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Why isn't the Khiladi doing anything?

Raja Sen | July 22, 2008 11:34 IST

In keeping with all the nuclear deal MP-based calculations, let's keep the math simple: take India's studliest, best-paid leading man; surround him with a dozen -- oh, one more than that even -- chicas; have him lean out of a helicopter during the opening credits; have them jump into pools and bob for snake-heads; and basically lace adrenalin-pumping music through it all.

It's a nice checklist, but Khatron Ke Khiladi -- the Akshay Kumar [Images] headlined desi take on Fear Factor -- adds up to ninety minutes of pretty boring television.

For one, Kumar isn't at his best without a script. Sure, there's screen-presence literally oozing out of the charismatic performer -- and I'd pay good money to be able to whistle piercingly with one finger in the mouth, like he does -- but standing around on a nondescript Johannesburg seafront and made to faff about the rules of the game, he seems restless and surprisingly amateurish, as if hosting a small-screen gameshow was a fear he was trying to overcome.

Then come the ladies. While the Colors website proudly proclaims '13 Bollywood bombshells,' this is a bit of a stretch, to say the least. Pooja Bedi [Images] was a bombshell back in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar 16 years ago -- not to say she isn't incredibly fit -- and while Dipannita Sharma and Yana Gupta [Images] are stunners by any standard, this isn't a bevy of women you really care too much about. Still, here's hoping they'll bowl us over with their enthusiasm.

The first stunt, we're told a few times over, as if it's complicated, involves leaping from a moving helicopter onto the yellow strip in the centre of a bunch of coloured inflatable tubes floating below. Each girl comes on and we see her montage -- which includes an Armyman (and one woman) she is supporting; winning the show would mean his 'dream would come true.' It's a nice thought, but there isn't any clarity as to what they mean: will the show work like a Make-A-Wish foundation and spare no cost? Or will the contestants win pre-set prize money and have to fit their dreams into that?

Either way, it's a monotonous stunt that seems far less challenging than it initially sounds, and watching more than a dozen attempts at the same is tiresome as hell. It is kinda cool that Bedi and Gowitrikar, the two moms on the lineup, are the best at the dive, though.

The second stunt is about bobbing for plums in a pool of snakes, and as is usually the case, the reptiles liven up the proceedings. Watching models actually open their mouths that wide to actually push food in is a fascinating sight -- but again, for about five minutes. Then come the yawns.

Inexplicably, the timer isn't shown, and save a squeamish Sonali Kulkarni [Images], girl after girl goes in mouth-first and sucks out a bunch of plums. Admittedly, watching a ravenous Yana guzzle up nearly a dozen of them was impressive indeed, but it was bookended by several minutes of rather nothingy television on either end.

The biggest shock about the show was how poorly put-together the launch episode turned out to be. Colors, Viacom's new channel, has been promoted with much hype and buzz, and this show -- reportedly making Akshay Kumar the highest paid man in Indian television history with Rs 1.5 crore an episode -- is supposed to be one of the flagship choices of the new venture. Yet on launch day, the show came across as slow, with lethargic editing and both Kumar and the girls seeming unsure about basics like hugging (or not) at the end of a completed task. At best, it was a lacklustre hour and a half of television that I watched in total simply because I had to write this -- and that's not what I expected at all.

Of course, there is every indication that the show could improve. Akshay is a consummate entertainer, and he'll surely get more comfortable with the format. And there are mentions of a boot camp kinda backstory with all the girls camping across South Africa, which might be promising in some sort of catty, reality-show way. Still, the first show could surely have used a few slices of all this, snippets of 'things to come' to make sure the viewers depressed with their first dose of Khatron Ke Khiladi come back for more, right?

And finally, why isn't Akshay Kumar doing anything?

Akshay's a stunt-crazed star with the image of one who leaps tall buildings in single bounds just for a bottle of cola, and it's mystifying why, after the ladies wrap up the tasks, he doesn't give them a shot himself -- ostensibly for solidarity, but really to show off something spectacular. It isn't live, so let the man take six runs at the stunt, but give us something great to watch.

A while into the show, Akki started trying to riff with the girls -- mostly with jokes based on their last names -- but that surely can't be all he's going to do? A bunch of girls push their mouths into kissing-distance with snakes, and the alpha-male of the bunch stands by and says 'mind your head'?

And he does so with irksome persistence and such infuriating I-don't-have-to-do-this-but-you-do calmness that it's a wonder none of the women reared up mid-task to hurl a snake right at him.

Pity, 'cause that would have been fantastic television.

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