Cast members of new reality TV show ‘Desi Rascals’ airing on Sky Living. (Photo credit: mirror.co.uk)
In the blossoming world of scripted reality TV, another new show has been thrown into the mix and is currently being sold as the next – and definitively more Asian – version of ITV’s much-loved and loathed reality series The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE).
Cue Sky Living’s Desi Rascals, the most recent project of British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha who is now collaborating with producer Tony Wood of TOWIE and Hollyoaks fame, again aiming to resurrect some good ol’ multiculturalism on (sort of) mainstream TV. Let’s now cue the cliché opening credits, splattering holi colours all over the screen (because that’s now the most identifiable Asian festival for a mainstream audience) with the equally expected Indian jingle. Next, present those typical gym scenes so associated with the ‘Asian boyz’ of the 21st century and then, to be obvious, immediately begin talks of an impending marriage; but to mix it up, let’s also bring in an awkward (and the only) non-Indian guy saying ‘it’ll be fun to see this all [the wedding] happening ha ha… and I get to eat all the Indian food’. I’ve seen many bad openers to TV shows, but this has got to rank as the worst yet.
Let’s also discuss how Chadha’s aims as a filmmaker have often been rooted in changing those pigeonholed views of contemporary British Asians. In a recent interview, she claimed that the cast of Desi Rascals “have no issues with being bicultural. My generation had to fight for that space. We had to say: ‘We are British and we are Indian, and this is how we do it”. But in the show, how does the 21st century Indian really do it? Now, the opening episode didn’t waste time and tapped into the most stereotypical Indian image: a big, lavish wedding, while other cast members were mostly seen engaging in some form of exercise including a disastrous scene by the pool featuring the most embarrassing dialogue ever: ‘I am the best swimmer in the land bruv… I’m like a brown dolphin in that water mate”. This was holding-my-head-in-my-hands-and-wishing-I-could-drown TV.
Chadha goes on to claim that “my job is to make sure we are visible, we are out there in our three-dimensional ways, we are part and parcel of the world, and we go with the world”. But how far did her three-dimensionalism go in the show? The characters lacked substance and were immediately set up as stereotypes that I am sure Chadha should be erasing considering her more privileged position as a British Indian director. She should be the mouthpiece for erasing long-established, constricting views of how Indians live in Britain, and though she might have showed we can speak the English language, her and Wood did little else with the show that was memorable or unique. We have to remember that as a South Asian audience, the little light shed on us involves cinema such as Bend It Like Beckham, East is East and more recently, BBC One’s TV show Citizen Khan. All of these ultimately induce laughter at our ‘funny’ values and how overly traditional and patriarchal some Asian families can be, while failing to show the sheer progress we have made to embrace ourselves as British Indians attached to both cultures in distinct and personal ways, while also existing as separate from any culture at all too. And herein lies the problem: multiculturalism is still stuck in its 1980s definition and no one is making moves to change it, especially for British Asians.
Of course, there has been only one episode thus far, but as the scenes flick between humourless conversation, show characters lacking any kind of screen presence and create a generally uncomfortable atmosphere, then what you get is visible British Asians who have been offered a fantastic platform to redefine themselves yet still cannot escape outdated ideas such as those related to Indian women spending a large majority of their time looking for men to marry, as well as their dutiful roles of making dinner and tea while the men kick back and relax. Oh, and we can’t forget the frustrating joke that Indians are always late. It’s simply not that funny.
What was interesting was the representation of gay British Asians, which could definitely make for captivating TV since this has never been given much exposure. To get an angle on this would be interesting, but I worry that the format of a scripted reality TV show is perhaps not the best way to tackle this.
The humour in Desi Rascals is clichéd, the representation of Indians is stereotypical and the show overall does not enlighten, let alone entertain. At a time when British Asians are desperately trying to shed ourselves from restricted ideas about our reality, Desi Rascals shoves it right back down our throats and forces us to laugh at those same screw-the-lightbulb-and-pat-on-the-dog ideas again. I for one am sick of seeing British Asians made to look like humourless, dumbed-down fools on TV. We’re better than that.