Mainstream liberal privately-owned Indian television slapped the Muslim community. I was expecting it, but not the way it finally happened.
A short background. The reality show Rakhi ka Swayamvar is currently NDTV Imagine’s best-selling prime-time money maker. Rakhi Sawant has to choose from 16 suitors, mimicking the swayamvar of the old days.
There were two Muslim contestants. The first one was booted out on Day One; someone had to be and he was probably not all that good. Fair enough. The other contestant was a police officer from Kashmir. Athar Pervez did not come across as the smartest bloke but he was quiet and fairly dignified.
Last night, they got the TV host’s wife as the bhabhi, a sort of support system for the bride-to-be. Athar met her and said he wanted to confess something. He was already married and had three kids! What the heck is going on? The channel screened the applicants. Did he lie to them? Why was that question not raised?
Instead, there was an attempt to buffer the stereotype of Islam and four wives. The bhabhi looked shocked when he said that his wife and parents knew that he was participating and his wife only wanted him to be happy. When Rakhi was told about it she sniffled and said he was one person she had begun to respect and was thinking of as a potential partner. In a conversation, he repeated what he had said and Rakhi asked him how it was possible for a man to have more than one wife. He told her his religion permitted it but he would not leave his family. She looked at him angrily and shot back, “How can any religion allow it?”…and then went on to give him a lecture on Islam and what the Quran in fact says. (Her version is not completely right.) Pervez Athar may be married, but this was no way to make a point.
Why do I watch the programme at all? For several reasons. I do watch TV, including soaps. Long before she was legitimised by the posh set of coffee spelled with a K and togged up in designer wear, I had expressed some admiration for her position; I felt there was a hierarchy followed regarding who could strip more and, because she spoke little English and did not belong to the charmed set, she was doomed to be referred to as an item girl. I thought that after her makeover she would still come across as honest even if melodramatic. She is. Pretty much.
I also liked the idea of a swayamvar. This was a practice prevalent in ancient times and some of our epic characters chose their husbands in this manner – be it Sita in Ramayana or Draupadi in Mahabharata. True, these were from royal families and the suitors were naturally from similar backgrounds. In a contemporary setting, it would be an interesting concept and perhaps convey that women have the right to ask questions and be in command.
The first episode had Rakhi welcoming her suitors; each carried a gift. Then there were episodes where she tested them at various levels, and perhaps that will continue. Unfortunately, even though she is the one in charge, she has talked about wanting to live in a joint family. When a buffoon said if he had to choose between a plasma TV and a washing machine he would opt for the latter because he would not want her to wash clothes, she was impressed. Puhleeze…he could bloody well wash them. She also talks about the importance of dal-chaawal over lipstick – now this woman cannot hold her breasts till they are filled with silicone gel, has had every part either pumped up or tucked in, so what is going on? Why can a woman not want the best if she has earned it? Why is she playing this simple girl? Is simplicity only about superficials?
Some of the contestants were students or barely earned any money; she herself implied that a couple of them were looking for fame. Of course, they are.
When the channel announced the show, they reportedly received 15,000 applications. There is one contestant from Toronto. The channel is attempting pop psychology with little games, but this is not anywhere close to a feminist statement. I mean, she dresses in low-cut gowns to convey that this is what she wears and then simpers and asks whether some guy’s family will accept her. She fed a Brahmin vegetarian some meat and he ate it. I know many pure vegetarians and they would throw up. This guy just made a face and then gobbled it up.
As drama, this works at a sophomore level because most of the boys/men are stupid and only want to show themselves on TV. It is obvious. Or they could be besotted by Rakhi.
Pervez Athar said he was. Besides the Islam factor, she also said that she would not want to break up anyone’s home. The fellow is telling her in front of the world that he loves his wife and will not leave his family. Where is the question, then, of breaking up a home?
He lives in Srinagar and if his seniors really gave him permission to participate in this, then one must find out what exactly are the rules. Did he show the channel any such report? Before an audience of millions he has been made out to be a liar and a cheat. If the police force wishes to take action against him, it would only be right that the channel is also made culpable. If all this was only for effect, I should hope no organisation issues a fatwa or something. That is precisely what some of these people want. The fact is that Athar said that he loved Rakhi and not her religion so he would not ask her to convert. Therefore, it isn’t a bearded Muslim issue, okay?
It does not take too much intelligence to realise that many of the contestants will have hidden stories and agendas, too. The channel wants the show to be in the limelight. It was Rakhi’s idea and a husband is the last thing she is looking for. This is her spunky attempt at becoming ‘respectable’ or maybe even a naughty take on the bahus in our serials and, who knows, a big kick to her ex-boyfriend. Interestingly, his friend is a contestant; she knew him from before the show. How did the channel permit it?
Meanwhile, I hope today’s episode that will most definitely touch upon the married guy sent packing scene of last night does not repeat the stupid stereotypes. In fact, there ought to be an attempt to apologise, even if all this was stage-managed, which seems very likely. So is the possibility of a fake marriage taking place to save face of the purported motive.
As for the contemporary woman outside TV channels, I think they are doing fine in their offices and homes without dreaming about washing machines and a guy cleaning his dirty linen in it.