Indian Reality Shows - Is It All For Real?

Author: Dr. Mandar

'Get Real!' That seems to be the magic mantra of Indian TV industry nowadays. The glut of reality-shows on various television channels is becoming plain mind-boggling. Singing, dancing, joking, gaming, dating, marrying or even simply living together – anything that can be possibly done in this human life is now being packaged as a reality show. As if one current life is not enough, now we have got shows where people are being put on a couch to recount their past life experiences!

What the trend reveals is quite clear- that the Indian audiences are gleefully lapping up all these shows and craving for even more! If the TV channels are to be believed then there are enough people out there who are also willing to spend their money to send SMSes to pick their favourites from all these shows!

The innocuously interesting ones!

The early Indian TV reality shows had begun rather innocuously with simple things like music contests, dance contests and comedy shows. The 'reality' of these programs was limited to the 'unscripted' smiles, tears and outbursts of the contestants and their supporters! Hosts like Annu Kapoor, Sonu Nigam, Cyrus Broacha, Javed Jaffrey, Shekhar Suman, Ranvir Shorey and Vinay Pathak became extremely popular through such shows. These programs also unearthed some really talented singers, dancers and comedians. But the success of these shows then spawned many contenders and pretenders. In the end, the overkill simply took away their novelty and charm, despite desperate attempts to spice up their formats and look and feel.

The tectonic shift

The tectonic shift in Indian reality shows came with the advent of Kaun Banega Crorepati. No doubt the earlier quiz-shows hosted by the likes of Sidhharth Basu and Derek Obrien had already found a niche audience for themselves. But the entry of the superstar Big B – Amitabh Bachchan as the quiz-master changed rules of the game in Indian television forever. The unprecedented popularity of the quiz show (an Indian version of Who wants to be a millionaire) suddenly made television a hot spot for celebrities and a heaven for sponsors and advertisers.

Shilpa Shetty's big-buck win in UK-based reality show Big Brother then opened the proverbial Pandora's box, paving the way for many reality shows borrowing their core ideas from popular reality shows from the West. So now the channels were flooded with plenty of dare-bare shows and share-the-same roof shows. Other show-makers stepped in with their so-called 'original Indian' concepts centered around brides, bridegrooms, mother-in-laws and rebirths!

The scene today

Forget the Bollywood superstars like the Bachchans, Khans and Kapoors who now regularly feature as the hosts on many of these shows. The main beneficiaries of this reality phenomenon have been the wannabe models, mediocre actors, failed cricketers, publicity-seeking politicians, cash-hungry commoners and anyone else who'd not think twice about washing their dirty linen in public! Also benefiting are the 24 hour- news channels having no new news to show and wanting interesting fillers to fill up the gaps!

One season for dating and engagement, another season for marriage and honeymoon, third season for child-birth, fourth season for discord and divorce and fifth season for a re-marriage. Isn't that a great original theme for a reality show? Just get a hare-brained B-grade actress and a half-demented junkie as the lead couple! After all, isn't today's motto (borrowing from a show-title!): Entertainment ke liye kuchh bhi karega ('Would do anything for entertainment')?

So what if all these shows are turning all of us into mindless peeping Toms? So what if they are promoting mediocrity and indecency as some kind of rare talents? So what if they are just manufacturing a glamourized pop-version of 'Reality' while being miles away from real life? Do we really care? Sab chalta hai! Anything goes!

Some popular Indian reality shows

Music: Saregamapa (Zee), Antakshari (Zee), Indian Idol (Sony), Voice of India (Star)

Dance: Nach Baliye (Star), Dance India Dance (Zee), Jhalak Dikhla Jaa (Sony)

Comedy: Bakra (MTV), The Great Indian Laughter Challenge (Star), Comedy Circus (Sony)

Quiz/Games: Kaun Banega Crorepati (Star), Dus Ka Dum (Sony), Khatron Ke Khiladi (Colours)

Sharing secrets: Sach Ka Saamna (Star) , Raaz Pichhale Janam Ka (NDTV Imagine)

Sharing a roof: Bigg Boss (Colours), Pati Patni Aur Wo (NDTV Imagine), Sarkar Ki Duniya (Real TV)

Dating/Marriage: Rakhi Ka Swayamvar (NDTV Imagine), Perfect Bride (Star), Dare 2 Date (Channel V), Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (NDTV Imagine)

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