Some Wafers for the Kadhi Chawal, Please: MasterChef Australia & the Importance of Family TV Time

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Some Wafers for the Kadhi Chawal, Please: MasterChef Australia & the Importance of Family TV Time

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

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very time I sign in to my Netflix account, I’m greeted by a selection screen asking me to choose from three viewer profiles – my mother’s, my father’s, and mine. Who consumes content together anymore? That’s so ’90s. And the reason we need those three profiles is that although we’re living in the age of Peak TV, we can’t seem to agree on what makes a good TV show.

Is it the plot? Or the characters? Half-naked people riding dragons or stories of notorious drug lords? Is it that one immortal, never-ageing Baa in a house full of overdressed people? Or is it one man breaking down doors because “Kuch toh gadbad hai, Daya”? Or maybe you put them all together for a show where a half-naked Baa deals coke while evading the cops.

I say it’s none of these. The greatest show is the one which, despite being the most unlikely candidate, manages to bring a family together at 9 pm every weekday for four months straight. Welcome to MasterChef Australia.

In a world where hyper-customised content is personally delivered to us on a handheld screen, it takes something truly special to bring people together for a genuinely social viewing experience. And in my house, that something special turned out to be MasterChef Australia. Truly, food is a great leveller.

Surprisingly, my parents have never been voracious foodies like me. All my mother really craves is a bowl of curd rice, while my father might claim he “loves to experiment”, but his gut only seems to be able to digest ghar ka khana. In my dad’s case, it’s always go Indian and go home. We’ve never been a TV-watching family either. In my 24 years, I can’t recall a single time we’ve sat down to watch one show together. But this week is Finals Week, the denouement of a season-long thrillride that has managed to unite the Gwalani household even faster than a cute new baby.

Today, when we’re down to Finals Week in MasterChef with only five amateur cooks standing tall, things in the Gwalani household look very different. We start setting up dinner by 8.50. At 8.56 the TV is turned on; by 8:59 I yell out, “Mom! It’s starting!”

By the time she sits herself down, it’s 9.05 and the plot for today’s episode is laid down. “What happened so far?”, mother asks. When we’d just started watching the show, I’d have to be the one doing the talking: I had to tell them what’s happening, what a pressure test was, what the mystery box means, how you win an immunity pin, all of it. Three months into watching the show, mother’s usual question is answered by dad, “Khanh and Sashi have to cook for a shot at the immunity pin today. They can only use ingredients they picked out from the garden. Sashi’s making an eggplant puree. Khanh is doing something with lime and Nasturtium flowers.”

“Bhindi is nice”, he adds, taking a bite of his own food. I’m the part-shocked part-proud witness to this.

Now, a lot of our food experiences have begun to revolve around MasterChef Australia. Come have lunch with us and you might hear father say, “We should make this paratha for the MasterChef guys; they’ll go mad.” Or my mother go, “This kadhi chawal is nice but it’s missing a little crunch. Pass the Garden Wafers na.”

That’s what great TV can do. Bring you together when you’re least expecting it, make you feel so deeply for something you never imagined you cared for, and keep you waiting eagerly for more.

You may argue that a show like MasterChef Australia lacks the thrill and the suspense of a Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. But big actors and big budgets alone do not a great show make; I can’t recall sitting down to watch even a single episode of either show with my family. This is why I believe MasterChef Australia might be the best show on our screens right now.

It was unlikely that the “no TV while eating” rule would be broken so easily. It was even more unlikely that a food show would bring three people who look at food so vastly differently together, but that’s exactly what it did. My Sindhi father has always looked at a plate of continental food and said, “Bade plate mein thoda khaana daal ke upar ek tulsi ka patta rakha hai” (a tiny portion of food in a large plate topped with one basil leaf). Today he watches the very same plating and marvels at its beauty. To my utter bewilderment, my Tam Bram mother watches a steak being cooked and exclaims, “That looks nice and juicy!”

That’s what great TV can do. Bring you together when you’re least expecting it, make you feel so deeply for something you never imagined you cared for, and keep you waiting eagerly for more.

Now when MasterChef Australia is almost at its finale, the Gwalani household is set to feel a dinnertime void. I will not be surprised at all if a month from now my parents ask me to check on social media what Jess is up to or where Ben is now cooking.

While we wait for the finale, if anyone out there wants to start penning down a script for the half-naked coke-peddling Baa, hit me up! Working title: Baarcos.

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