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Sach Ka Saamna: Much ado about nothing

Soutik Biswas | 15:50 UK time, Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Sach Ka SaamnaA jarring signature tune and a ring of fire fade out to a modern-day inquisition. In a studio bathed in blue lights sits a middle-aged tattooed woman in a pink sari. She calls herself an astrologer and a purveyor of all things spiritual. Opposite her, atop an uncomfortable perch, sits the show's rakish anchor, a little-known TV actor. Around them squat the astrologer's amused-looking guru with a perpetual grin, a sullen-looking father, a smiling mother and more family.

I am glad I have finally caught up with the show which has roiled India. The questions fly thick and fast.

As a teenager, did you drink milk from a feeding bottle?

The astrologer winces and looks down. Then she regains her composure, looks up at the anchor, bites her lips and suppresses a giggle.

"Yes," she says, after a pause.

The jangling music is in its crescendo; the anchor calls for the results of a polygraph test on the astrologer; he finds that the answers match and - voila! - announces some reward.

Things begin to get just a bit steamier and thornier now - by Indian standards, at least.

Do you like reading the sex column in women's magazines?

Clashing cymbals and moaning synthesisers follow the question. The astrologer fidgets in her seat, looks away, and then fixes her gaze at the anchor, who a top TV critic in town has found "seriously dishy", according to her column.

"Yes ji (sir)," replies the woman, after a long pause intercut by close-ups of her grinning guru and befuddled parents.

Now the astrologer is breathing heavily. The anchor asks her why.

"I am trying to stay calm. I take normal, deep breaths (sic). I am a religious person. I do prayers and various functions. I also solve heartbreaks. This is heartbreak season!" she giggles nervously.

The posers continue. Have you ever duped a client? Yes. Have you had a relationship with a man without knowing anything about him? Yes, says the woman. That was the two years ago. "The man lied about everything, even his name. After that I became spiritually inclined."

It is time for the question by turns described as soul-churning, culture-destroying and family-threatening - the question for which the show has gained infamy.

Do you love your father?, the anchor asks the astrologer.

The music almost blows the set off this time. The father is a divorcee. He is calm. Before he can answer, it is time for a break.

Four minutes and 13 adverts later, we return to the show to find out whether the astrologer loves her father. She doesn't disappoint.

"No, I don't," she says.

The camera closes in on the father: he appears to be unruffled. The story unfolds: he left the astrologer's mother and remarried. The father is a generous man.

"I am just a rubber stamp in my daughter's life. It's just my surname she carries. How can she love me?" he says.

Sach Ka SaamnaAnd so it goes on and on. This is Sach Ka Saamna or Face the Truth, which seems to be the biggest talking point in the country these days. Many Indians find it repulsive but religiously watch it every night, well past prime time, after putting their children to bed.

Politicians debate the show in parliament, calling it a threat to Indian culture - whatever that means in a nation of a billion people and many cultures. Sociologists and writers deconstruct the show and break their heads trying to find out whether shy and conservative Indians have come out of the closet to show their true colours.

The show's organisers are laughing all the way to the bank, but also have a sanctimonious alibi - they say the show fosters honesty as people who speak the truth are rewarded. Is Transparency International listening - sorry, watching?

Apparently, people in the hot seat have been asked whether they have visited a brothel, had a child out of wedlock, dreamed of sleeping with various men, or urinated in a swimming pool.

The other night, when I caught the show, I found nothing to squirm about - what is the big deal about drinking milk from a bottle or catching the sex advice column in your friendly family magazine?

Also, it's just another reality TV show in this world of the glorification of hoi polloi with contrived situations, gasping anchors and participants looking for a shot at midnight fame (as in the case of this show) and some easy money. It's just much ado about nothing. It also makes the case that India - and Indians - have nothing better to do than get worked up over some silly TV show.

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