Don't lie to us

Mixed Up

Don't lie to us

Controversial : A still from the show ‘Rakhi Ka Insaaf’.‘The Social Network’ is an oddly reassuring film. So are TV serials like Lie To Me. They  underscore the fact that moral outcastes are no longer just the flavour of the season in India.

They are now symptomatic globally of a  generational shift in the way we perceive ‘heroes’ whose  integrity need not last from  one breath to another as they climb the stairs to the top. Unalloyed purity in success is hard to come by, so we have stopped looking for it or looking upto it.

We like our heroes mixed up. We like them flawed. It is okay if like Zuckerberg, they have nothing worthwhile to rebel against and instead get from point A to point Z on roller skates.

Heroes today could be intentional millionaires and accidental human beings like Mark Zuckerberg or they could be like Tim Roth’s Dr Lightman in Lie To Me. A human lie detector who has a less than noble past, a truck load of raw nerves, a barely controlled addictive need to gamble with life, with death, with money and yet a redeeming body of work which shows us how to read the subtext of  human emotions, how to look beyond the frown, decode the twitch of the brow, the clasped hands, the shrug, the pain and the anger beneath the nonchalance of both saints and sinners.

This search for imperfections in the human psyche can be interesting in cinema and in TV but sometimes entertainment vendors forget that the odd balls, the social misfits and the downright crass characters work only when they are purveyors of something larger than themselves.

Mark Zuckerberg is today the subject of the movie of the year not just because he allegedly had a porous conscience but because he arguably created something that affects the way millions of people project themselves online and connect with each other.

Roth’s quirky character  in Lie To Me uses his understanding of deceit to help those who need to escape themselves or others. Even though the quality of the show is degenerating, we have not come anywhere close to this level of writing on Indian television.

And reality shows have taken our fascination with the darker side of the human character to a new low.

Accepting their failure to give us well-rounded fiction,  content creators are now designing shows around  characters whose only claim to immortality is that they show us who we are at our worst.

Their sole trump card is that they repel us and yet get us to watch as they mouth expletives and religious mantras without missing a beat. Cry dramatically at a wedding that supposedly had already taken place two years ago.

TV shows based on skill sets like cooking,  singing or dancing connect with us on an aspirational and inspirational level but ugly reality TV with no agenda but to manipulate us, has no redeeming quality.

It has no higher story to tell except that we must watch those who are unwatchable. And the fact that we do, with a smirk of disgust has today brought Rakhi Sawant and Dolly Bindra into our drawing rooms. These reality ‘stars’ dunk us in slime with the hope that we will  come back for more. 

And that we do should be a matter of concern. The I&B crackdown  on shows like Big Boss and Rakhi Ka Insaaf may tame them for a while but  the Rakhi juggernaut may go on despite the suicide of a man who appeared on her show.  Maybe  the tragedy will draw us moths to her flame even more compulsively.

How far will Emotional Attyachar and MTV Splitsvilla and Roadies go to show us the depths of human character? Are the likes of Dolly Bindra the future of reality TV in India which in all fairness looks today more scripted than Lie To Me? Truth and reality can be beautiful too and it is sad that in India, we mostly get to see the ugliness.

Take the international sitcom, Modern Family for instance. It is  shot like a reality show because it steers clear from the eternal sunshine of family programmes like The Bill Cosby Show, Different Strokes, Full House and Wonder Years.

There is nothing perfect about this mixed up family of oranges, apples and nuts that is dysfunctional but still functions miraculously. Despite faultlines that should expand but do not. There is a divorced patriarch who has married a spectacularly stunning Columbian young woman and has to now deal with a hysterically bitter ex-wife, a young step son.

There is a  gay son who still resents him even though he himself is a father of a recently adopted baby. His married daughter resents his young wife even as she tries to manage her own three kids and a well-meaning but ineffectual husband.

There are times when everyone has to jump into a pool to cool tempers but somehow it all works out because as a character in the series conveys, a real family accepts its nuts, fixes its bolts and talks about problems, fights and screams and makes up but never gives up on each other. The keyword here is real. A word that reality TV in India is losing touch with.

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