The reality gravy train

The deluge has begun. New shows are tumbling out of TV studios and sets as if they all have a common train to catch. (They do, it’s called the TRP Express). Leading the pack are the big reality shows — X Factor on Sony, Ratan Ka Rishta on Imagine. (Khatron Ke Khiladi starts

on Colors tonight, so reactions next week).

Sony’s X Factor, like most reality shows, is the Indian version of a foreign franchise, in this case a UK show of the same name created by the controversial British TV producer and presenter, Simon Cowell. It is a singing competition and the judges are singers Sonu Niigaam, Shreya Ghoshal and filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, all of whom will eventually become mentors to their individual teams. X Factor falls into the same category as Sa Re Ga Ma Pa (Zee), Indian Idol (Sony) and other such singing shows.

I could only make out two differences — age is not a factor here, because X Factor invites older participants too. (So you had a 60-plus Mohammad Rafi fan who came clutching a giant framed photograph of Rafi and sang a — surprise surprise — Rafi song. And a 43-year-old woman from Pune who sang — and danced to — Sheila ki jawani without a trace of embarrassment. Her husband, beaming with pride, was watching her all along, also without a trace of embarrassment.)

Nor is X Factor restricted to individual contestants — music groups can also participate. The show opened with the usual auditions — lakhs of people falling over each other; the inevitable smattering of eccentrics, jokers and weirdos, singers whose talent was exceeded only by their delusions of talent (like the aforesaid 43-year-old lady); everyone periodically breaking into weeping fits and so on.

As for the judges — well, Shreya Ghoshal looks pretty. Sanjay Leela Bhansali looks intense. But the life and soul of the party is Sonu Niigaam. He keeps things light-hearted and fun, joking with the participants, occasionally breaking into song, even managing the difficult feat of laughing at the weirder ones without a trace of unkindness.

The show will really take off only when the auditions are over and the teams have been formed. But as I always say, if you’re a fan of Hindi film music, you’ll enjoy most singing reality shows. X Factor should be no different.

Ratan Ka Rishta is the third in Imagine’s Swayamvar series, with TV actress Ratan Rajput seeking her life partner and publicity, not necessarily in that order. In the first season, we had the formidable Rakhi Sawant looking for a groom. She chose someone called Elesh Parujanwala from Toronto, then had a very public break-up with him (how can Rakhi have a break-up in private, behind closed doors? What’s the point of a break-up then?) and continued with her fading career as an item girl and reality show star.

The next Swayamvar was Rahul Mahajan’s. He actually married Dimpy, one of the girls on the show. Subsequently, Dimpy also had a very public fight with him where she accused him of wife-beating, in a full media circus (naturally).

Not a very encouraging record. But that’s for dummies who believe that the Swayamvar series is about finding life partners. The reality: It’s about being on national TV for weeks and weeks, about becoming a celebrity, about getting offers for more TV shows in the future, and about making money.

Ratan’s 16 suitors are from all over, including Poland and Ireland, and they’re not exactly the most scintillating specimens of manhood. But if you do tune in (in some totally, inexplicably mindless moment), watch out for a contestant called Shoaib Sabri from Delhi. He’s the most entertaining of the lot.

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