THERE IS a single luminous line that jumps out from the 1998 Woody Allen film, Celebrity: “You can tell a lot about a culture by who it chooses to celebrate.” And now, evidently, by what it hates.
It must be admitted, Star World’s new show, (with its inexplicable SMS syntax name) Love 2 Hate U, had potential. In the bloodless age of virtual stalking and social media heckling, our loves and hates have become a shadow of their former selves. Writers and directors don’t need to sit anonymously in darkened movie halls to get a ‘feel’ of the crowd’s reception anymore, they need only to switch on their cell phones. Our emotions are encapsulated in 140-character haikus, in hashtags, in anonymous blog posts.
Love 2 Hate U, in spite of its ridiculous name, seemed for a brief moment to offer that arena where we, the indignant, could watch our celebrities be cross-examined by the most eloquent amongst us who hated their guts. And like any good drama, it offered scope for redemption — who, among the insecure tinsel crowd would emerge a true gladiator? Who would handle haters with grace, turning vitriol to wine?
Instead what we have learned in the past 10 episodes is that celebrities are usually sulky, insecure, humourless and so full of glib sayings that they make real people seem camp. The only thing more terrible than being famous for mediocrity, it seems, is not being famous at all. The show’s first episode, just an appetiser for the episodes to follow, sees the host Arjun Rampal meet his ‘hater’ (the young stand-up comic Farhan Syed) after he drawls into the camera that his hater must be a guy, because “come on, look at me”. A series of terrible jokes are exchanged between the two, Farhan ridiculing Arjun’s expressionless acting while the latter flashes what appears to be his second favourite expression — a big disarming smile (the first, a pursing of the lips and an intense gaze into the hater’s eyes, appears repeatedly over the episodes that follow). When Farhan confesses that he hated Arjun’s National Award-winning performance in Rock On!!, he is informed that he is probably a bad writer for being unable to appreciate the beauty of an “underdog of a script”. Ahem.
In the episodes that follow, the sulkiness is even more thinly-veiled. When told that his films are unrealistic portrayals of women and society, Madhur Bhandarkar delivers a teary monologue about how he dropped out of school after Class VI and has received his education from books and delivering VHS tapes. His cinematic style, as he obtusely describes it, is about “ups and downs”. Truly a critical aspect of life, the universe and everything.
As Chetan Bhagat’s spirited and sarcastic hater, Roshni grimaces and asks Chetan why he even pretends to even be a ‘a youth icon’ when all he does is churn out tripe. He grins at Rampal and says snidely, “You can tell when someone is missing love in their life.” Later, he takes Roshni to a room full of people who love Chetan Bhagat books and asks them to raise their hands, like prize poodles, if they have read “one, two or all” of his books.
The most tortuous episodes are definitely the ones with Rampal’s friends from the industry. After a long back-and-forth debate about talent and writing and cinema, where Rampal constantly and inanely jumps to Farhan Akhtar’s defence, Akhtar’s critic Vasu agrees that he is a great director but feels that he should stop attempting to sing. Akhtar counters that people from all over the world invite him to come and sing songs from Rock On!! at international concerts. In a moment of exasperated honesty, Vasu sighs, “I think I’m living on the wrong planet.”
‘Who told you my career is not doing well? Have you never failed at anything?’ shrieks Preity Zinta in an episode
Preity Zinta, after a long hiatus from screens of all sizes, is even more defensive and acerbic when asked about whether she thinks owning an IPL team will provide a booster to her failing career. “Who told you my career is not doing well? Why should everything do well all the time? Have you never failed at anything?” she demands shrilly and petulantly before breaking into a practised smile. The most genuine reaction among the various badly-disguised ones comes from the boisterous Farah Khan, who first maternally (and loudly) scolds her hater for saying “bad things” about commercial cinema, and then converts him by offering him a role in her next film.
There are, of course, moments of brilliance, or at least mirth. Rampal admits that as a supermodel he did do drugs, but (disarming smile) “not that many”. Bhagat defends his choice of words in Five Point Someone (“I wanted to milk this moment,” expressed at the warm moment of the protagonist’s first kiss), and his hater keels over laughing and asks — “Chetan, do you ever read?” Preity Zinta’s hater turns out to be a far better actor and comedian than her and Rampal combined, even telling them at one point, “Guys, let’s behave like adults please.”
THE UNCONTESTED favourite of the show, the only flash of steel and madness in episode after episode of anodyne conversation, is Mahesh Bhatt. Seated centrestage on a bar-stool, Bhatt thunders at Anubha (a young woman who is tired of Bhatt’s rent-a-quotes on television, and wishes he would make more films like Saaransh) with Shakespearean rage. In a total strategy-reversal, he declares that he is a worthless, “driedout” plagiarist and an attention- grabber, and the hater, a prude and a hypocrite — “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?” he screams, as Rampal nearly comes up with a panicked third expression.
Finally, as the show draws to a close, Bhatt asks Anubha to scream like an “angry dog”, and at the height of her frenzy declares that he is overcome with love for her. The show ends as Bhatt draws Anubha and Rampal into a bear hug, and one realises what Love 2 Hate U would really like to be when it grows up — Rampal and gang at group therapy sessions in an Osho ashram.
Nishita Jha is a Correspondent with tehelka.