How we, the television viewers, could not wait for India’s most ineligible groom to show his true colours
By Nisha Susan
RAHUL MAHAJAN came into our lives as a readymade spectator sport — snorting cocaine out of a Rs 500 note, found overdosed days after his politician father was killed by his uncle, unable to explain how his father’s secretary Bibek Moitra died at his powder party. For the next three days, India could not stop watching television. Mahajan was as wonderful a gift for television ratings as a good airplane crash. And as can be seen from the latest wife-beating incident, he is a gift that keeps on giving.
For a while, in 2006, it had looked like Rahul was going to be a one-hit wonder. The political world hadn’t yet found a use for him. Since it is assumed that marriage can cure everything from insanity to terminal boredom, young Rahul was married off to Sweta Singh, an old friend and pilot. A few months later, pictures of a bruised Sweta appeared in a Mumbai tabloid. And soon after, she filed for divorce. Over the years Sweta has equivocated on whether Rahul had been beating her. This week when Rahul’s second wife Dimpy Ganguly too raised alarm, Sweta has been quoted asking acidly why people seemed surprised, wasn’t this what Rahul did to her?
These are not days in which one can wait for truth, stranger than fiction, to entertain us. Where bad behaviour is not readily available, it must be readily staged. It must have been bemusing for Sweta to see the Rahul go from pariah to Bigg Boss celebrity, waddling about with wondrous television beasts including Abu Salem’s girlfriend Monica Bedi.
Television commentators (still tingling from Rakhi Ka Swayamvar) marvelled at how the Swayamvar franchise gave Mahajan the trappings of an eligible bachelor. At how 16,000 women applied. At the millions who watched the show. Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayega managed the proverbial making of a silk purse out of a pig’s snout. But the analysts seemed to have missed the point. Rahul with the porcine cast to his face was watched by the country because he reeked of ineligibility. The producers showed remarkable shrewdness in retaining the sham of mehendi, shiny tassels and genda phool while catering to our desire for schadenfreude — our pleasure in other’s suffering. Rahul made girls jump through hoops because he could. We watch because we can. We wallow in the many colours of humiliation that reality television offers us — as happily as we gawk at car crashes, as intently as we would watch public hangings.
It is extremely unfortunate if Mahajan is beating the woman he married a few months ago, the woman who won the Swayamvar. Hopefully Dimpy married him with her eyes open and will extricate herself from under his cloven feet. Perhaps like Sweta and the millions who have been abused by their husbands or lovers, Dimpy can’t yet believe this is happening to her. But the audience has no trouble believing the bruises, lumps, hair-pulling, the swift recantation and sulky temple visits. It is as if these are the excellent DVD extras. We will shake our heads smugly when the divorce or murder follows. ‘We told you so. This is how it happens.’ Thank God for TV.
Here is Sameer Nair, CEO, Star Entertainment, on the future of the Swayamvars. He has been reported as saying sorrowfully that he “can’t think of a third, fourth or fifth season now. I’m very disappointed because every couple has fights, but it’s ugly when people wash their dirty linen in public’’. Indian audiences are not yet ready to admit their enjoyment of humiliation without props but it will come soon enough as we hone our taste in garbage, as the Japanese and Americans have. Just you hang in there, Sameer. A happy ending is in sight.