Living in a locality in Kolkata that overlooked a sprawling bustee (an illegal slum), one of the joys of urban life was to witness, from time to time, dog-fights/cat-fights between denizens of the bustee, usually fought out in the vicinity of the Shib Mandir (which housed a Shiv Lingam, a carrom board and a bamboo stand on which was pasted copies of Ganashakti), where in front of a crowd of screaming inhabitants of the said bustee, those in conflict would let loose. Wife beating up drunk husband. Woman shouting at the other woman. Father beating up drug-addict son. Two druggies throwing punches. Mother yelling at daughter caught “red-handed”. Passers-by would stop casually, just listening to the general conversation as the assembled crowd passed judgment, threw out advice, sometimes came in between if the fist throwing became serious and periodically noisily murmured their taunting disapprobation or whole-hearted approval.
What I did not realize then and I do now is that I was watching advance episodes of Rakhi ka Insaaf, (premiered recently on NDTV Imagine) which has brought to the world of Indian television the cerebral classiness of watching a drunken lout of a husband being beaten up by chappals while he wallows in the drain singing vulgar songs, a show that promises to go where no show has ever gone before. And how can it not? It is after all helmed by Rakhi Sawant, or the “Arundhati Roy of reality television, the God of large-sized artificial things”.
Rakhi needs no introduction. The lady who put the “item” in “itemized deduction”, who put the BS in Big Boss, who brought “respect” back into the institute of marriage with her path-breaking “Rakhi Ka Swayamvar” which led to an engagement as real as a Commonwealth Games invoice, someone whose honesty can only be matched by Suresh Kalmadi it was only natural that she be chosen to be the judge of a show, which is nothing but a noble attempt to bring to the common man the kind of earthy common-sense jurisprudence favored by King Solomon and the local community gundas.
The somber seriousness of the event is set as Rakhi Sawant walks onto the stage, shaking her bonbons and delivering dialogs to the camera in the fluidly stilted over-exaggerated bindassness which has so endeared herself to the masses. The loving audience cheers, like Romans baying for gladiatorial blood, fawning over their messiah. Yells of “Rakhi Rakhi” echo in time , reminding one of the “Maximus Maximus”chant in Gladiator (Rakhi Sawant sometimes does look like Russel Crowe) or “Jerry Jerry” in Jerry Springer (the US daytime show on trailer trash dysfunction that has acquired cult status over the years). If one did not know of the respect Rakhi has in society, one would have thought that the crowd was being managed by cues from behind the camera and being paid by their decibel level. But of course they aren’t. Cause this is a reality show.
This time of course nuttily naughty Rakhi has a very knotty problem to solve. A Muslim woman (the religion is important in light of what it is to follow), whose husband has died (to use a Rakhisicism—uska switch off ho gya) claims that her sisters are trying to poison her son’s mind against her with an aim to get hold of the compensation money.
Rakhi, like a wise judge, engages this woman with kindly heart-felt advice drawing on her life-experiences. Rakhi tells her that she herself, despite being a superstar actress, would do , given an adverse situation, any “job” with her “hands” to support her children whether it be rolling agarbatti (which she shows by doing a suspicious rolling up-down movement with her wrist) or, in her words, “goo uthana” (Lifting excreta). Presently one of the accused sisters comes out and the original accuser suddenly starts screaming (almost as if someone signaled her to) and prances around the stage like a wounded bear, riling up the audience with deft challenges, till she flings herself into Rakhi’s arms and bawls uncontrollably.
The tension is ratcheted up when the son reveals he wants to stay with his mausis because her mother’s “brother” beats him. The mother’s mooh-bola “brother” is brought in to face the music. Immediately Rakhi realizes, with the judicial alertness of Hammurabi, that there is something more to the eye than what is evident. She asks the “brother” and the “sister” three times whether they stand by the story that they are brother-sister (Given the religion of the protagonists, the “three” has a special significance). They do not give in. Then Rakhi turns to the camera, twirls her eyes and with as much regret as a child would show when given a double scoop ice-cream, says that she has something in her hand which she did not want to show but now she has to.
The focus now shifts to a gigantic screen. And no infallible oracles Charu Sharma/Roshan Abbas do not materialize with a “spontaneously correct” answer to yet another of life’s questions. No what we are shown instead, is hidden camera footage of the “brother-sister” jodi sharing terms of endearment and intimate touches that those who call themselves “brother-sister” should not engage in. Immediately the camera focuses on the shocked face of an audience member, almost as if she had just seen Jack the Ripper eating a human ear. Before anyone can wonder how crystal clear the hidden-camera footage was or ask how exactly the Rakhi team get hold of that footage, the sisters are moving towards the “brother” and bashing him up. And before you can say “totally fake”, the audience is marching on the poor man, like a group of zombies and throwing punches, reminding me of those glory days of Kolkata street justice. The bouncers come to intervene but not before the violent mob have got their shots in. The entire crowd is on its feet, chanting “Rakhi Rakhi”. A mic appears out of nowhere in front of a person of indeterminate gender (not Rakhi) who then starts abusing the guest (as he/she says “no one will ever call themselves brother after this dastardly act”) while Rakhi stands tall, looking at the camera with a triumphant expression on her face like a kid who has solved his first simplification problem.
Finally Rakhi asks an aged, hyperventilating maulvi in the crowd what should be done. He says the only solution is that the “brother” should marry his “ex-sister” and make her his second wife. Brilliant ! If only the Supereme Court had shown such sagacity during the Shah Bano case. Soon the sisters embrace the estranged “sister”, and the family is reconciled like the last scene of a Barjatiya movie. Finally the “sister” jumps onto the “brother” (now ex-brother and current-would be husband) and starts showing such public display of affection that even Saif and Kareena would be embarrassed. The episode ends with Rakhi standing inside the amphitheater, surrounded by the cheering crowd, promising to return with her brand of unique justice and to bring more debauchery, sandal-throwing and trash to our living rooms.
Take that Khaps.
Indian television has truly climbed a new height.