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.