An earlier version of the story mistakenly identified the producers of the show as Endemol. We sincerely regret the error.
The horror that is Masterchef India is back and it’s even worse than before. After the last season of Masterchef India, I believed things could only improve. Surely, it couldn’t possibly get any worse. But I was wrong.
So last season, FremantleMedia- the geniuses who put the show together for India – decided to get two chefs on board and do away with the food critic who is part of the usual Masterchef format around the world. What we got instead was Akshay Kumar. His tenuous link with food being that he used to cook in a stall when he was in Thailand as a young man. By the same logic, since I learnt Odissi as a child, I ought be a judge in a classical dance competition. But hey, I’m not Bollywood's Khiladi No. 1.
As a result of this casting coup, last year’s Masterchef India looked more like Khatron Ke Khiladi, with Kumar air-dropping from a chopper or some such nonsense before each episode.
And we're still stuck with the same two chefs who made last season must-see horror TV: the very Punjabi Kunal Kapoor and Ajay Chopra. And why do I harp on about them being ‘Punjabi’? Because they seem to epitomise every Punjabi stereotype possible: loud, brash, rude and with little redeeming charm or talent. Basically, they're the exact anti-thesis of the Masterchef Australia judges.
Why these two were selected is anyone’s guess. FremantleMedia either couldn’t afford any of India’s well-known chefs – be it Marut Sikka, Ritu Dalmia, Nikhil Chhib or Rahul Akerkar — or none of them agreed to share the limelight with their peers. Either way, ours is not to wonder why. Ours is but to watch and cry. And appreciate Masterchef Australia all the more when we watch it during the week on Star World.
This year, Masterchef Australia fans were at first thrilled to hear that Matt Preston – the burly food critic who looks as if he’s walked straight out of the pages of a PG Wodehouse novel— was going to be the third judge on the show. But no such luck. We're instead stuck with an Indian-born chef called Vikas Khanna who supposedly is the best known Indian chef on foreign shores. (Vineet Bhatia of the Michelin-starred Rasoi should really just throw himself on his ladle and commit hara kiri.)
And what is the source of Khanna's fame? He's cooked saatvik food for the likes of Barack Obama, Salman Rushdie and Tyra Banks. Khanna is undoubtedly a pretty boy and more camera-friendly and people-friendly than his co-hosts, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. But he almost makes you miss Akshay Kumar. Where Akshay displayed some humour and charm, Khanna reminds you of Neil Nitin Mukesh. There is potential, yet he misses the mark for some hard-to-pinpoint reason.
Now the other aspect that makes or breaks any reality show are the participants. Masterchef Australia’s contestants are fun, normal, happy people who simply enjoy cooking. And this is where the Indian version really falls flat on its face.
The opening shot of the contestants offered an inkling of what was to follow. They stood on a steam boat, wearing aprons and serious expressions, facing forward and looking out to sea while the boat jettisoned onward. Once they landed, they all marched in file, and shouted, “Yes Chef, yes” in a chorus each time they were asked a question. Very Children of the Corn. You almost expect their heads to swivel in unison.
The casting criteria seems to be exactly the same as Indian Idol. Sadder your life, the more likely you will make the cut. Everyone on Masterchef has a sad story to tell. There are two divorced mothers, a son who needs the prize money for his ailing dad, a wife who wants to win in order to establish herself as an equal partner in her marriage. And they all have a scary predilection for weeping at the drop of a hat. Ask them why they’re on the show. They cry. Tell them they made it to the next round. They cry.
Then came the episode that cured me of any interest in watching Masterchef. It was the basic skills segment which shone the spotlight on the charm quotient of both the contestants as well as the judges. First, the judges demonstrated how to julienne chilis, cut French fries and chop cabbage. The judges spent less effort on actually showing people how to do this correctly and more on complimenting themselves and each other on their chopping skills. The closing shot of the stunning Chef Ajay, who doesn’t use his surname much like Hindi film villains of yore, was the scariest, as the camera zoomed in to his podgy hairy palm holding the said chilis.
The cherry on the cake: the contestants saying a prayer before getting started on chopping their chilis. That India is a highly religious country and God is in the details is well-known. But asking for divine intervention in the matter of chopping chilis? Really, now. And then we wonder why God has left mankind to its own devices. It’s because we are asking God to interfere in such nonsense.
So after praying for culinary prowess, the contestants start chopping as the judges walked by and walloped the contestants on their back as a sign that they had made it to the next round. That nobody lost a finger or turned and stabbed one of the judges was most disappointing.
All that praying and the walloping finally pushed me over the edge and almost cured me of cooking, for a while at least. But now I’m off to make rasgullas in the shape of the Masterchef logo for my ten orphaned siblings and my one-eyed dog. Be sure to watch out for me on a Masterchef episode coming to a television near you.
Rajyasree Sen is a bona fide foodie, TV connoisseur and unsolicited opinion-giver. You can read about her adventures with food and life in Delhi on her blog www.brownsahiba.blogspot.com or follow her at @rajyasree
Updated Date: Dec 03, 2011 14:16:49 IST