Why Reality TV really bites!

By Hindustan Times

At a recent award function, every time Shah Rukh Khan took centre stage, the camera zoomed to Salman Khan. Given their history, viewers were delighted to see Salman’s stiff expression and pursed lips every time the other Khan was in the limelight.

But on closer inspection, it became obvious th
at Salman had the same expression every time. That’s when we realised that Salman wasn’t reacting to Shah Rukh at all. It’s just that one shot was replayed whenever SRK took the stage.

Cut to another show. “Coming up,” announced the host, and a fun moment between Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar turned into the opposite. The two stars, with the Tees Maar Khan-Farah Khan controversy between them, faced off and threatening music played in the background. “Don’t go away,” said the host.

Ishtyle maaro-ing

There’s no doubt about it. None of us would have much use for TV if it weren’t for editors. Whether it’s an extended boy-meets-girl scene in a fiction show, with a romantic song playing in the background, or a glimpse of Dolly Bindra clashing with other housemates in the last Bigg Boss in a ‘coming up’ section, little of what you see on the small screen would be watchable if it weren’t for editors.

Kaun Banega Crorepati“Shows are made on the editing table but it’s not always gimmicky,” says Gagandeep Bijraniya, the editor of all the seasons of Kaun Banega Crorepati and director of the last version of the show on Sony. “It’s always done keeping viewers in mind. They need to be entertained. So if you see Salman’s stern expression every time Shah Rukh is on stage, the idea is to create that tension in viewers.”

You could look at this kind of editing in two ways. One: as Bijraniya says, if we weren’t entertained, we wouldn’t watch the shows. And two: the industry is creating situations that don’t really exist to get us all excited.

“You have to choose which shot you want to use, especially in reality shows,” says an industry insider. “The editing is done in real time (meaning nearly on the spot) and the idea is to sift through the massive amounts of footage and cull out those bits you think would make for exciting viewing.”

These include things like Veena Malik massaging Ashmit Patel’s back on Bigg Boss, her expressions indicating something erotic. Malik protested against these images – “they were projected to indicate I was feeling amorous about him,” she complained. But N Carbri, creative consultant on shows like the two Swayamvars, Splitsvilla 2 and Bigg Boss 4, laughs off the allegation.

“She said we had shot her expressions in slo-mo (slow motion) which is not true. We know what Veena is capable of,” he says. “There is nothing scripted or manipulative about Bigg Boss. We only edited the material into a daily one-hour package. If shows are being edited in a certain way to attract viewers that’s because that’s what they want.”

In the moment

In a way Cabri is correct. Unless you have content, you can’t edit. And it’s true, says Malkani, gimmicks can’t lift a show that doesn’t have solid content. But once you have the content, the way you cut and sequence it can turn a show around.

“For example in a show like Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, the actual shoot time is about two hours,” says Malkani. “It means they have two hours of footage which they edit according to telecast time, put in the ads, mix and match Madhuri Dixit’s reactions, audience applause, patch in rivals’ nasty reactions on someone’s good performance, etc. They do the same thing at awards functions, where you find Rekha’s reaction whenever Amitabh Bachchan’s name comes up and vice versa. These gimmicks also heighten the viewer’s curiosity.”

Sometimes, this kind of patchwork can lead to blunders. For instance, at an awards function, a winner climbed on to the stage to collect his trophy even as he sat in the audience and clapped for himself! Yes, you read that right. Chances are the editor of the show had fallen asleep.

But by and large, say reality show producers Fazila Allana (SOL Productions – the Swayamvars) and Deepak Dhar (Endemol India – Bigg Boss, Khatron Ke Khiladi), there is a pattern to creating a reality show that most producers follow.

“The idea of how the show would pan out is already sowed at pre-production… post production involves editing, which means pushing the right emotions to engage the viewer,” says Dhar. “We at Endemol never believe in over-dramatising things. We have a specialised team of editors who can tell a fake performance from a genuine one, so there is no question of manipulating viewers. As for the ‘coming up’ aspect, key moments are reserved for that section, to hold on to the viewer.”

Adds Allana, “We don’t deliberately create moments, we only sift through footage and retain what we think would make an impact. But moments are not created out of thin air!” So you have a tearful Madhuri Dixit watching her school principal recount incidents about her and a choked up Mithun Chakravorty when cameras go to Kolkata to seek out an old friend of his, who then reminisces about the good old days with the star.

Blow up!

Still, the idea of a reality show is to tap into emotions. So a fight between contestants or a statement made in jest are all blown up on the editing table. Says Shweta Tiwari, the new Bigg Boss, “I have yet to see the complete footage of Bigg Boss, but I have earlier been part of reality shows and sometimes what you say or how you react comes across differently in the final cut. But I think no amount of manipulation can fool viewers.”

Yogesh More, who’s been nine years in the industry and who currently edits Dance India Dance Doubles, remembers when Archana Puran Singh complained that the production team of Comedy Circus showed her laughing too often. She apparently said, ‘I don’t laugh so much but you guys keep showing my one laughing shot again and again.’

TV is about creating shock and awe moments, says More. “Recently we showed Jay Bhanushali and Mithunda facing off when Jay said something relatively harmless. But it was edited in such a way that viewers would expect fireworks. Today, all shows work towards creating moments, getting TRPs.”

There was one such moment in Maa Exchange, when Pooja Bedi who had switched places with stand-up comedian Rajiv Nigam’s wife, Anuradha, had the latter telling her, ‘I have a better half at home, my husband!’ The moment was frozen with Bedi’s ‘hurt’ expression; and Nigam insinuating, ‘You won’t know because you are a single mother’.

Laughs Pooja, “They didn’t realise that I reacted that way because here was a woman whose parents and sister had told me that she wanted a life of her own. I have been part of several shows and not once have they manipulated my reactions. But in Maa Exchange, they had 300 hours of footage and showed only this much.”

Don’t go away

If there’s a sense of being manipulated, it’s because of those important TRPs. Even fiction shows have to get more dramatic, just to keep the viewer hooked. If that means using gimmickry, so be it.

“Competition is getting stiffer and it’s important for channels and shows to attract viewers,” says Kshitija Khandagale, currently editing Rang Badalti Odhani. “The idea is not to let go of the viewer.” Dharmesh Patel, a veteran who’s done the whole gamut from reality shows to live shows and fiction, agrees. “Today, there is no time for elaborate sequences, so more time is given to editing.” Bijraniya has the last word. “Today’s audience knows when they are being taken for a ride and when that happens, they switch to another show or channel.”

Wash ‘em clean

You may have noticed that reality shows look quite similar to fiction shows. That’s because the same editing techniques are used to keep you hooked – and to make things convenient for the producers.

For instance, in a boy-meets-girl scenario, chances are that a love song will play for a long time. That’s because this is a daily show and its makers have to fill the 22-minute episode.

“Editing fiction follows a particular pattern,” says editor Kshitija Khandagale. “The storyline and screenplay sets the tone. You have a boy holding a girl’s hand and that moment stretches to eternity. That takes care of a few minutes, but we’ve noticed that the audience loves such things.”

Flashback sequences, cheat shots, background music… these are necessary to create a high point of drama, says editor Dharmesh Patel. “Even ‘coming up’ is a recent phenomenon. Zee started the whole ‘break ke baad’ concept. The idea is to spruce up the episode. Agar shooting mein kasar reh gayi ho then make up in post production.”

What was that again?

Five moments we remember (because channels showed them again and again)

Asha Bhosle’s line ‘Main judge hoon, koi kuch nahin bolega’. The singer appeared on Sa Re Ga Ma and Himesh Reshammiya objected to something she said about his contestant to which she thundered the line.

Ex-Bigg Boss contestant Pravesh Rana throwing food into the swimming pool. Though it’s alleged that his action was scripted, the editors showed that sequence again and again. Result: viewers were upset.

When Rakhi Sawant confessed to being in love with Abhishek Awasthi on Bigg Boss! It was the first time she came over all coy – definitely a moment to remember. In fact, Rakhi is an editor’s delight!

The many instances of Amitabh or Jaya Bachchan squirming in their seats as Rekha danced at awards functions.

When a sheepish Vivek Oberoi held his ears during an awards show and begged for forgiveness while Salman Khan, seated in the audience, turned his face away.

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