By Neelanjana Banerjee
When Lady Gaga made her Indian television debut last night on Simi Garewal's show, it sounded like must-see TV. The grande dame meets the grandstanding rockstar — the sparks just had to fly. It had happened before. In Lady Gaga’s 2009 interview with the famous American journalist Barbara Walters, Lady Gaga surprised everyone by showing up for the interview in a Chanel suit and removing her sunglasses in what seemed like a gesture of respect to Walter, the elder stateswoman of American media. That didn’t stop Walters from coming at her with hot-button questions on rumours of Gaga’s hermaphroditism and bisexuality, which included asking her point blank: “Have you had sex with women?”
Grande dame-meets-grandstanding rock star can make for must-see TV, but sadly not with a coy Simi Garewal steering the show. The 25-year-old international pop sensation's mainstream Indian television debut last night on India’s Most Desirable was, in one word, disappointing. The interview, part of a PR effort to promote her October tour of India, tried to present a more romantic, family-friendly Gaga, playing down her scantily-clad, sexually ambiguous, Fame Monster persona. A strategy that made for a tedious hour of banal chit-chat, interspersed with stock video footage.
The much-hyped interview lost most of its allure almost immediately when we realised Garewal and Gaga were not even in the same time zone, much less the same room. When we finally caught a glimpse of Gaga she was obscured under a black motorcycle cap, her signature overly-large sunglasses and a boxy, black jacket with her hands in fingerless leather gloves.
The only touch of color was a long swath of greenish-blonde hair that was arranged somewhat messily over her right shoulder. A look best described as Wicked Witch of the West meets Marlon Brando in The Wild One. Though it is likely the jacket stopped short of some kind of sequined g-string outside the camera frame, Gaga looked uncharacteristically covered up, and a bit rough when compared to Garewal’s elegant black and white 1940s-esque, floor-length suit dress. The difference in Garewal’s Bollywood glamour and what Gaga dubbed her “garage coutoure” made the interview seem like a meeting between the Queen of England and a polite Sid Vicious.
Garewal avoided any questions about Gaga’s androgynous and sexually fluid tendencies. Introducing her by her real name, Stefani Angelina Germanotta, Garewal talked about Gaga’s success and how the title song from her most recent album, “Born This Way,” has become “a mantra that applies to everyone, even me.”
While at least one third of the episode was performance footage and what seemed like previously shot video, Garewal’s real spin on Gaga came in the second half of the show, when the talk show host zeroed in on the pop star’s personal life.
An extra-long segment was dedicated to Lady Gaga’s on-again, off-again relationship with bartender and promoter Luc Carl, who is publishing this charming book next year about how to “lose weight while getting wasted". With violins sawing away in the background, Garewal tried to turn Lady Gaga’s and Carl’s bad romance into something worthy of a Bollywood fairy tale. She couldn’t resist mentioning that the young lovers were even planning, at one point, to get married.
But the sappy music and Simi’s teary eyes were sadly undermined by the unromantic montage of pictures of Carl’s mullet and Gaga’s pantless outfits. The most romantic moment of the same being a close-up of Carl’s Twitter saying: “I miss you.”
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Gaga, to her credit, did her best to foil Garewal's efforts to remake her into a dewy-eyed Bollywood debutante. Yes, she would choose her work over a relationship. Yes, she was lonely, “but [as an artist] we wallow in it. I’m married to my loneliness.”
Garewal, unfazed by her interviewee's uncooperative answers, moved on to a section touting Gaga’s dedication to her family, including her decision to leave an earlier world tour to come home and encourage her father to get life-saving heart surgery. See, she's really a good girl at heart!
Garewal’s attempted-Bollywood makeover not only avoided Gaga’s most-shocking details, but also skipped over her passionate and vocal activism around queer issues and immigration. Last fall, Gaga stumped hard to help repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law that prevented gays from serving openly in the US military. This included having four discharged soldiers come on stage with her at the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards. President Obama signed the repeal into law last December. Around the same time, Gaga told a sold-out stadium audience in Phoenix, Arizona that they should protest a controversial anti-immigration law in that state.
But Garewal seemed more interested to find our whether or not Gaga believed in “Indian” ideas like reincarnation, over discussing the singer’s lefty leanings. Maybe it was all part of Gaga’s marketing plans.
Back in June, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Gaga team is working to tackle the “booming, Bollywood-crazed Indian market". Much of this has been done by seeding subtle Indian remixes of her songs by Bollywood producers like Salim and Sulemain. But while the sitar samples and Bhangra chants may help, they can't be a substitute for prepping the star about the audience she's trying to woo. The most embarrassing part of the interview was Gaga's woeful ignorance of all things Indian.
When Garewal announced that Gaga was coming to India, Gaga responded that she was incredibly excited, since she “loved Indian food". Not one to let generic answers go unquestioned, Garewal followed up and tried to press Gaga to name her favorite Indian dish, perhaps hoping that Gaga would blurt out something impressive about Baingan Bhartha, or even just a mango lassi. But after some inarticulate mumbling, all she could manage was a lame line about liking “curry".
Garewal tried again by bringing up Bollywood, which Gaga — with her theatrical song and dance numbers — must have been inspired by, right? But alas, Gaga could only say that Bollywood seemed colourful. If all this wasn’t awkward enough, Gaga ended the interview by uttering a poorly coached, “India, Mujhe tumse pyaar hai."
All in all, it was a pretty poor showing that was probably followed by her doing a similar show for Thai TV and saying that she loved Pad Thai.
While Garewal discreetly beamed an edited version of Lady Gaga’s persona into billions of homes across India, the real test of Gaga’s Indian marketing will come during her October tour. Will Gaga's Little Indian Monsters — as she refers to her fans — get the star they all adore, in her full glory, with fake eyelashes, duct-taped nipples and platform boots? Or will we be treated to a dull, desi version of Gaga, all covered up and shimmying to Bollywood remixes in egregious Hindi?
Published Date: Aug 22, 2011 04:14 pm | Updated Date: Aug 22, 2011 04:14 pm