As I watched the first two episodes of “Rakhi Ka Swayamvar”, I realized I was witnessing history—an aesthetic amalgam of Dali-ian surrealism and Dada-ist anti-conventionalism, a monument to the post-DD “India Shiney (Ahuja)” Youngistan socially and culturally conscious media, the kind of media that gives us news like this:
“There are two things that you notice instantly when you see Deepika Padukone. One is that she is pencil-thin; and, two, she has a love-bite on her neck that is still to fade away.”
Make no mistake. Rakhi Ka Swayamvar, now being shown on the appositely named NDTV Imagine is Indian television’s finest hour. In the past, we have been shocked by Tamas. We have been educated by “Bharat Ek Khoj”. We have danced to “Ek chidiya anek chidiya”. We have cried with Haveli Ram. We have dreamt with Mungerilal. We have flown with Shaktiman. We have become “Putrabati bhava” with Mahabharata. But never have we ever been as moved by anything as we have been by Rakhi ka Swayamvar, as classy as a circus freakshow and as spontaneous as Dick Cheney.
The show’s all-round grooviness stands primarily on the shoulders of the central protagonist, “divya roopi sundari nari” (as a contestant addresses her) Rakhi Sawant. A child of the 24/7 media, we have seen her life unfold itself in front of the camera. Whether it be heart-wrenchingly expressing the challenges in being an item girl (she told Prabhu Chawla: Kapde utaarna asaan naheen hain sirrrr) or being kissed by Mika or slapping her boyfriend Abhishek Awasthi as he apologizes to her on bended knee after a fight, Rakhi has lived her life in the public gaze (some people claim that she lives her life ONLY when she is in the public gaze) ever since her star turn as a chick with a dick in “Masti”.
So the fact that her choosing a husband would also be a public spectacle was inevitable. Of course as Rakhi and the show’s creators go to great pains to make us realize that this isnt a game show. This is life. Rakhi’s life. The life of a simple, shy, traditional middle-class Bharatiya naari with fake gazoombas, equally fake old-world demureness and ceaselessly fluttering eye-lids who needs all our help in finding the right match for her.
And I wont kid you. It’s not easy getting a husband for this lass. As she repeats throughout the show, in various ways, men only want her for her ethereal beauty and her fame but no one recognizes the simple lost girl behind the cantilevered lingerie, a lost little girl who just wants to settle down and put to rest her tortured past.
Now critics might call this show “a sham money-making exercise that appeals to the lowest common denominator” but I see it for what it is—– a searing monument to the institution of marriage and its enduring relevance even in today’s item number world.
Critics also might call the show “scripted” but hey, even our lives are scripted by the one above. If no one objects to that why should they be worried if a few humans script Rakhi’s considering it’s ultimately all “maya”.
Supporting Rakhi are a stellar support cast. There is an Udaipur palace. There are dancing women who dance as each of the prospective grooms arrive to the tunes of the same song from Om Shanti Om. There is Ram Kapoor (famous as “Mr. Jay Walia” from Kasamh Se) who I think tries desperately not to burst out into giggles during Rakhi’s earnest insights into her tortured soul. Finally there the man who is Rakhi’s surrogate brother, asking the hard questions and vetting the candidates—megastar Ravi Kishan from the land that has given us “Meri nayee payjamia phad di dehati rasiya” , who is the ideal person to get into the minds of the “small town” boys from Saharanpur and Kanpur and Mathura who form the majority of the suitors.
Which brings me to the show’s knockout assets—-the sixteen prospective grooms. It takes a special sub-species of homo-sapiens to want to marry Rakhi Sawant, the kind that can slide their balls on a razor’s edge and into a bowl of aftershave.
And what an unique species these mushtandas belong to.
A gabroo “God of Luv” named Luv Khanna (he announces his intentions with “Jaise Shree Raamji sadiyon se pahele Sita Maiyya ko swayamvar main jeeta tha , waisi hi is kaliyug main uska beta Luv aap ko jeet ke leke jayega”, an opening line that so impresses the traditional Rakhi that he wins the opening “first impressions” challenge).
An all-clad-in-white Gujrati NRI who drops hints that he is loaded (of course not that Rakhi cares for wealth—unrelated factoid is that he also won the “first impressions” challenge)
A gym instructor.
A dance master.
A comically flamboyant stunt coordinator.
A man with a hairstyle like a cat.
A policeman from Kashmir (a sure sign that infiltration is down in J&K is when a policeman from that state gets leave to marry Rakhi Sawant)
A Bihari boy who hands Rakhi a kangan that his mother has sent for her dulhan.
A bunch of struggling actors who speak as if their spontaneous words of love are rehearsed.
A friend of Rakhi’s ex-beau Abhishek who the lady claims has been pursuing her ever since childhood (reality show experts opine that this man is the hook through which Abhishek might make a surprise appearance later on in the season).
A chocolate-faced, unemployed student.
And my personal favorite—a man who claims he sits in temples thinking about Rakhi (“main ganaptiji ke mandir main baitha tha aap ke yaad main”). The man with the best story of all—who claims to have fallen in love with her after seeing her courage in the Mika incident and after seeing her dance in “Mohabbat hain mirchi”, a man who today just earns a few thousand rupees a month, sacrificing an easy career earning thousands of dollars/pounds in New Jersey and UK just because of his love for Rakhi, a love that made him learn acting and dancing.
Summing them up, if you thought Rakhi is a self-effacing ordinary woman who does not care for publicity or hesitates to use notoriety for career-advancement you haven’t seen the men lining up to put a mangalsutra on her. They are even better.
The main reason I personally so much love the show is that it provides me occasion to speculate about legendary Swayamvars in the past. Did Karna gift Draupadi a pink teddy bear? Did Dushashan offer Draupadi an alcoholic beverage to which she like Rakhi Sawant, with an expression of careful shock on her face, ticked him off for offering a Bharatiya naari “Bacardi” ? Did Arjuna suddenly break out into an impromptu ” bhootni ke” dance in front of Panchali to seduce her?
All this of course means that I shall keep watching “Rakhi Sawant ka Swaymvar”.
I cannot take my eyes off it.
Because as the Aerosmith song goes “I don’t want to miss a thing.”