A reality TV show featuring borrowed babies has run into trouble not only from the Indian government but also from irate parents and participants.
The reality show testing the parenting skills of celebrity couples seems to be heading for trouble after a parent who had loaned her ten-month-old son to Rakhi Sawant and her 'fiance' Elesh Parunjanwala complained that her child was distressed after shooting.
"The first day after Jay came back from the shoot he was very upset. He could not sleep all night. Subsequently Jay got accustomed to his on-screen parents Rakhi and Elesh, and he would come back home and immediately start missing them. There were visible signs of distress at the very mention of Rakhi's name," the child's mother Shilpa Budhraja, a home maker from Delhi told Mumbai Mirror.
Shilpa is one of the few parents who lent their babies for Pati Patni Aur Woh who agreed to speak to Mumbai Mirror after it emerged that the ministry of information and broadcasting as also the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights' (NCPCR) have taken up cudgels against the show asking for a ban.
Shilpa said they had not taken any money for their son's appearance on the show. Asked why would she loan her toddle for a grueling TV shoot, she said: “My husband and I did this purely as social work. All the celebrity couples are either married or are preparing to marry. So we are helping them for the future," she said.
Most other parents Mumbai Mirror spoke to refrained from comment citing contractual obligations.
"These parents who have lent their children are rich educated people. And since no money was exchanged in this show it was entirely their prerogative to shoot with us or take their child away whenever they deemed it necessary. Most parents were happy to have a paid holiday in Goa," said Shailaja Kejriwal, executive vice-president content, for NDTV Imagine which is telecasting the reality show.
The show, an adaptation of BBC's Baby Borrowers, has five celebrity couples raising a child from infancy to teenage years.
The case of Pati, Patni… got national attention when the channel was served notice by the National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), asking for the telecast to be stopped.
Earlier, a Delhi-based NGO Uday Foundation, an organisation working on children's health issues and advocacy complained to the Ministry of Women and Child development, the NCPCR, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry of Labour about the format of the show and its contents.
For now, though the channel seems to be sticking to its guns insisting the show has been successfully adapted in several countries before.
However it is interesting to note that even the BBC show as well as a similar show in Canada was mired in controversy for the same reason -children's development getting hampered because of separation from parents.
The matter has now reached the Delhi High Court which is expected to issue an order soon.
“We received several complaints from viewers and child rights groups about the show,” says commission member Dipa Dixit. “When I watched the show, it irked me to see the babies constantly crying. We have no idea what kind of psychological impact it can have on their minds. We are waiting to see what stand the court takes.”
The channel's justification about ensuring full safety measures and having the parents supervise the proceedings in adjacent rooms finds few takers.
“What does a child know about being watched on CCTV cameras? Are we waiting for anything fatal to happen,” asks Rahul Varma, Co-founder and managing trustee of Uday Foundation, adding that broadcasters should be banned from using children below three for reality TV.
“Babies as young as six months old are aware when they are weaned away from the mother. Then when they are reunited with their parents, they tend to become clingy; their crying spells could increase. Also some children can suffer from what is known as separation anxiety,” said child psychologist Priyanka Doshi. “While some kids are social and have no problems with strangers, others can panic in an unfamiliar setting.”
Even teenagers who make an appearance in the third segement of the show seem to be a troubled lot.
Eighteen-year-old Delhiite Aditya Kumar whose reel-life parents are Gaurav Chopra and Mouni Roy recalls the tough time he had on the shoot. “Gaurav was often rude to me. He prohibited me from entering his room and gave me less pocket money as compared to the other teens on the show.” Kumar says he often got into spats with his reel-life parents.
“They threatened me to watch what I say as I was on national TV while they themselves were busy romancing most of the time. Real parents don't do that,” he says with characteristic teenage disdain.