Vital Stats of India: Thank god, we've finally got a good Indian non-reality show

Rajyasree Sen

Nov,24 2014 12:09:00 IST

TLC and History TV18 are the only ones who seem to be creating English entertainment local programming, which is not reality-based.

TLC’s newest offering is Miss Malini’s World, the less said about which is better. History T18 though, has managed quite the stunner with the desi version of United Stats Of America – called the Vital Stats Of India. I suppose The Disunited Stats And Union Territories Of India didn’t have the same ring. So US gets full points for the catchier title.

But before I get into what I thought of the programme, let me take a feather out of Kim Kardashian’s love for disclosure and indulge in a bit of full disclosure of my own. I’m friends with the programme’s director and hosts and have scripted one of the episodes of the series – unsurprisingly, the one on food.  But I promise on the Bible Of Dodgy TV Programmes to be as fair as I can be. For the record, I’ve lost friends thanks to my reviews of their programmes in Firstpost. Such is my dedication.

History Channel made a good call in selecting the hosts for the show

History Channel made a good call in selecting the hosts for the show

Back to History TV18, which has gone through many avatars – they wanted to be about films, then they wanted to be about Indian programming and started buying old Indian TV programmes, and now they seem to have finally found their groove.

One show doesn't make a channel, but hey, it’s a good start. Vital Stats is being telecast at prime-time, 9pm on a Friday, and to the best of my knowledge, is the first full series created by History Channel’s local programming team. Till now, they’ve just shown their international programmes here.

So what’s the show about? Not re-inventing the wheel, which seems to have been a wise decision, Vital Stats provides interesting statistics about various topics which are of key interest to India. From Elections to Food to Size to Soft Porn. Okay I made up the last one, although I think it’s a topic which would find great favour with Indian audiences.

One of the main hooks of the original show, The United Stats of America is that it’s hosted by identical twins, Randy and Jason Sklar who have the gift of the gab. And this is where I’m happy the channel, or maybe the production house, decided to differ from the original.

The only TV friendly twins I can think of are Raghu and Rajiv from Roadies. I’m not a great fan of their over-the-top on-screen behaviour, so I think it’s a wiser move to go with known faces who have a fan following of their own and the team (hosts and production house) which has earlier put together the hugely successful, Highway On My Plate. Rocky and Mayur who hosted that show, are the desi version of the twins. In the right light, they do look fraternal.

One of my main bones of contention with local English entertainment/ infotainment programming is that our anchors tend to either be too stilted while speaking in English or speak a strange Salman Khan-school of English where they rhyme the first syllable of the word “dance” with the word “can”.

It’s bizarre. It’s like they crossed the international airport in their city and picked up an accent. Thankfully, Rocky & Mayur speak normally accented English. The show though, is not totally in English. It’s the new hybrid Hinglish which every channel seems to think will win them more audiences. I’ve always found it a little jarring when people swing between English and an Indian language in the same sentence, but maybe that’s just me. Smriti Irani and History obviously do not share the same view.

The first episode was on the opiate of the masses and my favourite intellectual stimulant, Bollywood. You got fun trivia on music in Hindi films, how long it takes to choreograph one dance number, what it takes to film an action sequence, which star does his own stunts, and even interesting tid-bits about Mughal-E-Azam. We met the music directors Sajid-Wajid, who couldn’t have been more Bollywood – from their manner of speaking to their demeanour (although no one can take Anu Malik and Honey Singh’s place in my heart). Rocky tried his voice at singing, while Mayur danced with the Shiamak Davar troupe and the troupe’s principal dancer, the very good looking and adroit Aneesha Dalal.

Through all the fun bits, you got more than a fair share of trivia and statistics. None of which I knew at least.

The show is definitely very slick and well-shot. Which is commendable going by the fact that the Indian production budgets must have been third world budgets compared to what must be being spent on the US series.

This is a show which is heavy on data and on repartee and banter, both of which seem to have been pulled off. What was missing? Bollywood stars. Which was a little sad.

Maybe there could have been a segment on the love for the Michael Jackson nose prototype amongst Bollywood’s actresses and hair weaving amongst the actors – the nip and tuck industry, without which Bollywood’s stars would be little more than wrinkled heaps.

Or maybe they could have interviewed Amitabh Bachchan and taken a soundbyte on his favourite topic – that Bollywood should be called the Hindi Film Industry and not Bollywood. A little sprinkling of celebrity would have been welcome.

Also, just as you got into the swing of the programme it ended. Unlike the American version which is 43 minutes long, this one is 23 minutes or so. Maybe History Channel thinks its viewers have short attention spans. According to me, shows which are so information-heavy need to be an hour-long. Twenty minutes is way too short, especially for such an entertaining show. There are some other shows I’ve seen, which should be 2 minutes long.

It’s heartening to see an entertaining intelligent English show being made in India and for Indian audiences. Good on History Channel to be the first one to do so. And also to stay away from having it hosted either by a B-grade Bollywood star or has-been, and to have to it hosted by TV anchors you can relate to. Maybe this is the programme that will herald in Indian television ke acche din.

You can watch Vital Stats Of India at 9pm on Fridays on History Channel.

Disclaimer: History Channel is owned by the Network 18 group which also owns Firstpost

Updated Date: Nov 24, 2014 12:11 PM