TV Review: ‘What Not To Wear India’ on TLC
Makeover shows usually all follow the same cathartic arc: cringe-worthy frump transforms into gilded swan with a lot of help from a cracker team of stylists and hair and make-up artists. Tears will be shed, followed sometimes by a breakdown, but that’s all part of the plot, because by the time the participant is made glam, the viewer is totally vested in his/her transformation. We cheer them on because secretly, we all would love to play out the fairy-tale fantasy of having someone fund our upgrade with the right tools and guidance at our disposal.
Which is why when the original What Not To Wear, with British presenters Trinny and Susannah aired on BBC in 2001, it was an instant hit. The acerbic duo was wickedly funny and usually just plain wicked, stripping their hapless victims, sometimes literally down to their undies, only to build them back up into shinier, more sartorially astute versions.
The TV series has long gone off air, but its a format that’s been syndicated the world over, India being the latest country to adapt it. The homegrown version, called What Not To Wear India, will air on TLC every night, starting Monday, September 3. Designer Aki Narula and actress Soha Ali Khan are the hosts/mentors and it’s entirely to the credit of the local producers that they haven’t attempted to model Narula and Ali Khan in the Trinny and Susannah mold.
As a result, from the first episode on, the duo are, for better or worse, true to who they are, which is to say infinitely nicer than their British counterparts (and thus sadly less entertaining). Ali Khan, one of the more affable and underrated actresses in Bollywood, is pretty, petite and perky, tempering Narula’s snarky proclamations with encouragement and cheer. When Narula is set free he is often at his funniest, telling victim number one, a sweet software developer from Pune called Falguni, that her clothes look like a mithai box (not in a good way).
But like a box of mithai, the show is undercut by its overwrought sweetness, with none of the dramatic build-up of truly great reality television to make us really care for Falguni. We see her errant tastes let loose in a department store and a few minutes later, after one mild talking-to by Narula and Ali Khan, she’s magically reformed. Unlike the British version, where the hosts often hand-held the participant through the traumatic process of shedding their clothes and much of their identity, the Indian version stays shallow, with no follow-up or analysis. For instance, after briefly touching on Falguni’s inferiority complex in the beginning, we hear nothing of it again, her issues air-brushed away as easily as her ghastly taste in kurtis.
Unlike a lot of recent TV presenters, Narula and Ali Khan clearly have the chemistry and chops to carry off a show that requires them to be entertaining and empathetic. But you get the feeling that someone or something is keeping the format benign (endemic incidentally of a recent spate of mediocre local English-language programming) for fear of offending sensibilities. All the more pity, because our two hosts are clearly the brightest things to grace our small screens in a while.
What Not To Wear India will air at 10pm every night, starting Monday, September 3, on TLC.Tags: Aki Narula, Fashion, Soha Ali Khan, Television, TLC, TV, What Not To Wear India