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Here's Why Rendezvous With Simi Garewal is Still Relevant in the Age of Social Media

Here's Why Rendezvous With Simi Garewal is Still Relevant in the Age of Social Media

In pre-social media days, when the show first arrived, it bridged the gap between ordinary people and screen gods, celebrated cricketers, and powerful industrialists.

'Rendezvous With Simi Garewal' was one of those rare Indian chat shows that opened a window into the private lives of the rich and famous in the late 90s and early 2000s. Written, hosted and directed by actress Simi Garewal, through this chat show, we learnt how the icon of timeless beauty and grace, Maharani Gayatri Devi, spend about five months in Tihar jail, and Indira Gandhi once went on a girls trip with daughter-in-law, Maneka to Darjeeling. We also learned that her other daughter-in-law, Sonia, like many of us, loved to shop.

In one of its episodes, Industrialist Ratan Tata revealed that he came close to marrying a few times in his life, before deciding to be the eternal bachelor gentleman, and in another episode, actress Rekha claimed that Amitabh Bachchan was her imaginary lover despite all the speculation for decades about a torrid, clandestine affair between the two. Bachchan too revealed his idea of an ideal woman and described her as someone who is conservative, traditional, and 'in need of protection'.

In pre-social media days, when the show first arrived, it bridged the gap between ordinary people and screen gods, celebrated cricketers, and powerful industrialists. It not only made these celebrities accessible but also managed to peel off their larger-than-life public images and reveal the human beings behind the famous names.

Garewal recently announced that she will be back with a new season of this chat show on her Youtube channel, and her first guests are likely to be Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh. While there are no reports of the official launch date yet, many, who were fans of her iconic show, have already taken to Twitter to congratulate the actress. Garewal has, in the meantime, collated and released all the old episodes of the show on her Youtube channel, which are a delightful trip down the pop culture lane and definitely worth a rewatch.

A lot has changed in more than a decade since the show went off-air. Generation Z has grown up watching and revering Karan Johar as the undisputed king of talk shows and more importantly, social media has infiltrated lives of not just Indian audiences, but also of celebrities.

The novelty factor of Garewal sharing beautiful, old, black-and-white photos of her guests may be gone this time around because chances are that those photos have already been shared by the stars themselves with hashtag #TBT on their social media accounts. Not just that, from old childhood memories to horrifying accounts of sexual assault, stories of struggles with depression or financial and personal insecurities, many personal facets of their lives too are shared by celebrities on social media these days, and we as the audience are up to speed with all of them, thanks to our smartphone's instant notification capabilities. Things that they don't willingly share on Twitter or Instagram -- relationships, fall-outs, catfights, and who-will-marry-whom-and-when are of course discussed and dissected on KJo's couch.

Therefore, can Garewal, who is in her 70s, strike a chord with the internet savvy generation Z-- who generally watch Youtube shows -- whose hipster aesthetics are far removed from the elegant and understated grace of the lady in white? Can she make her show work again after so many years?

I reckon she can, and she will.

When 'Rendezvous With Simi Garewal' was first launched in 1997, it had little to lure in the Indian middle class. Aired by Star World, it was initially commissioned to bring in the niche crowd of 'original English content' craving urban Indian audiences into the fold. But, with the first season itself, the show became a big hit and went on to toppled The Oprah Winfrey Show from its time slot. It was loved not just in the metropolises, but also in tier two and three cities, and it engaged those audience members as well who wasn't particularly fluent in English and, in some cases, didn't even know how to pronounce the word, 'Rendezvous'.

The primary reason for its undisputed popularity and the quality of its content was, of course, its elegant hostess, Simi Garewal. Garewal, with her esoteric words, perfectly coiffed hair, and impeccably white outfits wasn't relatable at all. The chic sets of the show, with candles, and orchids were also a far cry from the floor seating of middle-class drawing rooms, that were recreated as sets of Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan, a chat show before Rendezvous With Simi Garewal, that was hosted by the vivacious and fun Tabassum, and had a 21-year-old run on Indian television.

But, Garewal was a terrific interviewer, always polite and warm, instantly making her guests comfortable. Irrespective of who the guests were -- top industrialists, cricketers, or a film stars -- she gently goaded them with questions that most journalists were either too afraid to ask, or were not given replies to. She wasn't afraid of silences and awkward pauses, that sometimes descended on her ivory sets, as a guest grappled to find the right words for his/her thoughts, or was too overwhelmed by emotions to speak. It helped that she had a personal relationship with most of them, but even with those she didn't know personally, her unquivering determination was to separate the person from the celebrity and show the world who he/she really is underneath all the fame and riches. It's a tough job to get the celebrities -- who are so obsessed with their reputations -- to own up to their shortcomings, mistakes and failures but Garewal achieved that with panache, without ever making her guests feel uncomfortable, disrespected or threatened.

One of Garewal's best qualities as a host was her ability to empathize. Be it when Zeenat Aman struggled to talk about her abusive husband, without making him sound like a villain, or when Maneka Gandhi tried to explain that Sanjay Gandhi had been a victim of character assassination, and wasn't, in fact, the architect of emergency, or when Gayatri Devi grappled to explain why it didn't affect her that her husband had other wives, Garewal could somehow encourage her guests to open up, without the fear of judgement.

Perhaps that is the reason why Rendezvous with Simi Garewal's new season will work. In the current media landscape, where celebrities are constantly trying to portray themselves as 'real' so that they can appear to be more 'relatable', we truly get to know very little of the 'real' them. Their social media accounts are carefully curated moments, approved by their PR machinery, offering us a glimpse of a certain kind of life we aspire to but can never relate to.

Even talk shows these days give us little insight into who these stars really are. To begin with, several shows are masquerade as talk shows when they are clearly are not. They are mostly about games like never-have-I-ever or drink-a-shot-if-you-have -done-something, or some other lame party game, that celebrities are made to play. In fact, the only celebrity talk show that has earned some reputation among the audience, as well as the Bollywood crowd, is Koffee With Karan, hosted by Karan Johar, which 'overtook' Rendezvous with Simi Garewal on Star World several years ago. Part-gossipy, and part-game show, it's flippant and fun. However, it has never, nor does it try to have the profoundness and sophistication of Garewal's show.

What sets 'Rendezvous With Simi Garewal' apart is that fact that through it we discovered that celebrity lives are a lot like ours, that being a beauty queen and Bollywood heartthrob like Zeenat Aman doesn't guarantee a husband that idolises you or marrying into political royalty doesn't ensure a life of luxury, as it didn't, in the case of Maneka Gandhi. It showed us that even the most desired woman in India, Rekha, had to settle for an imaginary version of the man she loved and that a powerful woman like Jayalalithaa had also faced bullying and been taken advantage of, just like any other ordinary women.

If Garewal can, through her sensitive, sharp questions and charming manners recreate that magical space again, where legends and idols are reduced to ordinary mortals, her show will definitely be a hit this time too. However, some tweaks may not only be good but also quite necessary. She should really get rid of the opening track, with the shots of her and her guests play-acting, hand-holding and so forth --- those are the stuff of memes, and ammunition for trolls, which perhaps should not be handed out to them so easily.

Also, one of the biggest criticism that the show faced the last time it was on-air, was Garewal's saccharine-sweetness, and a slight overdose of melodrama, which also inspired an MTV spoof by Cyrus Sahukar (Semi Girebaal, remember?). Perhaps it will be great to cut back those things as well, which definitely won't go well with the Gen Z. Apart from that, Garewal's show, even if replicated in the exact format of the olden days, is a winner. It is not only perfect for Gen Z but also for the social media addict, selfie-loving celebrities they adore.

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