Anyone for more ‘reality’ TV?

IN Media Practice | 27/09/2004
Anyone for more ‘reality’ TV?



Gudiya Kiski was manufactured reality produced by Zee News




          Reprinted from the Indian Express, September 27, 2004






Shailaja Bajpai


The problem with reality TV is that there is nothing real about it. Watch Donald Trump on The Apprentice (Friday, Star World). He resembles a waxwork version of himself: his hair and features are set in a permanent mould and his bluster (‘‘you’re a disaster, a disaster’’) sounds like someone imitating him. The realist thing about Trump is his Towers.


The Apprentice is Survivor in an urban jungle instead of the Amazon. On the left are the breast-beating-revealing ladies, to the right mammas-and-papas’ boys; they compete—and more importantly, witch-bitch-hunt each other, laced with a little Freudian self-analysis. That’s why we watch them, not because the women produced an ad campaign for an airline straight out of Playboy/girl. At the end of each round, Donald plays his Trump card. ‘‘You’re fired!’’, he barks, and one unfortunate competitor, mournfully, quits the game.


That’s what it is—a game in which the contestants fake reality. They are selected to play themselves on a show that has a format, rules and regulations, time limits, etc. This is artificial, and if you don’t know it, you can’t be for real.


Gudiya Kiski was manufactured reality produced by Zee News. The game? Gudiya Kiski. The contestants? Arif, Gudiya, Taufiq and a host of Muslim religious leaders. The setting? A village panchayat at the air-conditioned Zee studio. The prize? Gudiya. If The Apprentice sequestered its contestants, Zee held Arif and Gudiya captive until their ‘problem’ was solved. Naturally, this infuriated the other news channels, which made feeble attempts to generate their own excitement.


Zee’s anchor Alka Saxena played Donald Trump (or was she trying for Oprah Winfrey?)—permed hairdo included—firing everyone left, right and centre. ‘‘Arif, you’re a hero, do you think you’re doing the right thing?...You Taufiq, Gudiya is carrying your baby, what do you say?...Gudiya, you tell us your man ki baat...Now, we’ll go for a break...Uske baad, najayaz rishta...’’


Two evenings of this and Zee was Breaking News: Gudiya to stay with Arif, who will accept child. Saxena permitted herself a smile of self-satisfaction and pressed an elderly Maulana for a comment: he began to cry. Then, recollecting his surroundings, he praised Zee, for its ‘‘positive’’ role in solving society’s problems. Clap, clap, clap. No, no, said a modest Saxena, Zee had only helped them arrive at their own decision...


You wanted to rush to your feet and shout, ‘‘Jai Hind, Jai Zee.’’


Except that you could not forget Arif picking at his fingers, Taufiq clenching his fists, Gudiya’s half-hidden misery—each one’s stunned, immobile expressions, their hollow, unblinking eyes of victims. At one stage, Gudiya asked why this was being filmed. Good question.


On Monday evening, the Shariat laws were explained on all news channels. Gudiya said she would return to Taufiq only if Arif DIVorced her; Arif refused point blank, and Taufiq said it was up to Gudiya. All three swore by the Shariat. Their meaning was plain: did Zee believe Gudiya and Taufiq could have flouted the Shariat on live TV and ridden off into the sunset with the religious leaders’ blessings? Perhaps Zee did precipitate the decision on the child, but couldn’t that have been resolved without TV?


We don’t know why Arif, Gudiya, Taufiq and the Muslim community agreed to this spectacle, but we can guess why Zee staged it: TV is governed by the number of eyeballs it attracts, and this packaged ‘reality TV’, replete with real human suffering, is just the kind of tragedy that transfixes everyone’s gaze. Unfortunately.


The other channels tried to be sanctimonious—and then joined in the fun. NDTV got Taufiq on the air first, but when he defected to Zee, it rushed off to his village and spoke to anyone who remotely knew the young man. Aaj Tak came up with its Ek Gudiya Ki Kahani: Taufiq and Gudiya were old paramours but Gudiya was married off to Arif because his family was richer...


Now the studio lights have been turned on someone else, Arif, Gudiya, Taufiq have returned to the rest of their lives. As she said on air, she doesn’t know if she will live...


Shailaja Bajpai is the media critic  of the Indian Express. Contact:
Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More