Death of the character

by aditimittal

All I’ve seen of television in the last few weeks has been from hoardings while I wait around in traffic. Every red light means the opportunity to stare into the eyes of another woman with an ambiguous expression gazing into the horizon of a 9 p.m. prime-time spot on Colors.

What is the secret behind The Mary Celeste? Do fruit flies come from fruit eggs? Did I remember to switch the geyser off while leaving the house this morning?

I come home nearly every night to find dad tuned into “Entertainment ke liye Dance India Sa-re-Ga Couples Kids X got talent Idol” with some permutation of the Paula-Randy-Simon combination of judges. Sometimes he’s moved enough to send in an SMS vote, after which I’ll make a joke about democracy and he’ll stare me down till I slink into my room. And how talent abounds- sometimes acrobatic feats so impressive and sometimes songs so sweetly sung that you’re spell bound for a second till the camera zooms in on Farah Khan and thankfully we cut to commercial break.

Reality T.V, as has been said numerous times before, is the sewer pipe where the self-respect of our race goes to die. This is specifically in reference to anyone who has ever been on Channel V’s piece de resistance Dare to Date. Wait no, it’s Dare 2 Date.  Apparently the word “to” was one letter to many.

And with the combination of the two today taking up most air time, I realized- I miss characters. I miss running in from the morning session of “dabba ice-spice” (It was “Dabba I spy.” I spy with an old dabba. We could dream up a game with old strings and bits of glass if we had to, no X-boxes for us.), to watch the portrait of Anand Mathur’s wife (played by Priya Tendulkar), tease him from the walls while Sweety ( Rakhee Tandon) and Babli cooked up another hare-brained scheme and Kajal bhai (Bhairavi Raichura) summoned the forces of the Mumbai underworld to help them out. My lunch might have gone cold, but not one morsel would enter my mouth till Hum Paanch started in its 1:00 p.m. slot.

The Tagore quoting Byomkesh Babu, in the series Byomkesh Bakshi -the modern day, one-man version of CID, dragged us out of bed on Sunday mornings and many-a-lunch break was spent imitating the accents of the characters in Zubaan Sambhalke.

For me, it’s always been the character that I’ve felt a connection with. The reason I looked forward to next episode of Dekh Bhai Dekh was because I genuinely wanted to know how Sanjay (Vishal Singh) and Shilpa (played by a young Urvashi Dholakia) were going to sort out the next melodramatic tragedy in their teenage relationship. I cared.

Today, nothing drags me out of my room to the T.V set in the living room anymore. A singing contest is that, a singing contest. And even though they are singularly responsible for keeping the karaoke version of “Kal Ho Na Ho” in circulation in the tear-jerking elimination montage of every contestant, I find myself disconnected. The appeal of reality television people was: “OMG, look they’re real people, just like us.” But that novelty too has worn off.  Becasue like the characters of yester-years they were not representations, they were themselves.

Urvashi Dholakia is not Kaumalika, though people will never forget her giant bindi and the intense patch of v-shaped sindoor that she sported for years on prime time television. They loved to hate her. It was easy, she represented everything evil and conniving. I see the real Dolly Bindra get possessed and unpossessed on air and then her website where she can be contacted for more work, I get disgruntled. She’s crazy, a part of me insists, and then the other realises that she too, just like any of us, is looking for her next job, her next project. I can’t decide whether to hate her for her T.V antics, or to feel sad. And that’s why I don’t venture to the television today. The sickening ambiguity that comes out of not knowing how to feel towards something real and unreal at the same time.

Today on reality shows, writers don’t need to stress about the creation of characters because the person/character is already present, it’s just putting them in different situations and pushing them to bring out the ugliest, saddest in them. Even Pamela Anderson came down to bust-thrusting on Bigg Boss, robbing many men of the adolescent fantasies of her giving them mouth-to-mouth in that glorious red swimsuit.

Today we won’t judge Shweta Tiwari the actor, but Shweta Tiwari the person. Our celebrity coverage has gotten meaner and more desperate because we’re attacking people. Now you can get them at their most vulnerable and kick them while they’re down.

Veena Malik, who is making her way into Bollywood now, is only known for her affair with sleaze ball Ashmit Patel. Not for the fact that she is one of the first women in Pakistan to coherently answer to the various fatwas being issued against her and the resulting exposure of the hypocrisy between our portrayal of women on T.V and real life.

I think we need to separate characters from people. The talent, as is evidenced by so many shows is there. Now if only someone would use it and maybe give us an interesting story, and most importantly characters that we can invest in without feeling torn between sensibilities.

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