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TV ain’t always easy: Ratan ka Rishta (Part I)

Written By: Jonathan Haddad on June 15, 2011 2 Comments

Ratan ka RishtaI am spending the summer in India with my wife and her family.  While I generally find it hard to forgo watching television, my desire to vegetate in front of frivolous entertainment has been severely challenged by the predominant share of programming allotted to films and serials in Hindi, a language I have not studied and one I simply don’t understand.  If you imagine the headache you may have encountered from a first immersion experience — say a dinner among acquaintances in a foreign country — in a language you are learning, you should know that trying to follow along with a language about which one hasn’t a clue adds a pinch of dizziness and a touch of exhaustion to the mix. By the end of one week, it is surprising the willingness — desperation even — with which one flips to the English-medium channels to watch again an okay film one may have seen and forgotten or to indulge in the most inane of entertainments just for the comfort value of not having to strain for comprehension.

But the enjoyment or, rather, the soothing surrender to programming in English has been the exception and not the norm for my time here in India. Most of the time, when the TV’s on, it is alive with classic Hindi cinema, reruns of recent Bollywood releases, and Indian soap operas and reality shows. Given the language barrier, I have developed a different attitude toward and strategies (asking my wife being one of them) for watching television, which have little to do with the passivity that makes the medium so worthwhile to begin with.  Finding that the value of an entertainment can transcend language, I am going to try to narrate to you my experience of watching the reality show, Ratan ka Rishta, season three of Swayamvar, an Indian version of the Bachelor and Bachelorette reality series.

I will begin with a brief recap of the show as it has progressed so far.  In subsequent posts, I will offer reflections on different episodes as I struggle to understand what is happening.

In the third season of the show, Ratan Rajpoot, a soap opera star, sets out to choose her potential groom from a pool of sixteen contestants.  I was perplexed by the premise of the show, because one doesn’t expect a bona fide star to volunteer herself for marriage to just any old schlub.  And the poor ratings of this year’s outing seem to confirm that Ratan’s pickings are slim indeed. Whatever Ratan’s individual merits, the participants in her reality show lack the charisma and earning potential that one would expect in a world where celebs — whether B-list or legends — generally tend to match up with other celebs, cricket players, industrialist’s heirs, or Denver-based cardiac surgeons. This is definitely a point in favor of the American version of the reality competition, where show business wannabes vie for the attentions of a like-minded scrappy amateur, making the final rose ceremony marginally more believable.

Ratan ka Rishta, in its third week, has now whittled down the initial field to seven remaining contestants.  The most recent departure is Suresh Tumula, a 29-year-old Orissan banker and social worker. Suresh was most notably involved in a dust-up with Poland-based businessman, Anupam Singh Kuswah, whose occasional reversion to English has made him the target of criticisms and insinuations from several other contestants. Last week, they mocked him for supposedly having forgotten his Hindi in only two-and-a-half years abroad and peppering his speech with English to make himself sound more sophisticated.  While the contestants cast doubts upon whether Anupam even actually lived in Poland, Ratan joined in on the conversation to add that, despite having lived several years outside of her native Bihar, she had never forgotten her home language.

More recently, reacting angrily to a suggestive joke Anupam had made to Ratan at his expense, Suresh confronted the businessman and — when Anupam mixed English into his response — shouted at him to cut it out with the English, concluding: “I speak English better than you! I speak English better than you!” When the sequence ended, Anupam raged, “This is *#@& !” [The four-letter word went uncensored on Imagine TV.] While I was in no position to judge the veracity of Suresh’s claims, I understood that an important moment of language politics was at play in this confrontation.  More to the point, though, it became clear to me that Suresh, with that temper and a righteousness too unseemly for television, would not make it through the next cut.

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2 Responses to “TV ain’t always easy: Ratan ka Rishta (Part I)”

  1. Swati on: 15 June 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Good take on “Ratan ka Rishta”. I admire your effort! Might I add, the writing was excellent!

  2. mira- belle on: 9 October 2011 at 12:14 am

    Very colorful article. I really feel like going to India 🙂 I love Indian films, they are so far from the cynicism of many Western movies.
    Japanese sitcoms are also pretty interesting.

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