One fine morning a few days ago unable to concentrate on my work, I sat watching two adorable twin Asian babies dance to Gangnam style. Brimming with warm fuzzies, my eyes darted all over the YouTube webpage seeking out more cute fodder. Oddly, they landed on “Roadies X | Hyderabad Audition | Episode 3”. “This show still runs?” , I wondered. Little did I know that 14 minutes later I would be aghast. I had just chanced upon one of the most callous and bigoted treatments of gender and sexuality in Indian Television in recent times.
In Episode 3 of MTV Roadies, the Hyderabad Auditions, we are first introduced to Sherry from Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. After VJ Bani gushes over “Ujaaaaaaaain” we discover that Sherry wants to be a Roadie to receive acceptance and respect – owning to an alternate sexuality. At this point we are quickly launched into the audition room where Raghu and Rannvijay hold court.
[Viewers outside India can follow this link to the above episode ]
Right off the bat, the stage is set when Sherry promptly requests the judges to censor something – Sherry’s original name – Abhishek Soni. Naturally, the judges don’t oblige. Instead, rattling off Sherry’s audition form, the audience is made aware that Sherry is a pre-op male to female transsexual. What follows is a brutal cross examination and dismissal of Sherry’s rationale for her gender and sexuality on national television. Why ? Because two dudes overseeing a motley crew biking all across the country in the name of entertainment want to know how Sherry reacts under “pressure”. Well, they also want TRP ratings of course.
There were some real gems in this televised travesty of not just trans folk but every alternate gender and sexuality. Here is one! After having just heard that Sherry was raped at the age of 8 by two boys, Rannvijay in all earnestness asks her if there was any turning point in her life where she decided she was just going to be herself, come what may. Sherry confesses that in 2008, she fell in love with a woman she met through the Roadies website. Ah hah! I could almost see Raghu and Rannvijay’s faces simultaneously light up with delight. Now the “audition” could really begin! Raghu donning the robe of resident shrink proceeds to proclaim (under the guise of speculating) that maybe Sherry rejects men owing to past sexual abuse…Perhaps, just perhaps Sherry just did not want to become like her attackers?
Slick editing splices together the next idiocy. Raghu and Rannvijay discover that Sherry likes action movies! But hold on –at the same time, Sherry hasn’t seen Pretty Woman? My Best Friend’s Wedding? While educating us about Chick Flicks and having garnered enough evidence against Sherry, Rannvijay ordains, “Maybe you are a boy, who is attracted towards girls.” It gets better. Why does Sherry wear boys’ clothes? Can we make Sherry take off her jacket? Why doesn’t Sherry wax her hands like all girls do ? Does Sherry have hair on her legs?
Dramatic background music leads into the following proclamation.
Raghu: “Shall I tell you something, Sherry… Abhishek… This is an act!”
Of course once the audition wraps up, Raghu and Rannvijay speak directly to the camera to state their disclaimer…err….I mean… confession. You see, they were just playing mean to see how Sherry reacts under “pressure”. All this while Sherry breaks down outside and refuses to speak to VJ Bani about how much fun she had.
Owing to the profusion of reality TV shows, the Indian audience probably tolerates a lot of hogwash that calls itself entertainment. And perhaps five years ago this MTV Roadies segment would not even blip on our radar, inured as all queer individuals are to insufferable injustice. But now? We as a country face a so called ‘cultural emergency’ where people are jailed, banned and chased out of the country owing to the wishes of a select few, easily offended, rabble-rousers. We, as a country, also face a ‘gender emergency’ where women are abused, raped and killed in horrifying numbers because of the rules, mindsets, intolerance and prejudices of men. A mere two weeks ago, a much lauded Justice Verma’s report put forth that “all sexual identities are entitled to protection”, that , that “India cannot deny the citizens the right to be different.”… that all “sexually despised minorities” must be protected.
Yet, MTV India and the producers of Roadies and Raghu and Rannvijay in their quest for ratings, eyeballs, advertising revenue, Roadies team members, whatever it may be, chose to commit a grave error. Through their playacting, they did not protect. Instead, they attacked a member of a ‘sexually despised minority’. They did not choose to use their influence over the many young things who watch the show to educate them about sexualities and gender identities. Instead, we now know how to identify a chick flick.
Dear Raghu and Rannvijay – This may have been your producer’s decision. This may have been Sherry’s decision even. But here are a few comments on the video of Sherry’s audition :
“i think aye banda ladkiyo ko burbak banake shoshan karta hai … harami hai saala”
“raghu n ranvijay u cought him yaar”
“yup he iz a boy and i think he has done this to get attention”
This is the entertainment and education you provide. Obviously the subtlety of your disclaimer is lost on many. Understandably, you guys cannot pay heed to all the comments that come your way. However, here is another comment you must read even if it is about you. Last one. I promise.
“these idiots cannot respect the sensitivity involved with people who assign unconventional gender identities to themselves. accusing a woman of being a man pretending to be a woman is, even for roadies, an exceedingly insulting thing to do.”
You guys always had a choice. You could have ignored Sherry’s alternate sexuality entirely. You could have shown Sherry an ounce of the sensitivity you showed Aniket, a later contestant whose only merit badge was that he had tried out for Roadies for 10 years. But no – Sherry had to be put under “pressure” for you to decide if she was worthy enough to be on your show. Sherry, who was raped as a child, who bravely lives as a cisgendered individual in India, who provides visibility by coming on TV (whatever may be her agenda but does so nevertheless). This Sherry is someone you got to decree as worthy or unworthy of a reality show. This Sherry, a woman, is someone whose jacket you asked to take off and hands and legs you asked to show on television. This Sherry is someone you accused of lying and acting if only to rattle her. This Sherry is someone whose personal journey and strength you made a mockery of with your words. All in the name of an audition. In the name of a reality TV show. In the name of entertainment.
If this is not an attack on a sexually despised minority, I ask you both – What Is ?
PS – Hyderabad just had its first Pride March ! Yay! Rather unfortunate that at the same time as such a momentous event, the uploaded video shows the city as venue to such absurdity by MTV Roadies, Raghu and Rannvijay.
Yen ra Raghu, Idhi Nyayama?