The Moment of Truth

Nobody hates easy money. Show me a man who’ll turn down the chance to win a few thousand bucks just by answering a few random questions and I’ll show you an honest politician. Fact is, no matter how hard we work and no matter how well we earn, we still have a special affinity towards ‘easy money’. Maybe it’s because we feel less guilty about splurging it on totally useless things or maybe we just like to feel lucky. Whatever the reason, this affinity of ours for gravy train, plus a desire for a place under the spotlight has been well exploited by the countless reality shows popping up on every other channel.

These reality shows, where the contestants ( who are otherwise ordinary people going about the daily grind of life) are expected to perform a wide assortment of tasks (from the bizarre to the downright atrocious), have done exceedingly well for their host channels, garnering high TRPs (the holy grail of the television industry). It’s an altogether different matter though as to how much money is actually won by the contestants on these shows.

In this melee of channels to garner the maximum share of eye – balls, there have been a few shows that may or may not have captured the imagination of the masses but definitely did kick a storm or two by courting controversies. A little known channel called ‘bindass’ telecast an even more obscure show titled ‘dadagiri’, where hapless contestants had to perform a host of awkward tasks such as rummaging through shit and dirt for random objects and hitting themselves on the face with eggs and slippers before they could answer some stupid questions, all this while being bullied and mocked by the ‘dadas’ of the show. Not many had heard of the show, let alone watch it and quite rightly so. However the show came under the spotlight after one of the bullies (a girl), slapped one of the male contestants. The contestant, who then slapped the girl back, was beaten black and blue by the crew of the show. What followed were extensive debates on news channels over the corrupting influence such shows had on the viewers, especially the young. But quite expectedly, the TRPs of the show soared and it is now in its second season. Various other shows like Roadies and Splitsvilla have invited the ire of the moral police time and again for their highly westernized content. But all these programs pale in comparison to the brouhaha created by ‘Sach ka Saamna’, the latest offering by Star Plus. The participants, from small time celebrities to ordinary people, are asked all sorts of questions about their personal lives, while undergoing a polygraph test. I haven’t really been following the show but on the couple of occasions that I did manage to catch it, a woman participant was asked questions like whether she found her father-in–law more handsome than her husband and whether she had ever thought about cheating on her husband. On another episode, actor Yusuf Husain was asked whether he’d ever had sex with a woman younger than his own daughter. No other television program in living memory has created such a furore, with the moral police demanding an immediate ban on the show and the channel. So much so that the matter was even discussed in the parliament.

The debate over whether such shows have a corrupting influence over the audiences and whether they are against the very fabric of India’s culture and tradition may go on and on. Before we decide to debate on what is and what is not against India’s culture, we need to be first acquainted with the very idea of culture here in India. In a country of over a billion people, what may be considered vulgar by one man may be viewed as mere entertainment by another. The question that we need to ask ourselves is do we want a babu or neta to decide what is fit to be shown on television and what is not.
Prateek Jain

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