MasterChef India: Where the contestants cry more than they cook

Rajyasree Sen

January 29, 2015 22:18:23 IST

Bas kar pagle, rulayega kya?

That sentence pretty much sums up what I saw on the first few militantly vegetarian episodes of Masterchef India. The new season has begun and I diligently sat down to watch it. Now I love practically all reality cooking shows – Mastechef Australia, Top Chef, Iron Chef. And hope always springs eternal that Masterchef India will, in this season at least, match up to the foreign versions. But till date Masterchef India has made the weakest Masterchef syndication, Masterchef UK, look like stellar reality programming.

I’ve already voiced my disappointment when it was announced that this season of Masterchef India would be purely vegetarian. Or as the promos keep saying – shudh shakahari. Before the haters and vegans jump down my throat, my disappointment was because I felt that keeping it vegetarian immediately cut out various cooking procedures and skill sets which are on display when cooking any form of meat, poultry or fish.

The rationale according to me was that the big boys in the world of Hindi reality television programming had somehow in the their wisdom decided that the majority of their audience was vegetarian. Also, one of their new and biggest sponsors – Adani had supposedly specified in internal meetings that they wanted it to be a vegetarian show. And thus a good concept was butchered.

Courtesy: Facebook

Courtesy: Facebook

My main bone of contention though isn’t the fact that it’s now shudh shakahari, but that the programme is shown as late night programming on Star Plus. At 10.30pm, sandwiched between Everest and something called Ye Hai Mohabbatein. Almost as if even Star Plus has no faith in their own programming decision. Going by the fact that it’s repeated in the afternoon at 2.30pm, bang in the middle of the afternoon soaps, this is not a show for the entire family – it is quite clearly a show meant for the housewife. Of course the liberal quantities of drama, melodrama, romance, unsolicited attention, tears and pathos on display on the three episodes make it a soap in itself.

These are the selection rounds of the season with three judges – Vikas Khanna, Sanjeev Kapoor and d Ranveer Brar. Akshay Kumar is supposed to be the “maha-judge”, but seems to have opted out of the selection rounds. I totally understand why.

In the selection rounds, you see no cooking as such. Maybe at best 30 seconds of cooking in a 23 minute episode. But what you do get are a bunch of sob stories and weeping contestants. There’s the man who returned home to live with his mother once his father died. There’s the girl – who I thought was one of the few who knew how to cook – who wanted to repay her father because he’d helped set up her food business which had failed. There’s a woman studying microbiology. You’d think it would make for interesting TV, but they all keep weeping even when they are not chopping onions. You see them roll in cooked pre-plated food. Which they describe so dispiritedly, you really wonder why they’re in the contest. If I baked a cake for a competition, I would think that I’d know how many layers there were in the cake. But not if you’re on Masterchef India it seems.

One woman made rasmalai. That’s it. In 30 minutes. Another made a multi-layered cake, which is impossible to make in 30 minutes – unless she’s some dessert genie or it was microwaved. Some of the entries made no sense at all. More disconcerting than the tears and absence of culinary skills, are the judges.
Now I understand that the aim is to strike a similar balance of friendliness, critique and skill as in the Australian or even the UK versions. But what’s with the flirting with contestants? In the three episodes I saw, Vikas Khanna seems to have decided to play the Don Juan chef calling one contestant Chandni as she walks in, blowing kisses at another, giggling at another. It’s all very tawdry. The only one who manages to stay composed through it all and only comment on the food is Ranveer Brar.

And just in case you already haven’t lost faith in the judges, to add to the drama, the creative team has Sanjeev Kapoor unilaterally reject a contestant. She then leaves, crying. This is followed by the judges turning to each other and Vikas Khanna telling Kapoor how they should actually give the contestant a qualifying apron. Following which the three judges pretty much run out and surprise the weeping contestant with an apron. Really? We may as well watch Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata or Doli Armaano Ki, if we want to see such stage-managed performances. And I’d at least have a little more faith in the judges if they looked less like Lunching Lotharios who are also auditioning to be models for Charagh Din suits and more like men who’ve earned their chops in the kitchen. When was the last time you saw a Marco Pierre White or Adriano Zumbo walk into the Masterchef sets dressed as if they were going for an evening ball?

Forget that the show is now totally focused on vegetarian food and we don’t know if that means eggless. What really defeats the purpose of a cooking show, is that there’s hardly any cooking being shown. Instead we are getting a show where an afternoon soap and Gladrags Man Of The Year have been tossed together to make a rather peculiar salad.

You can watch Masterchef India on Star Plus at 10.30pm from Monday to Saturday.

Updated Date: Jan 29, 2015 22:19 PM