Cooking up reality – Indian Style

A few years ago, I got hooked to a popular Australian show that fuelled the dreams of aspiring home chefs. The judges and the contestants became a topic of discussion at home and among friends. It was and still is a great show.

Two years ago, I started my food blog and all my friends asked me to apply for the Indian counterpart of the same international show. Honestly, I hadn’t watched a single episode of it. Here’s why:

1. An actor was the judge/host: While he makes a living by taking up roles that cracks up not necessarily everyone, he was here on this show to convince me that he was knowledgeable about food. Okay.

2. Drama: How much drama can you stuff into a show? Well, looks like these guys have got it down to the tee. If you’ve got a sob story and bucket loads of tears to go with it, you will make it on the show. Knowing how to cook decently helps glorify the resume.

3. Contestants: These people are getting an opportunity to change their lives. They have been given a chance to do what they supposedly love and what do they end up doing? Nothing. I haven’t heard any of these contestants doing something great.

Despite all these issues I went ahead and enrolled for the show. I thought that maybe I can change my perception and actually see that it’s not a bad show after all. Just maybe I was wrong all this while and going behind the scenes might change the way I thought. So, on November 20th, 2012, I sent my entry and got my audition call for December 24th, 2012.  I was pleasantly surprised for being a part of this. I thought that my talent might get recognized.

For my audition, I made a Rich Orange Chocolate Tart with an Almond base. I carefully packed the tart and took it to the audition centre in Marol. I filled up an entry form which was basically a five page form that asked me about my culinary journey. It had questions like ‘how did I learn to cook’, ‘who taught me’, what are my fears in the kitchen’ etc. I took almost fifteen minutes to complete my form and submitted it at their office reception.

Later, I was escorted to the “audition room” which was basically a small room with a table, a video camera and their so-called judge. I placed my dish on the table and started talking about myself and my kitchen story. After my bit was done, the “judge” wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a tight fitting yellow t-shirt (yes, he was the judge) walked up to me and tried a piece of the tart. He liked it and said “it was the best tart he has tasted in his entire life”. After this audition the crew literally hijacked my 9-inch tart. I didn’t want to be rude so I let them keep it and left. I saw them attack the tart like wolves and quietly walked out.

After a month I got a call and the person over the phone said that “I had moved on to the second round of auditions”. Remember, ‘second round’. This meant I had to prepare another dish and present to another set of judges. In order to drift away from the ‘dessert maker’ tag that I got in the first round, I decide to go Mangalorean in full throttle. I prepared Neer Dosa with Chicken Curry and two different types of chutney. I was pretty sure I’d move on to the next round with what I’d made. The dosa was perfect without any holes, the chutney was great and the chicken was cooked perfectly.

This audition was scheduled one day before the mass audition at a school in Bombay. It was held at the production house’s second office in Marol. When I reached the venue, I saw the show’s banner and two people giving out entry forms. I walked up to them and gave them my name. They handed me a form (the same one that I had already filled during my first audition) and asked to fill it up. Obviously, I told them that I had already filled it up and they should check their records. They still wanted me to fill it up again. So there I was, filling up the five page form once again. During this time, I overheard people around me discussing about the number of times they had been there for the auditions. I was seated amongst people who had been there for the very first time, some for the third time and one woman had walked in for the fourth time! All this for season three. So much for the ‘second round’ charade.

After the forms were submitted, they sent six people at a time to the audition area in the building. There were two rooms with one “judge” each. I went into one of the rooms where there was an old man dressed in formals and he introduced himself as the judge while another lady was handling the video camera. They asked me questions about myself and the judge, very rudely, asked me technical questions about my dish. I answered each of them with ease. Now anyone who goes for a cooking contest audition would expect their food to be tasted, right? Well they DID NOT TASTE MY FOOD! Only after I offered it to the lady did she take a tiny piece of the dosa and dipped it in some gravy. The man did not touch it! I walked out of the room with my plates and asked one of the volunteers outside about this strange behaviour. The volunteer said, “They must have eaten it while you were talking! You must have missed it.” I was very sure that they DID NOT TASTE MY FOOD.

I was asked to sit in a room with two other hopefuls. For one of them, it was her fourth time at the audition centre for season three. According to her, she was called to meet the celebrity chefs and was asked to come for the mass audition the next day! Moreover, I tasted the food she had cooked. Hummus was lumpy and bland while the homemade focaccia could break a window. She asked me for my recipes and confessed that she doesn’t really know the recipes to her dish. She goes online, searches the recipe and follows it.

Why was a person like this asked to come for the audition again and again?

That’s when I realised that I was right all along. The entire show was based on TRP ratings and not the dreams of people. I left the venue and never hoped for a call back.

On February 3rd, 2013 at 3 PM I got a call from the production house again. This time they wanted me to be part of the audience on the episode where the celebrity judges demonstrate cooking with the contestants. I asked them when I was required for the shoot. He said that the shoot was on February 6th but they need to audition me for this. I was amazed that they wanted me to go for a third audition and this time to be a silent audience! Why? Did they want to know what I look like on camera? Did they just want some pretty faces and not people worthy of being there? How ridiculous! It doesn’t end there. He asked me to reach their Marol office the same evening for the audition. I explained it to him that I had already been there twice for my audition and I did not understand the need to audition to be in the audience. I simply gave up on the idea and hung up.

After five minutes, the man called me again and said that since I learnt cooking from my mother, I should be in the audience. It was a Mother’s Day special episode and I would be valuable to the episode. He said he’ll check with his senior about it and let me know in a few hours. After that call I haven’t heard from them.

This entire process made me realize how fake and TRP hungry the show really is. It does not value the passion but feeds the drama crazy mass TV audience. If you don’t believe me, watch one episode of it on YouTube and you will see the lengths they go to become a tear jerker. Only people with really sad stories make it on the show.

I don’t want to sound biased or snooty, but the Indian counterpart is not on the same level as the international one. The international contestants and their stories were real. The Indian one seemed like a show where they picked up the contestants with the most heartbreaking stories from different parts of the country. All they wanted was to make the audience cry and feel bad for them. Look at this poor guy from tiny village. He works at a Chinese stall to feed himself. Oh look at this sad school teacher. She gave up her passion to educate homeless kids.

I don’t care if I have burned bridges with the channel or the show. I am loyal towards the international version and will continue to be so. The Indian show can very well go on to be the ridiculous reality show it has always been.

My point here was to show people who supported me through this two month long experience what exactly happened. I don’t know who the chosen contestants are or what they are up to. One thing I know for sure, they aren’t being groomed to be India’s best home cook/chef. They will be on the show and once they come back home, they will get back to their old lives. No one will change their life and start a new journey into the world of food. The prize money will be used to buy a house or jewellery. No restaurant, cafe, bakery or catering service will be started by even one of the contestants. No one is chosen to be on this based on their merit.

What do you learn from this? The purpose of this beautiful concept will be left unfulfilled.

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24 Comments Add yours

  1. Nags says:

    while i am not entirely surprised, your experience was definitely an eye-opener.

  2. I am so glad you took time out to write this out. Lots of us have loved MasterChef Aus and some of us who went to meet Gary and George even told them why we would pick their show over the Indian one any day, hands down. You have written it out in very clearly here. And for echoing what so many of us have felt without going all the way to audition, thank you, Anisha. And you are super brave for walking the talk.

    1. Anisha says:

      Thank you, Reema. I just had to write this because so many people were cheering for me. They deserve to know what exactly happened.

  3. Dhishoom Dhishoom says:

    “The international contestants and their stories were real”- that sounds very hard to believe. I’d be surprised if they were any different from the Indian version.

  4. Meena says:

    Good you walked out Anisha. Masterchef Aus is our favorite show. Here in India even a cookery show needs someone fm film world and it’s so wierd & hate the whole idea.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. Neha Bhatt says:

    Just what I suspected all along! They make such a sad mockery of the show.

  6. Suveer says:

    Wouldn’t it be unfair to assume what prospective candidates will do with their winnings, since we don’t personally know them? Also, is it really our business what they do? While your eye experience has been an eye opener, it also reminds us of other international formats that come to India to get bastardized. Remember a once fun game show that gave people the chance to win 10 million bucks?! Notice how now, the only ones on the show are small town folks who want to make it in life. Because, apparently, that’s where all the brains of India are. Not in the big cities that actually, you know, create employment and pay all of our country’s taxes and shit.

    1. Anisha says:

      The core thought behind this show format is to give people a chance to change their life and become a part of the food industry. If these contestants just want to continue with what they’ve been doing all along, why even audition for it?

      1. Suveer says:

        I get that. But how do we know what Savitri aunty will actually do? Also, is it not equally important to remember that if and when she starts a bakery, not only does she need to know how to bake, but also run a business. Some of the most skillful people in the world, while they are great at what they do, cannot scale because they do not know how to manage the business of business.

      2. Anisha says:

        Agreed. That’s where the judges come in. They are supposed to be able to identify the hopefuls from the crowd.

  7. Thank you Anisha for this great description of the reality of the state of reality shows in India. Its a pity to see a show with such a distinct and powerful concept go down the same way of desperate TRP play that other shows have done.

  8. It is understood that content is tweaked so that the show gets better TRPs but when you say ‘anyone who has the talent will be considered’ you should stand by it. It is sad that the Indian counterpart of our favorite Aussie show is not standing by the same standards.

  9. It’s only reassuring to see others in the same cultural quagmire that we’ve created in this country. Which extends beyond our TV Shows to politics, people, and everything else. Keep your good work up. Indian TV and go suck it.

  10. Ro says:

    Way to go girl! One doesn’t need the brains of a rocket scientist to realize how fake and TRP hungry these shows are but still a little part of your heart shatters when the truth is laid out in front of you. Whats worse is that almost every international format is raped by the Indian reality tv circuit. Also, if this is the way they treat grown ups, imagine how the kids who apply for such reality shows get manhandled. And how parents go along with ridiculing their children by letting them register for such shows – Case in point ‘India’s biggest dramebaaz……’
    In today’s world its not all that difficult to lose faith in humanity, I guess…….

  11. Sunayani Mukheree says:

    Yes lady, you are absolutely right.. lately even i had started catching up with Master Chef Australia.. can almost vouch for the ingenuity with which they approach the entire idea…came across glimpses of the Indian counterpart on TV yesterday..my brother exclaimed ” they need tears, here, as well?”

  12. I am surprised they didn’t ask you to read from a script about your life and check if you could handle scripts. I remember reading another blog about a cookery show being more about hot women cooking rather than cooking itself. Stick to your passion. Do your own thing. That is the only thing that will take you forward in life.

  13. Praveen Puglia says:

    Reblogged this on ARHAM and commented:
    Its the TRP Game

  14. Acting like a devil’s advocate, if you look from the other perspective, why would they spend lakhs of money on production, on making stars as judge and taking all that pains just to make *common man* realise their dreams? Leaving a particular show apart, why isn’t there a single contestant in any one of the show out there, who doesn’t have a sad story to tell? Nothing is being done to help common man (talented or not) realise their dreams. Sure, there are some genuinely talented folks who have done amazingly well in past. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Why do you see all the Indian Idols completely disappear after the show? That’s because people in Industry actually hate the reality show folks, who have got there via a shortcut. I can say this because I have hard it from horse’s mouth. Sure, whatever happend with you wasn’t justified. But when even shows like Satyamev Jayte had fake audiences and emotions (try googling articles on this topic), what can you expect from a show like this and Roadies?

    1. Anisha says:

      The reason why nobody speaks up is because in the later stages they have to sign non-disclosure agreements.

  15. Dhruv says:

    Masterchef India looked like a sham right from day 1. I’m sure that the international versions are also rigged to some extent, but I doubt if they could have gotten away with this much nonsense. You get major props for having the drive to post this! 🙂

  16. shwetajani01 says:

    Ouch,this hurts seriously. May be I will stick to the Indian version for recipes & master chef aus for inspiration

  17. Shreya says:

    You’re absolutely right, Anisha! The Indian version sucks. I’m actually a bit surprised you tried for it. Having said that, I’m glad you did. It indeed is an eye-opener. Only sob stories work on Indian reality shows. Grit and talents is never even considered. The promos itself are horrible.

  18. similar2you says:

    Well I had a slightly similar experience with a singing talent hunt reality show.I was eliminated in the third round of the audition and the fourth one was the final round (as they said, and i doubt). When I was about to leave the premises a beautiful girl probably a technician or a AD asked me to stay for a while as my face fits the camera and she wants me to be in a promotion shot. But I was in hurry to go back to home so I said no to her. But as i said no to her she told me that she will push me to the fourth round if I will stay.I asked how,she replied ‘Jugaad’

  19. Thank you, Anisha, for showing me conviction in your Self and your passion!
    May your tribe grow!
    _/\_
    Warm regards,
    Mohini

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