By Maliha Rehman
Sometimes, jokes are funny. Sometimes, cruel.
“Who, amongst these three, is the most difficult to work with?” The game show host fires off the names of three well-known actors. “Who should quit acting amongst these three?” “Who comes the most late on set?” “Which of these actors need to retire now?”
The guest – an actor, a director, a singer, someone famous – pauses, before naming – and thereby, shaming – one of the people mentioned in the options given.
There’s clapping. Perhaps a bit of hooting. There’s laughing. The next day, a popular magazine on Instagram picks up this particular instance from the game show and the clip goes viral. Comments follow.
Most people don’t see the clip as a joke. Some people agree that yes, certainly, so and so should quit being an actor. Others feel that the guest was rude and should not have named a fellow-member of the industry. A few sane voices point out that why were such questions asked in the first place. Sometimes, another celebrity may also choose to give his or her opinion on the matter, Instastorying or Tweeting about it. This prolongs the discussion even more.
The clip manages to gain millions of views within a few hours. The YouTube ratings of the game show episode skyrocket. Purpose achieved.
Many years ago, Bollywood’s Karan Johar set the trend for rapid fire rounds and although it may be a hackneyed trope now, it still manages to get people’s attention. The audience wants to be in on salacious inside gossip; which celebrities don’t get along, who would they never want to work with again, who do they think is overrated. It’s so much more interesting than a Q&A session focusing on their craft.
And so what if the answer leads to some member of the fraternity getting bashed? They’re celebrities. They can take it. Right?
At a time when the importance of mental health is advocated rampantly, it is sad to see how mainstream channels and social media don’t think twice before indulging in mudslinging, guised as humor, just for the sake of high ratings. It is also upsetting that well-respected, extremely talented individuals from the fashion and entertainment industries don’t think twice before partaking in such shows.
Do the hosts, capable of a much more intelligent line of questioning, not care that channel content creators are making them be part of such gimmickry? Do the guests not care that they are unnecessarily criticizing a peer as a joke? Shouldn’t they think twice before making themselves part of a potential controversy?
It makes me wonder whether, despite their many years in the industry, the guests are not aware that what they are saying makes for juicy social media gossip. I highly doubt it. Perhaps the guests decide to go along with the line of questioning because most of them, if not all, are being paid to be part of the show. Perhaps they assume that the rapid fire will be seen as a joke.
Similarly, why do hosts agree to make these rounds a part of his show? Many of them are well-loved stars with immense clout. Why do they choose to become part of these very obvious attempts at creating hype and hoopla?
It’s All In The Words
“Why not?” Vasay Chaudhry, scriptwriter, actor and one of TV’s longest standing talk show hosts asks me. “Back when Karan Johar would do rapid fire segments in the Koffee With Karan show, everyone would love it. He was a huge hit. People would talk about who said what about whom in the show and even Pakistani newspapers would carry articles on what had been said in Koffee With Karan. It was a format that really worked, except that when people tried to implement it in Pakistan, it didn’t work in most cases.”
There is a way of doing this, of choosing the right wordings. I could ask a guest who they hate the most and give them options. Instead, I give them a situation: you enter an elevator, there are these three people there, who would you take a selfie with, who would you smile at and who would you tell that your floor has arrived? Basically, I am asking the guest the same thing but in a roundabout, less pointed way.
“When I started hosting the show Mazaaq Raat, I was perhaps the first whose rapid fire rounds with celebrities and politicians were a success. I realized that most hosts were not comfortable asking tricky questions. They didn’t want to ask something that could insult the guest or some of the people listed in the options. They didn’t want to risk their friendships with the people being discussed in the show. But how can a show be interesting if you play it safe? Why would the audience want to watch such an interview at all?”
But is keeping a show interesting enough reason to launch into rapid fire segments that insult people? “There is a way of doing this, of choosing the right wordings,” says Vasay. “I could ask a guest who they hate the most and give them options. Instead, I give them a situation: you enter an elevator, there are these three people there; who would you take a selfie with, who would you smile at and who would you tell that your floor has arrived? Basically, I am asking the guest the same thing but in a roundabout, less pointed way.”
He continues, “There are other favorite questions of mine: Aap doobti kashti mein inn teen logon ke saath sawaar hain aur life jacket ek hai, aap life jacket kis ko dein gay? (You are on a sinking boat with three other people and you have a single life jacket – who would you give it too?) Or Aap Titanic pay kissay saath lay ke jayein gay? (Who would you go with aboard a cruise on the Titanic?). The Titanic has a romantic connotation to it and yet, it doesn’t offend the audience. If I had worded my question in a different way and asked who would you go on a date with on a romantic cruise, my audience, which includes entire families watching the show together, would have felt uncomfortable.”
“Rapid fire rounds, if worded right, can be entertaining without being pointedly mean.”
Game show bandwagons
However, in a mad rush to churn out daily content and ensure talkability, most content creators and channel producers don’t seem to be investing too much time and energy into wording questions differently.
“The implication is always negative. Everything these days is about generating views on social media. I have been on game show sets where the production team is discussing how a certain clip should be released on social media because it will get viral.
“Look at the direction that these game show questions take,” says actor Farhan Saeed who has lately chosen to opt out of attending such interviews. “The implication is always negative. Everything these days is about generating views on social media. I have been on game show sets where the production team is discussing how a certain clip should be released on social media because it will get viral. Instagram pages are equally to blame: why do they particularly pick on the clip that is putting down someone and create headlines out of it? Why can’t they pick on some other entertaining aspect from the one hour show?”
Farhan continues, “There is this overall intent to create gossip. For instance, when we were promoting our movie Tich Button, we took part in interviews where we could have been asked about the efforts that we had made. Instead, we’d be asked who had been the most difficult to work with. There can be other ways of making an interview interesting, games can be played. Instead, there’s this constant need to create viral clips through negativity. There are segments where the celebrity guest is basically just humiliated. Look at what happened with Sami Khan only recently.”
“It’s such a small industry and we all know so much about each other. It doesn’t mean that we come live on game shows and reveal everything to the public. I think the industry needs to take a stand against such formats. Who knows what state of mind someone is in? Someone, simply sitting at home, hearing that he or she is being trolled on a game show could become depressed. It’s just wrong.”
Jokes Gone Wrong
There have been instances when celebrities have confessed to having felt disturbed after being made part of a sensational headline. Only recently, director Nadeem Baig was offered a multiple choice questionnaire by host Fahad Mustafa in The Fourth Umpire show by ARY Digital, where he was supposed to name the actor with the most ‘nakhray’. Nadeem laughingly named actor Urwa Hocane. In answer to another question, he again laughed as he revealed that Humayun Saeed and Urwa Hocane would give him trouble while mastering dance steps.
Throughout the clip, it can be interpreted that Nadeem was taking the rapid fire round as a joke. As a well-respected director who has been working in the industry for years now, he has a certain comfort zone with the actors that he works with. Perhaps it was assumed that they will take the jibes in good humor.
On the other hand, Urwa has also been called difficult in other similar quiz shows. The actress chose to respond with the following Instagram post:
In a similar episode, model turned actor Sunita Marshall was presented with a multiple choice in which she chose Sadaf Kanwal as the model and actor who should not act.
With celebrities bashing each other at large on social media, actor Mansha Pasha recently wrote in an Instastory;
Actor Sami Khan may not have had fallen prey to a nasty rapid fire round but instead, he was recently insulted aggressively by comedian Sheikh Qasim in The Fourth Umpire show.
Sami’s friends from the fraternity rallied to his side and eventually, Sami posted the following note on Instagram:
On the other hand, roasting and snide jokes are common all over the world. Koffee with Karan is one example. In 2020’s Golden Globes, host Richard Gervais’ opening monologue was an absolute massacre. The Hollywood A-listers squirmed a bit and laughed with Gervais pulling no punches with jokes that ran the gamut from sexual innuendo to quips about racism and the LGBTQ movement. In contrast, Chris Rock’s attempt at cracking a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith at last year’s Oscars, lead to Will Smith stalking up on stage and giving him a now infamous slap.
Roasting, comic taunts and mean little rapid fires generate high ratings and guarantee visibility. But look between the lines: they also create hurt and deepen the fault lines within a small, struggling entertainment industry. They also normalize a toxic environment where it is quite alright to bully and make fun of your peers.
There are, of course, a few very smart actors who know how to sidestep the trickiest of questions. “I’ll stay silent rather than answer,” says Farhan Saeed.
In a similar vein, Adnan Siddiqui observes, “I think that it’s just wrong. Unless I have had a fight with someone, I would never name them and since I don’t fight with anyone, that won’t happen,” he laughs. “I’d turn things around and joke that I am the worst actor or make a pun that the guest accompanying me is the worst. The conversation becomes harmless that way. There is a very fine line between entertaining and being rude to someone and that should not be crossed, especially now with the society we live in becoming increasingly toxic.”
The rapid fires, in particular, are also quite passé now, having been around for more than a decade now, ever since Karan Johar brought them into vogue. Can Pakistan’s entertainment industry, in the spirit of innovation if not out of kindness, move past them now? I understand that generating consistent daily content can get tricky but let’s try and get creative, shall we?
Let’s not make it okay to bash our own for no reason at all.
What do you think?