Roadies, Splitsvilla, Skulls and Roses: We're at the pinnacle of so-bad-it's-good reality television

I don’t watch the likes of Splitsvilla and Roadies out of guilt, I watch them because they are perfectly enjoyable farce.

Manik Sharma September 14, 2019 13:32:12 IST
Roadies, Splitsvilla, Skulls and Roses: We're at the pinnacle of so-bad-it's-good reality television

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I have come to enjoy and adore the ludicrousness of millennial reality tv. I don’t watch the likes of Splitsvilla and Roadies out of guilt, I watch them because they are perfectly enjoyable farce.

Rule of thumb says the likes of Roadies and Splitsvilla exist because there is ample audience for these shows. Like America’s World Wrestling Federation (WWE) – the absurdly detailed and well-choreographed global theatre – these shows are almost ritually anti-reality. Or, you could say, against realities that we consider true out of prejudice. Reality is whatever you buy into, right? Like economy, like religion, like state and its opinion of your opinion. Men and women gesticulating their insta-hate (that’s right, I coined one) for each other within minutes of being acquainted is nowhere surreal compared to the haggard men I see cutting across lanes on the DND highway in Noida every day, with the compulsive supposition of BC/MCs. Nor is it alien in a world where men and women curate mini stampedes on a daily basis during rush hour in the Delhi metro. It’s madness, only if you get to see it from the outside, I guess.

Roadies Splitsvilla Skulls and Roses Were at the pinnacle of sobaditsgood reality television

The poster of the latest season Roadies.

That is not to say, Roadies and Splitsvilla are Jungian reconstructions of the social psyche, or acidic reflections of everyday life. But they aren’t exactly far off to be honest.

The latest season of Roadies was true to its own books: a titular, conflating spectacle and unserious seriousness. What I mean is that it may be hard to buy the prosodic treatment, but there is still a lot of nonsensical flair on show. Roadies does some particularly inane things well. For example it manages to pitch itself as some sort of Olympics for physical endurance and deceit. The former it really works for, the latter it has inadvertently come to depend on. The sight of dim-witted men crying in the arms of a senior dimwit, because his ‘dream’ has been cut short is quite the spectacle. To disagree or to simply not care, I believe, further elevates the experience of watching. To repeatedly announce the show as the pinnacle of human achievement is perhaps more brave than it is bemusing and off-centre. In fact, it is ridiculously courageous.

Most incredibly, however, shows like Roadies and Splitsvilla invite instant judgement. Splitsvilla particularly grates them mental biases. It has a talking ‘Oracle’ (parents+kundli+log kya kahenge) that tells couples whether they are fit for each other. It’s dense, until you’ve lived it I suppose. There is this dome, where all judgment calls are made. For some reason the savagery at the heart of young men and women surfaces here with an immediacy that can knock the chip out of your hand, or cause the beer to spill out of your nose. I’m not talking about the Indian parliament, by the way. That dome is of course sacred. Neta ya Abhineta, who’s doing it better then?

There are certain filters in both shows that I particularly like. The warp speed with which, for example, men and women come close to each other in Splitsvilla, and the sheer indifference (acting cred) with which RannVijay continues to pretend to give a f**k about anything that is going on. I’ve often imagined him exit the sets mid-way of a shoot in a fit of frustration, into a corner and confide with old friends – the R twins – the extent of bullshit he has to act into.

Roadies Splitsvilla Skulls and Roses Were at the pinnacle of sobaditsgood reality television

A still from Splitsvilla 2018

There is a lot of macho bullying in both shows, and trust me, the women are in on it. It is like your average twitter feed - vile, uncomfortable to watch and almost always random. Then there are things that are just cute. The mythical, though scripted, cunningness of Roadies that is supposed to convince us of their sub-genius. The honest-to-word, seemingly spontaneous (‘mujhe connection feel hua’) lechery of the inmates of the villa in the other. It would be offensive had these people not known what they were doing. But they do, at least most of the time.

For better or worse, streaming platforms have cropped their knickers and thrown their shirts into the fire as well. Amazon Prime’s Skulls and Roses, a show that nobody is going to accept they have watched even though they have, is somewhere between Roadies and Splitsvilla. But most significantly it somewhere between the twins Raghu and Rajiv, quite literally actually. It’s a show where both bald maniacs get to treat cretins with the kind of direct abusiveness that we can only wish for in real life. “Mujhe ghanta farak nai padta”, Raghu chimes, rather philosophically at young men and women who looked on dumbfounded, despite their lives having built up to the sanguinity of that exact moment.

Roadies Splitsvilla Skulls and Roses Were at the pinnacle of sobaditsgood reality television

Skulls and Roses poster. Image from Twitter/@monozygotic

The beeps of television have disappeared, and all moronic hell has broken loose on an unsuspecting island that probably feels violated for having played host. There is more skin, definitely a lot more skin. I’ve just watched a task where a boy and girl must instantly record orgasm sounds to pass a test. That’s right. It’s like hooch, but passed across a bar top, lit pretentiously, with fire. In fact that is how Raghu is introduced on the show. Them two skulls are killing it. The bar has, indeed, been raised.

Also, if there is an award for comic timing, of creating memes in motion, then give it to whosoever adds the soundtracks for these shows.

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