What makes Sony TV's Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa 3 head and shoulders above all reality competitions this season in terms of matching talent with tackiness? Jealousy, backstabbing, rejection, fake fainting, simmering "dostana" - and we're talking about just the preview of the show here.
At the core of JDJ 3's new found goodness is a Bigg Boss like shudyantra. All contestants - and we'll get to them in a bit - must rehearse at a place called The Jhalak House. Rooms are assigned to contestants for rehearsals, although sometimes it seems just a purdah seperates them.
The Jhalak House - or The Ninda Ghar, as I call it - is rigged with cameras and microphones. Despite the fact that the contestants are aware of this, such is human nature that The Ninda Ghar, expertly aided by convenient editing, picks up all kinds of interesting shit each week.
Amidst watching the minor celebs trying to stick it to everyone else, I mean - enjoying the spirit of dance, the feed from The Ninda Ghar keeps the show motoring along beautifully.
How exactly is this accomplished by the whip smart creative team of JDJ3? Simple: at the slightest hint that the show might drag, they pull out a clip or two of one or more contestants behaving badly. This is mixed with standard issue "know the person behind the celeb" sobstories and light-hearted clips that paint the celebs in positive light - the latter shrewdly done to make no celeb feel particularly hunted down.
But let's make no mistake. The purpose is to squeeze tacky drama out of everyone.
Thank goodness some people have my ethics when it comes to entertainment! As it turns out, this is an unscrupulous but singularly noble purpose because it entertains me. JDJ3 team, congratulations!
Let's talk about JDJ3's wonderful judges shall we? There is Vaibhavi Merchant - who I remain a huge fan of. She combines style, good looks and genuine dancing talent with a great urban Hindi dictionary. Words like "Maa Kasam" tumble out of her mouth. But because she's generally full of grace, she doesn't come across as sadak chaap.
Vaibhavi's professional nemesis Saroj Khan is also a judge. Saroj is deliciously ruthless and entirely inconsistent. Often you get the feeling that she is just waiting to pounce on someone. Often you get the feeling that the person might be Vaibhavi.
This ticking time bomb situation keeps me engrossed whenever Saroj picks up the mike.
Hilariously, once Saroj judged a show called Ustadon Ke Ustaad in which she braised a bunch of stand up comics so badly, that the comics staged a walkout. "We don't want Saroj judging our act" they whined. "She's a choreographer. What does she know about laughing". I recall this story to illustrate that Saroj Khan can elicit entirely irrational reactions from people she throws under the bus - such is the power of the Force within her.
Finally there is Juhi Chawla. You remember the ditzy, all-loving character with the laughing voice she played on Luck By Chance? Let's just say that wasn't a stretch for Juhi at all.
Now, on to the contestants: JDJ3 combines mostly terrific choreographers with C-list celebs. The latter group has some good dancers and some terrible ones. They all seem to know where they stand - but that still doesn't prevent them from tightening their facial muscles and producing a fake smile whenever they get marked down.
A number of amusing celebs have already bit the dust. Once Bhagyashree and her partner Tobby did a wonderful dance. "What was the concept? What is that thing on your head?" Vaibhavi questioned Tobby. "I'm a bee" explained Tobby "and I was buzzing around her (pointing to Bhagyashree)". Vaibhavi shook her head and rolled her eyes. Hilarity! Both got marked down and have since bit the dust.
Sadly I didn't see Anand Raaj Anand around the last time either. Once, after scoring some low points, ARA looked into the mike and launched into this hilarious vote appeal: "If you understand a father who can't dance but will do anything to please their kids then vote for me!" Later, ARA did a killer hobbit-like Govinda dance. Sadly, he got kicked off.
But even without both of these, there are plenty of entertaining people around. Brilliantly the producers have invited Koena Mitra to join the party in mid-show. We'll talk about all of them some other day.
JDJ doesn't nearly have the juice of its phoren counterpart - Dancing with the Stars. For example, Dancing... maintains an impressive roster of C-list celebs whose calls it won't return. Yet if JDJ maintains this hugely entertaining pace, it won't be long before it gets there.