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Adventures in Hindi Reality TV: Ratan ka Rishta (Part II)

Written By: Jonathan Haddad on June 15, 2011 No Comment

As I tune in to tonight’s episode (14, but who’s counting?), Ratan is saying things about the different suitors, in what appears to be a slightly mocking tone. Her current target is Abhinav Sharma, the tallest of the bunch, a New Delhi software developer with a gaunt face and smoothed hair. The characters, when they are introduced during interview segments that cut into each show are first identified by a plaque in English, which then flips to Hindi.  Learning all the names and their profiles is hard work, since I am not always quick enough to catch the English.

A voice-over intervenes announcing something, then what looks like a commercial break — an ad for an upcoming serial — comes onscreen.  In fact, I am mistaken, and the musical interlude and the soft-pastel processional actually serves to introduce tonight’s guests: Nandish and Rashmi.  They are described as “well-wishers” on the Swayamvar website, but the show itself provides me with no indication of their relationship, neither to Ratan nor to television.  Whatever the case, the host cedes his place to them and absents himself.

They begin to chat about something.  I can hear the English word “boring” come up often, as well as the expression “hota hai” that I recognize from the movie Kuch kuch hota hai as meaning “something happens.”  They are also tossing about the Hindi word pyaar, which I have learned means love.  Perhaps they are framing “boring” and “pyaar” as oppositional conceptions of marriage, pitting the intangible onset of sentiments against the quotidian? And is there no word for “boring” in Hindi? Now, Ratan is gesturing as if she is reading the paper and says: “paper.”  Reading the morning paper? Does this confirm my previous hypothesis? I have a commercial break to think about this.

Tonight's guest stars on another reality program

Tonight's guest stars on another reality program

Back from the break.  Although the show often loses me when the participants speak, it also relies heavily on slow motion shots that capture eye movement and facial expressions. Right now, everybody looks like they are about to laugh. Pradeep, an assistant professor of engineering from Chandigarh, has a question to answer.  “One…” “Two…” Wait! Rashmi is counting down.  Ratan smiles and makes a comment about the “topic,” maybe that it’s difficult. Now, Abhinav is talking about wearing glasses, but I’m not sure whether he is discussing women who wear glasses or whether he needs to wear them.  In either case, someone does it “normally.”  Rashmi, who asked him the question, seems pleased with his response.  She says “jawab” with signs of approbation.  Fortunately, I recognize the Hindi word for “reply” from the Turkish word cevap; thus it must trace its history in India to the Mughals.  Without the Mughals, the few low branches of Hindi television and film vocabulary would fall away, leaving me with merely the footholds provided by English loan words and code-switches.

The show’s laugh track is both surprising and awkward.  In addition, cartoonish sound effects — like diving board springs — intervene to announce that something whacky is going on.  Apparently, something is, because Rashmi visibly doesn’t want to hear what  Nandish is saying.  She finishes by exclaiming “Yuck!” with her head in her hands.  Now Rashmi is motioning as if dancing.  Now she is holding her finger to her head as if she is thinking. Is that what that is?  “Thinking” and not “Crazy”? Now she says, “Secret ye hain,” which I think means “I have a secret.” “Ratan aur ap,” she continues… so, I think she is telling them their next activity with Ratan.

My wife intervenes to explain that they are holding a contest in which the suitors must praise Ratan as if they are a new couple.  First guy seems to have done a good job.  The second guy, Pankaj Soni, an account manager wearing a red shirt and earings keeps using the adverb bahut, which I know means “very.”  Ratan looks tense.  I don’t think he’s being creative enough.  The scene changes, though, and now Ratan and Rahul are doing something with a sari.  Whatever they are doing is clearly trying Anupam’s patience.  Did Rahul just say “delicious?” Now, he’s talking about marriage: “shaadi.”

Now, it’s Abhinav holding the sari.  I am clueless, so my wife tells me he’s saying, “When you laugh, your lips look like lotus petals.” Now, I make out the English words “butterflies” and “smiles.”  I believe that these are two separate compliments, since  that would be a bahut awkward simile – unless it’s a cultural thing.

Dance karenge,” Nandish chimes in.  Is he saying, “Let’s dance?”

Maybe. One of the suitors is now dancing with Ratan inside a massive cut-out picture frame .  She is dancing with Rohit, an assistant professor management, the schleppiest looking of the lot.  I kind of recognize the song playing…

I’m a bit lost, now.  Everyone is all sitting down again, Ratan on one sofa, the suitors facing her.  The host is back, and he is meaningfully brandishing a feathered broach.  Indeed, it is much nicer than the chintzy feathered broaches that the suitors are currently wearing.  You can feel the suspense, and nervous glances are exchanged all around going into the commercial break.

Back from the break.  I notice Abhinav’s gawdy shirt of blue satin, embroidered with white flowers.  He has been selected for tonight’s “more time” segment, where he has obtained a tête-à-tête with Ratan.  They are drinking water from champagne glasses and sitting in a pavilion, but not eating the slices of apples laid out before them.  Abhinav is discussing marriage… this I can almost understand, since he says that shaadi is “social bonding” and “personal bonding.”  Then he offers the platitude, “Man is a social animal.”  I wonder if he is using similar platitudes in Hindi, or if the way English is studied, learned and used favors its use as the language of platitudes.

Ratan and Abhinav are still laughing and bantering.  The word shaadi keeps coming up.  I don’t understand the rest.  But Abhinav is strenuously flashing his pearly whites.  Are any other words really necessary?

Stay tuned…

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