Move over Koffee With Karan. Simi Garewal, the Grandmother of Celebrity Talk Shows is Back

Bollywood

Move over Koffee With Karan. Simi Garewal, the Grandmother of Celebrity Talk Shows is Back

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

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s a civilisation, we have reached a breaking point in Indian celebrity talk shows. Was it stylist Anaita Shroff Adjania’s Feet Up with the Stars, featuring the Vogue fashion editor in an intimate setting (read: on a bed) with actors, that pushed us over the edge? Or Kareena “yaani ki KKK” Kapoor Khan and her radio show What Women Want, where she discusses love and life with fellow women celebs? It could have very easily been Pinch, a chat show about how celebs deal with social media trolls that is inexplicably hosted by Arbaaz Khan.

Perhaps the blame lies with chief provocateur, Karan Johar whose long-running Koffee with Karan keeps being brought back to promote the latest star kid, asking them inane rapid fire questions designed to stir Mumbai Mirror’s blind items. Of course, the show has given us some enduring pop culture memories: Who can forget Alia Bhatt claiming that Prithviraj Chauhan is the president of India or more recently, Hardik Pandya’s infamous “main karke aaya”? And yet, the one thing that KWK has never done, is provide more than a fun passing glance at the high-gloss world of showbiz. 

That’s why, even in this talk show-saturated climate, I’m waiting with bated breath for the return of the queen. Yesterday, Simi Garewal announced the revival of Rendezvous with Simi Garewal after more than a decade of being off the air. The grandmother of Indian celeb chat shows, Rendezvous with Simi Garewal is often misremembered by today’s generation for being a study in ’90s cringe. There was, after all, the white-clad Garewal (giving the Abbas-Mustan wardrobe heavy competition) with her aggressively clipped “convent” accent and the saccharine opening theme (“Speak, so I can see your soul,” Garewal trills) that featured every imaginable crime against graphic design. The whole thing was almost too easy to parody, as Cyrus Sahukar unerringly did in the widely beloved Semi Girebal

But the cheesy trappings of Rendezvous with Simi Garewal are precisely why it worked so well as a proper, old-fashioned talk show, not bogged down by any drinking games, shouting audiences, or “revealing” rapid fire rankings. Instead, Garewal’s spotless white couch was more like that of a therapist and she was our guide through the hearts and minds of romanticised stars. With her absolute lack of irony, Garewal had a knack for getting the deepest, most human insights out of her guests. Unlike the canny, put-on camaraderie of KWK, Rendezvous with Simi Garewal always meant what it said.

But the cheesy trappings of Rendezvous with Simi Garewal are precisely why it worked so well as a proper, old-fashioned talk show, not bogged down by any drinking games, shouting audiences, or “revealing” rapid fire rankings.

Garewal’s earnestness did not hinder the show from gifting us with some of the best celeb appearances on television. Made peculiarly comfortable in their delusions by her calm, understanding presence, Hrithik Roshan once allowed her to read out a love poem he had written while Shah Rukh Khan has described the birth of his first child in lurid biological detail. She often brought families and spouses together on her couch, and gently prodded them with a set of intrusive questions that displayed an unstudied, vulnerable dynamic. Younger actresses like Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor pliantly allowed Garewal to consult a tarot reader about their love lives. Garewal has even sat with the likes of Benazir Bhutto, Gayatri Devi, and the Ambanis, and each time has brought these luminaries down to the level of mortals. Mukeshbai even shared the charming, relatable tale of how he proposed to Nita: Casually creating a traffic jam with his car on Peddar Road, Mukesh insisted that the hesitant 20-year-old Nita give him a yes or no before he would move. If Garewal had any judgments to make on this behaviour, she, as usual, never showed them. 

And yet, for all Garewal’s easy, Oprah-style empathy, she had a wealth of detailed research at her fingertips and her half-hour long episode didn’t have to depend on the fluffy padding of dance breaks and hamper challenges. As Garewal well knew, a guest’s reaction to her personality could be just as informative as their words. Interviewing Zeenat Aman, Garewal asks why she had felt she and her abusive first husband were compatible. Aman, taken aback by the honesty of the question, simply laughs and says, “Oh dear.” As Garewal gently presses further, Aman becomes more forthcoming with the story of her troubled marriage. It’s a testament to Garewal’s sensitivity in making space for the difficult conversations that go beyond the glamour of Bollywood.

Will she still be able to work her magic today, now that the smallest soundbyte goes viral at the drop of a hat, and every public figure comes armed with PR agents and safe, milquetoast talking points? I can’t tell for certain. But if there’s anyone who can cross the battle lines that have been drawn between standoffish stars and the more predatory elements of social media, it’s Garewal, the most trusted celebrity talk show host in India. I can only hope the Rendezvous with Simi Garewal reboot is as gloriously, relentlessly sincere as its predecessor. In a sea of shallow chat shows, that’s the only one we’re still missing.

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