Reality TV using misery for ratings?

Are reality shows depending too much on sob stories to boost their TRP ratings?

When Sushil Kumar won Rs 5 crore in KBC last week, the nation wept tears of joy along with him. His monthly income of Rs 6000, an impoverished house and an extended family were highlighted to good effect.

Result: the episode fetched the highest TRP, even breaking records of becoming the highest rated non-fiction programme. Today, no one remembers Kumar's smart answers but his modest background is the most talked about.

Amitabh Bachchan with Sushil Kumar who won Rs 5 crore on KBC Pic/ AFP

When a participant, who was a divorcee, spoke on Master Chef India of how winning the title was important because it would unite her with her estranged children, one wondered whether these personal details would add flavor to her dish or were simply aimed at gaining brownie points from the judges and high viewership from audiences.

Not just participants, the celebrity judges on reality shows too are high on their emotional quotient. When actor-judge of 'India's Got Talent' Dharmendra shed tears over a performance, the promos of the episode highlighted the 'weak' moment repeatedly.

And of course, who can forget Simi Garewal who can make celebs cry at the drop of a hat. Be it Priyanka Chopra drying her tears while her parents raved about their li'l girl or Yuvraj Singh fighting back his emotions while talking about his struggle, one wonders while viewing these 'sob-a- thons' if reality shows are simply thriving on emotional display.

Sneha Rajani, Senior EVP and Business Head at an entertainment channel, reasons, "Indians are an emotional lot. Not just reality shows, but give them a high-drama fiction show and they will lap it up. Any content that is riveting and connects to the ordinary man is what gets the eyeball."

Dance India Dance

Citing the example of KBC, she says, "Our concept of 'Koi bhi insaan chota nahi hota' represents this mindset. People connect easily to the participants who come from humble backgrounds and have made extraordinary achievements.
As for the emotional content on the show, it is natural to get dramatic at such times. But that does not mean that participants are chosen on the basis of their backgrounds," she says.

Speaking about why the financial status, the struggle or a sad story of a participant becomes the focal point of highlight rather than his capabilities, Ashish Golwalkar, programming head of non-fiction at another entertainment channel is more forthcoming.

"Talent accompanied with a story, why not? But that does not mean that the drama is engineered or is a TRP attracting mechanism. At the end of the day, it's their talent and not their sob stories which count".

He cites the example of Azmat Hussain, winner of Sa re ga ma pa Li'l champs this year, "He came from a poor background but it was talent and not sympathy that won him the votes. Similarly, Dharmesh who was the runner up at last year's Dance India Dance made it through, despite not being good-looking."

Li'l champs

He goes on to add, "Likewise, Kamlesh Patel from Baroda who was a part of DID's first season was physically challenged. He is a huge inspiration and I am expecting hordes of similar participants during our auditions in Mumbai. If at such times, I am told that their plight is highlighted purposely, I take it as a compliment."

But isn't that playing with the audience's emotions? "When a story is told of an underdog, it naturally becomes interesting. Like Sachin Tendulkar's success story was lapped up when we learnt that he was a commoner playing at some school in Dadar."

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