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October - November 2009


Far from reality: Are the so called reality TV shows taking us away from the real world?

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

Shilpa Shetty entered the house of Big Brother and became famous. This starlet had not seen this kind of fame and name till then. But a reality show, that too beamed from a ‘western’ country added glamour to the show, as far as India was concerned. She went on to emerge as the ‘winner’ (What was the contest anyway?), and more coverage followed. That is what ‘reality’ shows are all about. Instant fame.

Indian TV channels are airing programmes, termed as reality shows, for more than a decade. Basically, they are a copy of either American or British TV shows. So, Kaun Banega Crorepati was a copy of Who wants to be a millionaire, Indian Idol is an open copy (including the lettering style of the title) of the popular American contest cum reality show American Idol. Kamzor Kadi Kaun aped The Weakest Link .The tradition still continues.

Reality check: Superstar Amitabh Bachchan in Kaun Banega Crorepati

According to the latest news Amitabh Bachchan is all set to “host” the next season of Big Boss. The show is an imitation of Big Brother. He is one of the highly decorated actors from Indian cinema, why does he want to join the bandwagon? Is it that he is not getting good enough roles and searching for ways to remain in public eye? What can be the explanation?

I always feel curious about these reality shows. What is ‘real’ about them? Whatever they show is ‘constructed reality’. Yes, there is no script – we, spectators, do not know of any, and the acts are not predictable, like those ‘family drama’ serials. Supporters of such shows, mainly from production houses, claim that these shows provide audiences a piece of adventure. How? If a person is running or climbing, then that person is certainly doing some adventurous thing. But can, watching ‘the show’ be termed as ‘participating’ in that adventure? What kind of pleasure can a viewer get out of it?

Now a show called Iss Jungle se Mujhe Bachao is running on an Indian channel. Again, it is an imitation of a western show. We are asked to watch some small-time celebrities try to survive in a jungle and and how they do it. Voluptuous females taking showes is a major part of the show. Where is the adventure here? This is promoting ‘voyeurism’, nothing less. Many people have criticised the show for ‘vulgar’ skin show. But the production company advises viewers to ‘grow up’.

Indian version of Fear Factor is being hosted by a very popular action star of Hindi film world. Participants of the show or some amazing race show, are required to do weird things, eat horrible looking animals, etc. Why should we watch such programmes is beyond my comprehension? But still there must be many spectators, otherwise they will not produce and telecast such shows. They generate revenue for the channel and they run on popularity meters (TRP).

The events shown in these shows are not related to common people’s everyday life, so they may hold some novelty aspect. But how long can one enjoy this novelty? Not for long. That is the reason, viewership of Big Brother is dwindling. Why we should watch some unknown people’s behaviour, who are brought together by some channel? What do we get out of it? If you are interested in psychology then better read some good books, and even better, watch people around you. Analyse them from what you read in newspapers.

In the beginning Indian reality shows were based on films. Song and Dance competitions were (and still are) popular (again imitation of the western media). Every channel claims of creation of some ‘super dancer’ or ‘super singer’. What happens to them after that season of the show is over? These ‘super artists ‘ are off the air and soon forgotten. Still, the attraction of being on the TV lures thousands to such shows. Supporters send hundreds of thousands ‘SMS’s to promote their candidates, and mobile phone companies make huge money. Exploitation of participants is a subject of debate and voluminous writing.

Reality in India and elsewhere is grim. People are losing jobs, and their number runs in to millions. Millions are living with daily earning that is less than one US Dollar. Hundreds of villages in India do not have access to clean drinking water. Drought in India has worsened the situation this year. Even salaried class is finding it difficult to make both ends meet. Primary health, education.nutrition........ nearly every front is facing grave problems.

And yet channels are turning a blind eye to it.This is in the realm of ‘News’ channels; we are ‘Entertainment and General’ channel, some might argue in the defence. But should we , the viewer and citizens, buy it?

Our daily lives are already filled with tensions and problems, so we need some relief, any body will agree with it. But we also must look and think beyond entertainment. Also we must differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ entertainment. Some years ago, Americans watched bombing of Iraq as a sparkling display of firework. That is not entertainment. Reality is not entertaining, it is harsh.

Attack on Mumbai on 26th November last year was a horrifying reality but our news channels showed it in such a way that many, who are not living in the metropolis, enjoyed the event as an action drama. That compelled the TV industry to formulate regulatory guidelines.

So called reality shows are taking us away from the real world. Reality must be treated with seriousness, earnestly. Too much of work may make us dull but too much of entertainment may turn us dumb. That is not good for individual and society. Media should make us aware of realty around us, sensetise us and not sensetionalise the trivial detail of some celebrity’s life. That is happening today, that is unfortunate.

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