A year and a few months ago, the UK and of course India went into a tizzy about racist remarks against our very own Shilpa Shetty on Big Brother. The point that most people forgot to stress upon, amidst all the outrage and the displays of patriotism, was that racism in this context was not so much an expression of a nation’s inherent insensitivity towards minorities but an instrument used by one contestant to mentally harass another contestant on a reality show. If Shilpa Shetty hadn’t been brown, she would have been harassed based on her sexual orientation, her weight, her looks or her intelligence—but since Ms. Goody couldn’t get her on the first three and was too dumb herself to get Shilpa on the last, she had to go on her skin color.
Because reality shows are principally for one thing and one thing only. Humiliation and conflict. Of course there are many people who tune into Sa Re Gama for the beatific voices or Ek Se Badkar Ek for the sensational Sayantani Ghosh. I won’t say that I don’t belong to that set. But when it comes to what really keeps me glued to the TV, it has to be the sight of Himesh shouting at the other judges on Sa Re Gama or of Abhijeet being accused by a contestant of favoring a girl from his state or of Simon Cowell verbally haranguing a bad performer.
Are the conflicts staged? Are they intentionally provoked behind-the-scenes? Is the world real or is it all maaya? Have robots taken over the nation and plugged us into the Matrix? Do I look like I care? As long as I see trembling contestants and frothing judges I am more than happy. And if there is a meltdown once in a while –then well that’s just the icing on the cake.
After all what’s more entertaining than to see people fight among themselves and subject themselves to abject humiliate for the sake of money? It makes us feel thankful that at least when we fight at office meetings or get chewed out by the boss for losing a contract, the whole nation is not witness to that. And perhaps it is that that makes us feel a bit superior.
Tragic things do happen once in a while like the girl on a Bengali reality show who went into severe shock and needed to be hospitalized after a dressing-down on TV but then again if you do not have a high tolerance for criticism, then reality TV is probably not for you.
Nothing gladdened my heart more than when I came to know of a reality show on a TV channel I had never heard off —Bindass TV. The show called Dadagiri (Sourav Ganguly should sue for copyright infringement) has stripped off all the pretense of the “talent promotion” and instead isolated the core of the reality show’s appeal by basing itself on pure and simple humiliation. Three Dadas, one a muscleman who makes the contestants perform physical challenges, one a nerd who mentally challenges them and a dominatrix who makes them do something yucky while shouting expletives [yes Neena Gupta tried something similar in Kamzor Kari Kaun, but that intimidation was positively Hangalian “Itna sannata kyon hain bhai” in comparison to Dadagiri. Plus how can a woman who burst onto the scene by jumping out from behind a table and singing “Hawkins Pressure Cooker” invoke a sense of fear?] stand between the contestants and the loot. Needless to say, the challenges are tame compared to Fear Factor or any decent quiz show but then again this isn’t a talent show.
Now some people may say that this show, way more than its reality cousins, panders to our basest instincts of deriving pleasure at the degradation the fellow man, making us not much different from the guards at Abu Ghraib. Some will say it glorifies ragging. Some will balk at the girlie gay character called Juicy in the show who exists to provide comic relief.
Well so slap me—-“Dadagiri” is not politically correct.
But it has given us, without doubt, the single greatest moment of Indian reality TV. Ever.
Here is the video link.
And here is the sequence of events. Dominatrix Isha tells one of the contestants (who is refusing to get flustered at her verbal jabs, thus defeating the purpose of the show)—“Why don’t you fuck off then”? The contestant, looks cutely at her and says “You go”. And then the dominatrix raises the bar for reality TV for ever by slapping the contestant, in a way seen only in Hindi family dramas (except those are fake). The contestant then, Bubka style, raises the bar even higher by returning the slap with ferocious intensity, in the process deviating from the script . Then the slapped man proceeds to yell in anguished King Lear style “How can you slap?” in the same kind of voice that the villain in “Jimmy” kept asking “Am I a rejected person?”
Then the presenter of the show acts all hero (even though he is wearing red shoes like
Cinderella Little Red Riding Hood) and starts slapping and punching the man while screaming obscenities. Then we see the brave camera crew coming to the red-shoed hero’s help by proceeding to gang up to kick the contestant as he lies on the ground crying. And finally it may or may not be an accident that the “hero” shouts that the contestant, whose English accent betrays the fact that he is not a member of a country club, has no “aukaad” to do what he did to the “celebrities” that run the show, so refined are they that the word “fock” comes before “behenchod” in their sequence of abuses.
Now some might argue that the contestant, like the girl who suffered severe psychological trauma, should have known what he was getting into. While some others may argue that while criticism from judges for a performance is par for the course, getting slapped (and then being beaten and kicked by a crowd), even in a show themed exclusively on degrading an individual, is definitely not.
Whatever it be, there is no denying that all this makes for perfect reality TV— the weeping contestant becomes the object of humiliation, the red-shoed hero and the camera crew become the “judges” dispensing justice and the viewers all become “Dadas” deriving guilty pleasure from the whole circus.
[Original link courtesy my batchmate from JU—Shankar Seal]