The Telegraph
Sunday , February 17 , 2013
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After the show

There’s nothing quite like a television setting for airing pent-up thoughts. So when actress Delnaaz Irani and her estranged husband Rajiv Paul became a part of the Bigg Boss show on TV recently, expectations were high. And the two, who were married for 14 years, didn’t disappoint.

First, they dissected their marriage on prime time, and then they went on to talk about the burden of home loans. As tensions mounted, Delnaaz’s brother, Bakhtiyar Irani, joined the show to warn off Paul. Then Paul’s brother appeared on TV to rescue his sibling. Meanwhile, Paul was seemingly getting fond of south Indian actress Sana Khan. All in all, it made for great viewing.

All that’s very well, but what happens to these stars of reality TV shows that thrive on truth, lies and jealousy when the last episode is over? Some, it emerges, gain success. Some remain on the margins. And a few try to rebuild their broken lives.

Irani, however, has no regrets. “I was not affected (by the show). I was just myself, like I would be elsewhere. For me it was work. The only difference is that for shows such as Bigg Boss, you need to have your head firmly planted on your shoulder and you have to be thick-skinned,” she says.

But others, like Rahul Bhatt — Mahesh Bhatt’s son who is an aspiring actor — believe that reality TV worked in his favour. Bhatt appeared on one such show to discuss his relationship with terrorist David Headley, recently convicted by a US court. His “unusual tryst with notoriety” got him a place in Colors’s Bigg Boss, he says. “After the show I got overnight fame. Everybody, from rickshaw drivers to hawaldars, recognised me.”

For some, a reality show appearance can be a life-altering experience. Take Kajol Tyagi, 19, who is in the current season of Big Switch (on UTV Bindass). Her father is in the air force and her mother is with a non government organisation (NGO) and works as a realtor. Kajol owns an Audi A4, an i20 and an Estilo, four plots in Delhi, flats in Nagpur, Chandigarh and elsewhere. For the show, she had to live under trying circumstances with just the bare essentials.

“I come from a background where I woke up late because I hated to go to early morning college. Then I dressed up and partied. This experience of living in Himachal Pradesh at the height of winter in a tent has taught me the importance of the small things that I always ignored,” she says.

“It is not that I will be a different person once I am off the show. But I will definitely not take things for granted. I won’t be rude to people doing menial work and I will value my family as I realise how hard they have worked to give me this life,” adds Tyagi, who says she will now devote herself to writing.

But the tell-all mantra of some of the reality shows can leave ugly scars. Telly viewers will remember the ruckus that Smita Mathai, a research associate and a middle-class housewife, kicked up with a confession on one such show in 2009. She had wished her husband dead and thought of sleeping with another man, she said in one of the first episodes of Sacch Ka Saamna — aired on STAR TV. The show asked contestants a set of 21 questions, which were to be answered in yeses and nos, in return for Rs 1 crore.

Today, she is trying to keep away from the limelight. Attempts to contact Mathai did not yield any results. But soon after the show, she had said in an interview: “I always told the truth, on and off televisionů Nothing has changed between my husband and me.”

The rules of the game on these shows, many believe, changed with Mathai’s admission. “Our reception of the women on television is filtered through the lens of cultural mores about womanhood and when someone fails to fit the bill, we are quick to notice,” says Parool Sharma of the Media Studies Department of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Tiss), Mumbai, who did a thesis on reality shows.

Sharma feels that there is no point blaming the producers for gender biases, as “audiences too need to take responsibility for creating the space for such proceedings to take place.”

The audience, it seems, loved and hated Prashant Dutt Sharma, the first victim of Emotional Atyachar aired on UTV Bindaas in 2009. His girlfriend Rishina Bedi hurled crockery at him on prime time TV after she discovered that he was ready to cheat on her with two “undercover female members” from the show.

A year later, Sharma came back to TV to bitterly talk about the expose. “I am suffering mental turmoil and my life has been ruined,” he told a TV channel. When The Telegraph called up a number which was said to be Sharma’s, a male voice replied, and denied that he was the man we were looking for.

Reality TV has had its share of broken relationships and tenuous marriages. Actress Rakhi Sawant broke up her engagement with Elesh Parujanwala, a Toronto businessman, conducted on NDTV’s Swayamvar in 2009. Rahul Mahajan’s marriage with Dimpy Ganguly in Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in March 2010 ran into rough weather within months of the marriage, but the two were later reconciled.

Then there was cricketer Vinod Kambli who accused his childhood friend Sachin Tendulkar of not doing enough to push him in international cricket in Sacch Ka Saamna. Yusuf Hussain, a 60-something actor, created a storm when he admitted in the show — in the presence of his daughter — that he had paid for sex and slept with a woman young enough to be his daughter.

Of course, for many, any publicity is good publicity. Karishma Kotak, a Gujarati non-resident Indian who came to India from the UK and featured in a Kingfisher calendar, says her life changed when she appeared on Big Boss. “That was the turning point of my life. Despite doing bits of work here and there, I was not a known face. But many people see you on television. Now I have got a lot of work opportunities,” she says. The grapevine has it that actor Salman Khan now plans to give her a role in his film Mental.

Bhatt, however, says that his TV appearance only led to an offer for a B-grade film which he refused. “On the other hand, as I am into fitness, I get a lot of offers for gym openings and body building competitions,” he says.

For Paras Zutshi, winner of Integriti Bindass Superdude Season 2, the show opened up new avenues. Zutshi, who won a bike on the show, is 20. The Delhi boy has now decided to try for a career in Mumbai. “I have become a celebrity. The other day, I was in a mall, and this couple recognised me and said they watched the show and thought I deserved the first prize.”

Tiss professor K.P. Jayasankar stresses that because of fragmented anonymity, cities have stricter codes of personal spaces. “Reality shows, therefore, are the modern day equivalent of gossip, an opportunity to voyeuristically peep into the lives of others,” he says.

But what happens after the gossip? That should be the subject of another reality show.