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If MTV’s Roadies and Splitsvilla weren’t enough, Indian reality shows have now proceeded to online platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Zee5.

The first ten minutes of a show called Skulls and Roses on Amazon Prime made me wonder if I had signed up to watch soft porn. Raghu Ram and Rajiv Laxman – the twins who became popular in the early 2000s for being brutal hosts in Roadies – don’t seem to have evolved.

In the first half of Skulls and Roses, a group of ten young women in bikinis on “Rose Island” have to pair up with half-naked male partners of their choice to be intimately photographed with. All these men look like each other – sculpted physique, waxed bodies, and just a lot of machismo. They seem like adults who forgot to grow up.

The couple that gets the most votes wins the round, and the rest go to “Skull Island”, where their hands and feet are chained and they’re made to lick food from the table. Then a contestant is thirsty and a bucket of water is thrown on the table, wasting all the food. Later, everyone is put in fireproof clothes – still chained – and made to race. One girl even gets her face burnt, but winning is more important for her, she says.

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The cameras capture close-up shots of women’s breasts moving, couples humping and grinding each other, and men getting excited around bikini-clad women. And, of course, everyone uses crass language and aggression incessantly to make their point – everything about this show lacks taste and sophistication. The makers of Skulls and Roses have blatantly, unapologetically used and hypersexualised the bodies of women to get more viewers.

In the first half of Skulls and Roses, a group of ten young women in bikinis on “Rose Island” have to pair up with half-naked male partners of their choice to be intimately photographed with. 

In Hear Me Love Me (Amazon Prime), hosted by Shilpa Shetty, “technology plays cupid”. In the first episode, a girl has three men trying to woo her virtually, through a GoPro camera, and she has to choose whom she wants to eventually date. She goes on three “dates” each, where they give her a slice of their lives in order to impress her. Hear Me Love Me tries to promote the idea of falling in love with a person rather than their looks.

… A lot like a profile on Tinder or Hinge but without a profile picture.

“The biggest challenge was to make sure that the WiFi was flawless in all locations because it’s a tech-heavy show. And then running from one location to the next in Mumbai’s traffic was madness,” says senior producer Nidhi Bajoria, who has been working for reality shows for eight years – first for TV and now increasingly for the Web.

Bajoria, who is currently working on Facebook’s quiz show Confetti, says Hear Me Love Me is one of the least dramatic reality shows she’s been a part of. The dates aren’t scripted and contestants play it by the ear, she says.

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In that, Dilli Darlings, a show on Zee5 is an interesting specimen. The show tracks the lives of a bunch of filthy rich, middle-aged Delhi women and their relationship with each other in occasions like kitty parties. One is a housewife who dresses up every morning to make videos of herself singing bhajans and puts them up on Facebook for likes and comments.

In that, Dilli Darlings, a show on Zee5 is an interesting specimen. The show tracks the lives of a bunch of filthy rich, middle-aged Delhi women and their relationship with each other in occasions like kitty parties.  

Another wants her driver to park her white Audi further away from the stores at Rajouri Garden because she’s afraid the shopkeepers might overcharge her if they see it.

A third loves to host kitty parties and prides herself for appearing on Page 3 regularly for the last decade.

A fourth has a troubled relationship with her daughter so she takes her on a drive and gifts her a Louis Vuitton bag – yeah, no kidding.

One is dressed in gold and white because the colours match the interiors of her house. I could go on…

“These are old and fragile Delhi women but still like to party. Many of them pay people to get their photos in Delhi times,” says a male crew-member of Dilli Darlings who did not want to be named.

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Creating drama, he says, is not difficult.  “You just have to put them in certain situations. Once you put them together, everyone wants to one-up each other. The insecurity is so much that it comes out in front of the camera, and that’s how even Big Boss and Roadies work.”

The sad part is that Dilli Darlings reinstates the stereotypes that Delhi women a.k.a Pammi Aunties have become associated with – loaded, stupid, fair-skinned, vain, superficial, and shallow.

It isn’t that reality shows on TV are much different from those on the Web. Some of them are more problematic and offensive than what we saw on television.

Besides, even though the government is planning to regulate and certify online over-the-top content, there are currently no laws that mandate any censorship of content. This makes it far easier for shows such as Skulls and Roses to telecast on online streaming platforms as opposed to television where there are strict censorship laws in place.

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