In a recent interview, Karan Johar said that his talk show Koffee with Karan is everything that is fun and frivolous always overshadows the intent and real. Johar addressed the criticism that his show receives, with many calling it cringeworthy. He said, ” So I’ve learned it. I’ve learned to feel like, ‘Yeah, it is a cringe binge. It is a guilty pleasure viewing. Its timepass. It’s frivolous; call it what you want, as long as you watch it.’ If in between that, you found some intensity and you focused on those words which are non-controversial, and non-sensational, then that’s great. I consider a huge upside but I’m not expecting it because I know, just like my movies, as a filmmaker, I don’t I’m not taken really seriously by the intellectuals, and even people who watch television will find this a guilty pleasure. Everyone will watch it but they will criticise.”
And he’s not wrong, though people call the show frivolous, looking at the response to Season 7, which had Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh on the couch in episode 1, one can gauge that people did find time to watch the show and comment on it.
There is another show – The Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives, a documentary-style reality show by Dharmatic Entertainment, the digital arm of Dharma Productions, which has been slammed as cringe content and yet is highly watched. This show revolves around four visible yet little-known personalities of Bollywood- Maheep Kapoor (wife of Sanjay Kapoor), Bhavna Panday (wife of Chunky Panday), Seema Khan (former wife of Sohail Khan) and Neelam Kothari (yesteryear actor, wife of Sameer Soni), to explore their personalities through the prism of friendship. All one can say is that the series achieved nothing more than providing backstories to their Instagram posts. As a result it was too guarded to be flamboyant and too cagey to be outrightly callous. It was all glamour and no substance, yet people watched it.
I don’t understand why are shows that give viewers an inside peek into star lives are so highly watched even today? What’s even more amusing is that the very people who will call out such shows as frivolous and cringe worthy will watch them anyways and then thrash them in reviews.
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So, why are we fixated on celebrities? Because celebrities are quick ‘fix’ in terms of entertainment. Besides, humans are social creatures, we evolved and still live in an environment where it pays to pay attention to the people at the top. Celeb fascination may be a result of this tendency and is ably furthered by the media and technology.
Earlier, people looked up to monarchs for social, and even fashion, cues, now, celebrities, influencers and movie stars have replaced them. We all know that members of different species also keep a close eye on the dominant individuals in their groups. We humans do the same.
Celeb lifestyle, home, fashion, partners are all aspirational for most people, hence, they follow or even stalk them. Stars and the media very well know how to exploit this weakness. While celebs give interviews, share juicy information about their personal lives, and even engage directly with fans on social media sites, media makes headlines out of their each and every appearance- even if it is for a workout at a nearby gym.
Koffee With Karan is actually a marriage between this celeb stan culture and our love-hate relationship with shows which epitomise ‘wince in embarrassment or distaste’. Can anyone forget the cringe fest – Indian Matchmaking? Here, matchmaker Sima Taparia guides clients in the US and India in the arranged marriage process, offering an inside look at numerous regressive customs and stigmas continue to thrive in a modern era. The show was like washing our Indian laundry in public, what with warts and all. Yet, everyone watched it, yes, I did too. And yes, I thrashed it as well in my review.
For me Bigg Boss is another tacky and unbearable show. But, every evening, if one was to peak into Indian households, all will be glued to this show when it is Bigg Boss season, discussing who will win this year’s reality show.
Indians have two obsessions, marriages and poking their nose in each other’s lives. These shows bring out these obsessions and give it legitimacy. So, is it any surprise that they are the most watched shows on OTT platforms and television?
Another reason why we love cringe binge shows would be that this false sense of reality, which comes from celebs pretending to lead normal lives, might also feel like a life we would like to live. Hence, it helps us relate better with the people we admire or are envious of.
According to psychologists it’s an emotion called ’empathy’ that keeps us hooked to reality shows. Even though they are seemingly a false reality shown on TV, these shows make people feel and react the same way they would behave around their families. The characters seem much like their own family members or friends. So, their struggles and happiness becomes theirs as well.
In the end, shows like Koffee With Karan offer an escape from reality, or a respite from sorts- something a lot of us are in the need of, always. So why not keep our critiquing glasses aside for a second and enjoy the cringe binge without any sense of guilt. There is no point pretending that we are not having fun when we watch such shows, is there?
Views expressed are the author’s own.