I suppose it’s not fair to compare the new cooking reality show on NDTV Good Times to Masterchef: The Professionals. But I really can’t help it since for one, the new cooking show comes right after Masterchef (although on another channel) and two, the inspiration provided by Masterchef is difficult to miss. But that’s where the similarity ends. Because watching Masterchef Professionals and then Radikal’s Rice To Riches is as close to going from the sublime to the ridiculous as possible.
The new food reality show on Good Times is innovatively called From Rice to Riches. Since the sponsor is Radikal rice, it really is quite, ahem, impressive that the programming boys and girls came up with this name. The show is about finding the best home cook which is novel idea. NDTV Good Times’ last food reality show – Foodistan - was quite excellent despite its bordello sets. And a cook-off between home chefs had great possibilities, even if it did remind me of NDTV Metro Nation’s Great Aunty Cook-Off.
But as they say, assumption, and in this case, expectation is the mother of all messups. The best and most relatable part of all cooking reality shows are the judges and their unique personalities. You love to hate Gordon Ramsay’s potty-mouth. His nastiness is the USP of his show. Plus he has earned his cooking chops just like the food critic Matt Preston who can be very cutting. But their behaviour seems natural and not put-on.
The host and judge of Rice To Riches is the love-child of Richard E. Grant and Aaron Craze, Aditya. Now I’ve watched Bal’s other shows. And he’s very sweet, non-abrasive, almost wallflower-like. So to suddenly see him adopt an avatar of a bitch in the kitchen, is a little odd. Unless he’s just been through some traumatic experience which I’m not aware of but has switched his personality around totally. Bal tries to be tough. The contestants say they’re scared. But it’s like watching a 6-yr old tick off his mother. He just comes across as precocious and his mother will pat him on his head and tell him to go play in the garden. I think the contestants – almost all married women – have that same reaction to Bal. They’re indulgent and sweet and feign fear in case he feels bad.
So let’s get to the first episode. We were informed that 2000 kg of rice was cooked by 12,000 people, from which the eight finalists were chosen. We got to see peas pulao, veg biryani, khichdi, kesariya rice, phirni being cooked with gusto by the contestants.Then just as you were watching people cooking, the show threw in a little PR spiel by one of the big boys at Radikal. Who warmed our hearts by informing us that although sisters and mothers were feeding us, they had never got a platform to display their prowess until now.
Then we were informed that “rice is radical” – smart punning there. But obviously not that radical. Other than one male contestant – who didn’t make it to the finals – all the contestants are women. Because of course, only women, preferably mothers and sisters, can be home cooks in India. This is as regressive as Dance India Dance is progressive. If there is one positive about the show it’s that finally someone is celebrate Indians cooking Indian food. Instead of say, Masterchef India where people who’ve never seen a pizza are forced to make pizza from scratch.
Once you’re done with the close-up shots of the packets of rice, you get to meet the contestants. There’s Neha who’s a mother of two. Snehal, who’s a housewife. Smita from Calcutta. You also get to see how people live in our metropolitan cities. The joint families, children, husbands. And then just as you got into the swing of things, the episode ends. We didn’t see the finalists actually cooking nor did we see Bal cooking. How Good Times expects to keep people tuning in every Friday is beyond me, if they don’t start adding some chutzpah to the programme. By the end of the 22-minute programme, I felt like I’d just watched a PR corporate film for Radikal spliced together with some random bytes from some women. Not that radical a show – the puns they are a-catching.
Rice To Riches will be telecast every Friday at 10 pm on NDTV Good Times.
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