagement ring at the cheater’s face. Ajay and Priyanka, a young couple in love from small-town Shimla who had moved to Mumbai, were facing problems because the girl didn’t trust the big bad city. She was proved right and how!
We had a cut-off on the age limit, given our target audience. We avoided married couples, we had to turn away underaged kids (it was an eye-opener to see the kind of mess young kids were into), we had to reject cases where it was clearly personal vendetta. A delusional man wanted to check on his online lover who he had never met. One girl wanted her boyfriend tested despite being the one who scared him and often beat him up in public. Very often what was needed was legal help, not a television show.
The enormity of the show hit us when we saw the impact it was having on people’s lives. Repentant partners. Mind games. People thanking us for showing them the truth. Their friends, families eternally grateful. Like Agnes, who came with her mother, so that they could together show her father what a great guy her boyfriend Smitesh was. When he proved to be anything but trustworthy, the mother hit him and thanked BINDASS for giving her this opportunity to show the world what supportive parents can do. We had Sufi, a delightful young girl in purdah. When her boyfriend failed the test, she let him know in no uncertain terms that she was not a doormat and got felicitated in college for that. The media can’t get enough of the show. From colleges to corporate boardrooms, the show is generating talk. Everyone has a take on the show, whether Tabu or Akshay Kumar or Anurag Kashyap.
It is awful and heart breaking to see the shattering of a person’s confidence and trust, time and again. From disbelief to denial to rage, the young participants grew up before our eyes.
Psychiatrists and counsellors on the team have a very critical role to play. The way people behave has been a revelation to each one of us these past few months. Chirpy Tulika, from Pune, watched her boyfriend Ali, saying awful things about her amid hysterical laughter. She was ready to move on, but only after she gave him a dressing down in public.
THE ONES who look solid cheat too. When caught and when asked what they were doing, one often hears “this wasn’t supposed to happen” or “I don’t know”. Legitimacy is often borrowed from secrecy. It’s a pattern. A Vicky who thought cheating on Mallika was fine because she was too busy to notice that he wasn’t around. Or a Shaffrang who told his committed girlfriend Anjali that his fun on the sly was no big deal because he was planning to break up anyway. So what works for me, is when I hear people say that they will “have” to give up fooling around because of the show. Or when pretty girls asking for directions make men wary. More of this and we are home.
I would be thrilled if I could get back my faith and belief in love. Meet people who will not cheat, no matter what. Who will do what they believe is right, even when no one is looking. Season 2, here we come!
(Maitra is creative director, UTV BINDASS)