Reality shows are anything but real, but in India, it is interesting to see how a western show is packaged to reflect Indian sensibilities. The US version of the reality show is crisp, businesslike and fast-paced. In India, we go the whole hog of tears, friends, and family. Melodrama is king. In American Idol, the criticism is sharp, the performances shorn of artifice and the costumes are simple. In Indian Idol, the criticism is guarded, the family is feted and special episodes mark every festival with traditional exuberance. It’s not just the performers, it’s their life and struggles on display. We never cut to the chase, we always take the material for one episode and stretch it out for three.
Take Last Comic Standing. The performers come on stage, do their routine for a couple of minutes, no slapstick, all words – the judges smile, never guffaw and provide measured feedback. The stage design is simple, sparse. In India, its called – The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. And in most cases, laughing at the jokes is a challenge. And the sets look like the crowded, mangled high rise cityscape of Bombay. No subtlety there. The judge, Archana Puran Singh laughs like a horse even when the audience doesn’t and you’re tempted to ask – What’s so funny? And then we have the inimitable Sidhu who finds everything uproarious. In his other avatar, as a cricket commentator, he’s genuinely funny: Sample this: The batsman was so hasty with his strokes, it’s like he was trying to drink tea with a fork!
And some shows that work well in a western context just don’t cut ice with Indian audiences. ‘The weakest link‘ lasted just one season. The open sarcasm of the host was just not something Indian audiences related to. ‘Sach Ka Saamna‘ based on ‘Moment of Truth’ did not fare too badly. ‘Big Boss’, based on the original ‘Big Brother’ seemed to work with the audience locked into badly behaved contestants locked into a house. But, ‘Are you smarter than a 5th grader?‘, translated as ‘Kya aap Paanchvi Paas se Tez Hain?‘ went nowhere, even with the high voltage Shah Rukh Khan. The Big B, Amitabh Bachchan, though, resurrected his flailing career and the fortunes of a channel with the Indian version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ – ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati‘ was a winner all the way.