For saying it out loud

BY Shubhra Gupta| IN Media Practice | 01/08/2009
In that one fell swoop, Sach Ka Saamna, the Indian version of the controversial Moment Of Truth, pushed everything right over the edge.
The line between the private and the public is suddenly thinner than ever, says SHUBRA GUPTA in the Indian Express.

                                   Reprinted from IE, August 1, 2009 



Flashback to a couple of weeks. Vinod Kambli, former test cricketer, current occupant of hot seat on India’s newest reality show, clutching a large cross, waiting for the next question. Do you remember the names of the women you had physical relations with? (Actual words : ‘shaareerik sambandh’). Camera, switching back and forth between contestant and wife. Suspense mounting . Background music swelling. Yes, admits a distinctly uncomfortable Kambli, I remember. ‘ Yeh jawaab sach hai’, blares a disembodied voice.


That was Indian TV’s first genuine Oprah moment. Here was a celeb (all right, a former celeb), admitting to his family, and shadowy people ranged in the studio, and a nation of avid viewers, that he had done what he had done. Implicit in the admission were many things : that he, Kambli, had slept with women (not one, but several) other than his wife, and that —- here’s the thing — it was perfectly permissible for such questions to be publicly asked of an individual.


In that one fell swoop, Sach Ka Saamna, the Indian version of the controversial Moment Of Truth, pushed everything right over the edge. Till then, Rakhi Sawant had been the loftiest point on prime-time, as she played the coy bride-to-be in low ‘cholis’ and high aspiration. We watched in dismay the transformation of a feisty middle class girl who would do anything to grab her fifteen episodes of fame, to a silly, simpering ‘dulhan’.


But along came Sach Ka Saamna, and poof, Rakhi is history. The line between the private and the public is suddenly thinner than ever. The nature of the ‘real’ on Reality TV has been irrevocably re-defined. Indian Reality TV will from here on be judged on how much, and how soon, it can reveal the most intimate, embarrassing details of a person’s life.


Those who’ve been getting hot and bothered at this unabashed tell-all-show-all bonanza have missed the point. We make television, it doesn’t make us. That ‘reality’, complete with its powder-puff make-up, arc-lights, elevated stages, and mock heartbeats, is ours. The Delhi High Court judges nailed it: you don’t like it, turn off your TV.


A day after the noise in Parliament, a line started running on the bottom band, stating that the contents of the show are "paripakv" ( pure Hindi for ‘mature’, arcane usage for a show in conversational Hindi and English), and that ‘guidance’ is needed for young viewers. At long last, ‘mature’ has started cropping up in our lexicon.


Something had to give after all these years of struggling with the tyranny of mothers-in-laws, the frightening docility of daughters-in-laws, and the vacuity of most programming on TV. It’s not anybody’s case that Sach Ka Saamna is what it is for its scintillating brilliance: any show that asks its participants if they put toothpaste in their friend’s underwear, or make wee wee in their own, clearly has an IQ deficiency. It’s also unabashedly prurient and salacious. It’s voyeurism, Made In India, For India, out there for all those willing and able to consume it.


What makes it noteworthy is in what it does. It blows off terminal hypocrisy. It allows an airing of stuff that’s been taboo so far, especially in the sexual sphere. It’s nowhere near as explicit as its counterparts in the West ( we are still aeons away from a show like Californication, which is exactly what it’s name suggest, with a few frills), but there is, gentle viewers, a welcome assumption that comes with a show like this. It assumes that we are grown up, and that grown ups can watch what they like, and when they like. Or not. Enough, already, with the moral outrage.


So, is Indian TV finally at the tipping point? Is it all set to leave cinema behind? TV is the plug-in-drug; films are meant to be bigger, better, weightier. TV comes to you; you go to the movies. I’m not sure if a single show can create a revolution, but one thing is undisputable. TV’s Big Brother, which has ostensibly been busy loosening its sexual shackles in the past decade, is still in the Dark Ages when it comes to showing ‘real’. Plastic still rules. Poverty-stricken leading ladies flaunt blinding bling. And anything that tries to strike out, is branded flamingly art-house.


Most of our mainstream films are fake when it comes to passion, sexual awakening and flowering, and all the things adult men and women do when no one’s looking. The actors capable of scorching the screen quickly realise that A-certificates will not make them universal stars. Bollywood is primarily targeted at sanitised family viewing, where all manner of horrendous thrusting and heaving is stuffed into item numbers, after which everyone rapidly reverts to being asexual, non-threatening boys and girls. The closest our A-list couples are allowed to get is a clinch; lips and limbs are confined to movies staffed by B-listers.


Aamir has kissed, yes. But his last couple of films have been determinedly bereft of the man-woman thing. Shah Rukh has that X factor in spades, except his core constituency — children and swooning women — will be horrified that he can actually want to get his hands on his leading lady, having shut the door first, of course. He did it with the wholesome Juhi Chawla.


Amitabh, too, never really lived up to the explosive potential he showed in his early films. It’s the older stars in older films who looked as if they knew what it was to romp. To wit, a scene on a boat between Raj and Nargis in Awara ( 1951) . "Agar tum aur pass aaogi, toh naav doob jayegi" ( if you come closer, the boat will sink), he says. She says, heavy-lidded, "doob jaane do" ( let it). And they burn it up so you can practically see the smoke.


We should have aced combustion long back. We’ve learnt to live with, instead, more drizzle than sizzle. That’s the truth, and nothing but the truth.



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