94.3 FM alias Radio One has a new theory on what sells. It’s definitely not sex (the censor board would have a coronary); it’s the daily misery of the mundane, everyday life.The FM station has come up with a concept that has been tried and tested with television. I’m talking about reality shows. The only reason they are successful is because they connect with human emotions, bang on. It’s not the glycerine induced tears and neither is it the cleverly crafted lines that make a big dent in the heart here, it’s watching a bit of themselves come out in the celebrities that really hooks the audience. It makes the audience believe that these celebrities really do reside on planet earth and yes, they are human. Of course, it’s never the grade A stars because that would just put them in category C, along with the rest of the ‘have-beens’ and ‘hopefuls’, who like their 15 mins of fame.

As far as my limited research is concerned, I have never come across a radio show, in Delhi, which utilizes this concept.

I came across this show, called Radio One Detective Phata-Phat by accident. I was on my way to college, when I switched the radio station by accident. It was approximately 9:15 a.m. and I heard the radio jockey announce that a lonesome lover wanted to make sure the girl he loves only has eyes for him and to help him, they would literally set a trap for the prospective girl and through conversation determine whether or not she was, in fact, a lying, cheating scum bag.

Of course, my ears were hooked.

The trap was as follows. They called the girl, pretending they were from a recently opened flower boutique and were offering a one-time service of delivering flowers free of cost to anyone in the country. She fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

She immediately agreed and told them to send the flowers to a particular person. They asked her, who this person was. ‘My Boyfriend’, pat came the reply. No, he wasn’t the same guy who was calling in to check on her in the first place.

To make matters worse, they immediately connected the line to the guy who had called in. There was another twist in the tale; the supposed boyfriend was the cousin brother of the guy who called the radio station. What followed were accusations, angry retorts, blubbering apologies and the eye opener. The guy, who had called in, never told her that he loved her. In his own words, ‘I thought you’d look at me and understand.’ The radio jockey sniggered. I sniggered. After all, love really isn’t a proxy war. You’ve got to tell the other person involved for it to be a relationship. For me, the guy was delusional and had seen far too many cheap Bollywood flicks.

My first experience in itself was amusing. I looked forward to the next episode.

The next three shows that I did manage to catch had similar plots. A harried mother, trying to find out about her wayward daughter, only to discover the daughter was secretly modelling which only resulted in unleashing hell. A mother-daughter fight is never a win-win situation. A bitter wife trying to find out if her husband was cheating on her and let me tell you, a woman’s instinct is never wrong; he did cheat on her, with his secretary (a cliché if you must).

The last show that I did manage to catch repulsed me. This time, the station took it too far. The lamb to the slaughter this time was a woman who was dating her junior executive. There were no anxious mothers, lost lovers or harrowed husbands. This time, the call was purely based on vengeance. The trap was simple. The radio station pretended to be a newly opened restaurant that was offering personalised dinner service to couples. The woman agreed and when asked who she would be taking, the junior executives name came up. The call was connected and the most obnoxious man came on-air. He told her about how he had watched their affair unfold on CCTV. The woman lost it and threatened to hunt him down. He laughed and said, ‘You’ll never find out’ and let out a stream of abuses (censored with the appropriate beeps).

The jockey obviously took it in humour. I did not. For the first time I realised that the channel was, in fact, using the real name of the people involved. The names were not censored out and neither were dropped from the show altogether, they were used to be publicly broadcast. To me, this was infringement of privacy, defamation and slander. Any other country but India, I’m sure the participants would’ve sued, in a mass tort, for emotional damage and slander charges.

I did ponder, does sleaze really sell? Are people really intrigued by such personal issues?

According to me, the answer is yes. If people were not involved in the gossip of other people’s lives, Big Boss (even though season 2 has a pathetic line up) would never have such high TRP’s. Even in our little social circles around us, what happens with another person, never really stays a secret. One person will always tell another, on the promise that the other person wouldn’t rat the person out. The truth is, every person will at some point pass on this secret to another and finally, a warped version of the truth will eventually come out. A little like a perverse game of Chinese whispers, where the outcome is never really funny.

The root of such shows lies deep down in the murky depths of the human psyche. As humans, we’re conditioned through human evolution to form social cliques and function within them. As our age progresses, so do the varied emotions and hence we find ourselves to be an unexpected voyeur in everyone else’s life too. That’s the basis of every reality show, to be the voyeur. The participants of these shows let us into their lives, we get used to their behaviour, their habits and their way of thinking. In a way we lead them into our lives, putting them in our social group and co-existing with them, gossiping about their misdemeanours and picking our favourites (kind of like a virtual best friend).

I could say the same for this particular show. It pulls us in by showing us an aspect of human life almost everyone is interested in, a ‘conflict’. Every great movie or a novel has one. Be it a love triangle, a science fiction piece, a biography or a historical piece. Any subject always has a conflict piece attached to it, and this particular show sells it with panache.

The real question is that do moral standards apply to such shows based on subjects that dwell on personal issues? I’m not trying to be a righteous preacher, but I do feel that sometimes morality does lose its value when it comes to such shows. There is a fine line that distinguishes between the right and the wrong and these shows always fall in the grey area. Agreed, on the entertainment level, these shows do provide something to laugh about (basically the other person’s misery) or talk about with other people. But the fact is, such subjects in themselves last about 15 minutes in the public memory. It’s the people who are involved that are scarred for the rest of their life, with their most intimate details out on public display.

Phata-Phat or not, for me, this detective really put me off for meddling with things that don’t concern him. With the last episode, I tuned out for good and never waited to hear another show again. And as for the show content, I would suggest the show producers find themselves a more pro-active opportunity.

The last time I checked, hearing another individual’s sob story just didn’t appeal to me much.

Tara Verma


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