Through the keyhole darkly

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Curiouser and curiouser Scenes from popular reality tv shows
Curiouser and curiouser Scenes from popular reality tv shows

HERE’S SOMETHING for the Trivial Pursuit aficionados: What do a gangster’s moll, the son of a murdered politician, a dhaba owner and an item girl have in common? All of them have appeared on Bigg Boss. Where can you watch a strapping young man fling the object of his affections into a mud pit and draw conclusions about the fellow’s virility? Splitsvilla. Who has become a youth icon because he reacts to fakery with a vocabulary so colourful it’s almost entirely beeped out: Raghu, who judges Roadies. If you’ve got more than one of these answers right, you are a confirmed Reality TV junkie. Get lucky and who knows, soon you could have your own 15 minutes of fame on a TV show called, uh, Reality Takkar Chakkar, that pits your particular talent against that of someone similarly gifted.

Hopefully, Sawant won’t stick her foot so far down her throat that she croaks on national television

 

Eye on the horizon A scene from Sarkaar ki Duniya
Eye on the horizon A scene from Sarkaar ki Duniya

Perhaps that’s the attraction of the wildly popular genre of reality television — the idea that you too could be pulled out of wretched anonymity by doing pointless things in an ostensibly unscripted show designed to be a kooky hall of mirrors approximation of ‘real’ life. Between those contorted reflections is coaxed out your inner strength of character… or the lack of it. Rakhi Sawant and, by association, her former boyfriend

Abhishek Awasthi, the ever-eclipsed moon to her sun at its apogee, are perfect examples of personalities who flowered under the hothouse lights of television. Before Ms Sawant let it all hang out emotionally and otherwise on Bigg Boss no one thought an ‘item’ girl had a beating heart within that spectacularly heaving bosom. Her ‘nautanki’ filled stay in that vile domestic pit made viewers sympathise with her, trace her various neuroses to her difficult family circumstances and eventually transformed her into a household name. Now, after her falling out with Awasthi, Rakhi’s determined to get a man for herself in Mujhse Shaadi Karoge,swayamwar that will cleverly segue the old Indian obsession with marriage with our newer hunger for instant television gratification. In this, Sawant is treading the path previously taken by the unhappy Jade Goody, whose life and sudden bizarre death was the stuff of ‘fantastic’ television. Really, the updated version of Euripides’ 2,400-yearold comment would read “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make reality television stars”.

American television commentators have remarked on the strange proclivity of those who are famous for being famous to self-destruct in camera. It happened with US reality TV star Anna Nicole Smith, who died of an accidental drug overdose, and it happened in an equally shocking way with Goody. Hopefully, Sawant won’t stick her foot so far down her throat that she croaks on national television. It would leave too many channels bereft of filler content — nothing to bung in between tedious news shorts about election campaigning and the adivasi rebellion in the back of beyond, dahling.

In a more evolved time, our obsession with the lives of the ordinary would be seen as a failing

In a more evolved time, our growing collective obsession with the lives of the not-so-rich and the absolutely ordinary, would be seen as a failing, a sign that the human race has reached its ethical nadir, proof that we are all voyeurs getting our kicks out of peering into the neighbour’s bedroom and riffling through their mailbox. Our craving for the Reality TV rush would be exposed as a simultaneous addiction to the guilty pleasures of schadenfreude and the counterpoised altruism of helping a nobody morph into a celebrity. Ah, but we’re a long way away from that state of moral awareness. To get there we’ll probably have to traverse through The Truman Show territory, where Jim Carrey discovers he’s a character in a reality show watched by millions. Sarkaar Ki Duniya on Real TV, which follows 18 contestants who have to transform a deserted island into civilisation is one step in the direction of submerging ourselves in Truman’s perfectly counterfeit world. And now, the scary bit: How long before we begin behaving like we’re being watched, before action stops being spontaneous and before we edit out TVunfriendly habits like talking with our mouths full, wearing ragged T-shirts to bed and falling in love with folks with crooked teeth, paunches and bad haircuts? Long enough for another game of Trivial Pursuit.

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