At a press event ahead of the release of Season 12 of MTV’s Splitsvilla, co-hosts Sunny Leone and Rannvijay Singha sit side by side and frequently play off each other when answering questions from journalists. Season 12 marks the duo’s fifth time hosting the MTV reality show about love and relationships together, through which a clear a comfort level has been developed. At one point the two make a deal on how to tackle the various interviews with efficiency, with Leone saying ‘you do all the shout-outs, I’ll do the video bytes’.
One of the channel’s two celebrated ‘youth-based’ reality shows alongside the famed Roadies, Splitsvilla follows a group of girls and boys armed with ..distinctive personalities and the kind of behaviour and attitude which perfectly lends itself to exaggerated reality TV. With the aim of finding love, the contestants go through various challenges and competitions to remain in the game whilst trying to find a match in their fellow contestants. In the end, one girl and a boy are crowned the winners and are assumed to ride off into the sunset as lovers.
As with most reality shows, the appeal of the Splitsvilla is in the drama and conflict which often erupts among contestants. When asked about the show’s enduring appeal and relevance, co-host Rannvijay says “A lot of people who are older watch the show to see where the youth has reached. It’s like a window into how the youth thinks.’
Many of the other interviews taking place are focused on asking the pair to provide relationship advice which they are quick to disassociate themselves from, firmly clarifying that neither them not the show are any kind of authority on love. The energetic pair talked to me about Splitsvilla’s popularity, how it’s lasted so long and why shows like it shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
You’re now going into season 12 of the show which is quite an achievement at a time where there are more content options than ever before. Why do you feel people keep coming back to the show?
Sunny Leone (SL): Psychologically speaking, I think people are very interested in seeing what others do in very different situations. The situations and challenges Rannvijay and I give them (the contestants) or the questions they have to answer and things they have to do are outside their comfort zone. That’s interesting to people. And people just love reality TV.
Rannvijay Singha (RS): Also, there is a kind of a fanbase that has been created that is loyal to Splitsvilla. They want to see who the next bunch of Splitsvillans are because they go on to become mini-celebrities. It’s also because there are very few shows like this one. You will see a lot of fiction on OTT platforms, but name one other youth-focused non-fiction show.
Do you think people believe everything they’re seeing on screen? In terms of the relationships, drama and conflict?
RS: It’s isn’t necessary. You also saw the England Vs New Zealand match, not everyone believed what happened there, but you take out of it whatever you want. That’s the internet. If you want to believe that NASA landed on the moon, you will get all the content that you want, but if you want to believe NASA did not land on the moon, then you’ll get a whole lot of content on that too. So, it’s about each person. Yes, some of them believe it, some of them believe it partially and some of them don’t, but till the time they’re watching it and they’re getting entertained, it’s okay. Because that’s the crux and core of the show. This is not like the best show for the youth. Somebody asked me the other day ‘what’s the best thing the youth should do according to you, Roadies or Splitsvilla?’. I said they should educate themselves.
SL: Yeah, for all of us, whenever we read something or watch something on television, especially when it’s reality, it’s always selective reading or selective hearing. It’s whatever you’re relating to as an individual. So if I’m relating to one of the characters I’m going to listen to her more, and not some of the other things that are going on and maybe I’m going to believe that or not, but you’re only going to believe things that relate to your own world.
Does it bother you that many people watch the show without taking it seriously, almost as a guilty pleasure?
RS: I’d actually be upset if they were taking it seriously. We’re not a show that’s taking responsibility for how dating should happen in this country. It’s a niche music channel making shows for entertaining people. Yes, if someone gets inspired to be a better person because of what Sunny said or because of how somebody’s behaving then great, it’s a bonus. But the onus of bringing up other people’s kids is not on us, it’s on them. The entertainment industry shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Watch it and have fun.
The show markets itself as being about modern relationships and the kind of love it shows is this very passionate, intense kind which often leads to fights and aggression. There’s currently a lot of heated discussion surrounding the film Kabir Singh and its depiction of love. Do you ever think about the kind of love presented on the show?
SL: They (the contestants) are 19, 20, 21 years old. What did you do when you were 20 years old? That should answer your question.
RS: I don’t know anything about the film, but again, we are not responsible for representing any kind of love. Whatever love happens on that particular season, is because of the contestants of that season. We give them a condition or situation and challenges to do and they figure out what they want to and don’t want to. If they’re old enough to elect a government for this country, they’re old enough to take responsibility for the love they are representing. We are not preaching it.
Whenever an argument or issue erupts among contestants, both of you manage to encourage them to speak their minds but never get involved yourselves and always seem composed. Is it tough finding that balance?
RS: There are a couple of factors that help us in doing that. We now have an age difference between us and the contestants. We have been through a few relationships, and experience gives you a bit of an overview. And you also relate to some of the mistakes these youngsters are making or why a certain person is behaving a certain way. So that’s an advantage. Also, with age you also learn patience. So if Sunny says ‘hey girls you should behave in this manner’ or ‘hey guys that was uncalled for’, they list because of the respect they have for us. And that helps in maintaining that decorum.
“Parents and all do say ‘listen to Sunny and Rannvijay, they’re talking sense, I wish my kid understood.’”
SL: Also when you’re dealing with all the contestants, you have to let them work it out amongst themselves. If we keep interjecting, it’s not real. If they get physically violent, yes we interject. He (Rannvojay) runs in and does his thing, I step back because I get scared (laughs). But as long as there’s no physical violence, we have to let them work it out amongst themselves otherwise there’s no show, there are just two people gyaan-ing them every two seconds saying ‘no don’t do that, don’t speak like that’. We’re not there to be there parents, we are there to maybe help guide them through some tough decisions.
RS: Our set of values are right according to us so when we’re saying it a lot of people do relate to it, parents and all do say ‘listen to Sunny and Rannvijay, they’re talking sense, I wish my kid understood.’ But there might be times when we’re not right. We’re not supposed to be guiding them to do the right things.