By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi, July 31 (IANS) Will she? Won't she? Rakhi Sawant moved from being an outspoken item girl to a coy bride, and now the question whether she will actually get married through her televised 'swayamvar' has middle class India in a thrall.
The "wedding" is slated for Sunday on her show "Rakhi ka Swayamvar" -- which saw Rakhi choosing the most suitable groom from a list of 16 in 25 episodes -- and excitement is peaking.
"It has to be the Canadian guy", "She will walk out without marrying", "There will be a wild card entry", "The contestants would be asked to choose between money and Rakhi", "Who cares?"... just some of the random thoughts and queries of the many viewers that NDTV Imagine added after the reality show began June 29.
Dressed in Indian finery and suitably demure, Rakhi shortlisted five grooms and even went to their homes to get to know the families. As the feisty bit actress who hit the limelight with her outrageous statements, not to forget the kissing controversy with singer Mika, played the ideal Indian 'bahu', viewers happily tuned in every weeknight.
On Sunday, the speculation will come to an end when Rakhi announces whom she will marry. And everybody has a view.
"It's likely that the show is a farce, because most of the shows that generate huge publicity are planned for that purpose. Maybe she will marry him for the show, with a pre-nuptial agreement and then annul the marriage...unless the chosen one is rich enough to stay with," said Jaya Kumar Mathur, a housewife.
There are others who did not share Jaya's cynicism and said Rakhi could actually be looking for true love.
According to Saniya Mehta, for instance, it is quite possible she will settle down with one of the final three contenders - Toronto-based Gujarati boy Elesh Parujanwala, young aspirant Manas Katyal and businessman Chhitiz Jain, both of whom stay in New Delhi.
"But unless the groom shifts to Mumbai, which is Rakhi's workplace, her life would not be smooth after the show. She should take her decision carefully," said Mehta who feels Parujanwala is the best suitor for the item girl.
Channel officials are equally clueless.
"It would be a big decision for Rakhi. There is new speculation every day about the climax of the show, but even we can't tell anything as of now. Ultimately what will happen on Sunday will be entirely Rakhi's call," Nikhil Madhok, vice president (marketing and communications) of NDTV Imagine, told IANS.
"If she says she wants to marry the same day, we are all set with the preparations. If not, it's for her to decide because it's her life," he added.
The preparations are grand. Whatever the decision, Rakhi will be dressed in a Neeta Lulla creation and wear jewellery designed by Farah Ali Khan, including a necklace worth Rs.3 million.
Of course, like any other grand Indian wedding, a multi-cuisine buffet dinner will be laid out. The menu, planned by Rakhi herself, will include Gujarati, Punjabi and Maharashtrian delicacies.
The guest list will be equally impressive, including TV celebrities as well as Bollywood stars. Rumours are rife that Bollywood's ace director Karan Johar, who invited Rakhi on his chat show "Koffee With Karan" that saw A-list actors such as Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan, is expected to be one of the invitees.
The show, the first of its kind in India, has brought unprecedented TRP (television rating points) success for NDTV Imagine. The premiere of the one-hour show saw ratings soar to 3.5 percent. The channel is hoping that Sunday's episode will be even better.
In the original American show, "The Bachelorette", the contestant in many cases didn't get married or didn't last too long. There was one exception -- Trista Rehn who married physiotherapist Ryan Sutter in the maiden season of the show in 2003 and now has two children.
Will it be happily ever after for Rakhi too?
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)