Finding true love, or a suitable spouse has been a recurring motif in literature, cinema and television since the beginning of storytelling. While love is about finding someone to care for, it is also about proving to yourself that you are lovable and repairing your self-esteem through someone else’s affections. What better way to do this than by allowing someone to choose you without knowing how you look? Hear Me. Love Me, now streaming on Amazon Prime, is based on an international format from Fremantle Media-owned Israeli production house Abot Hameiri and promises a twist on the concept of blind dates and a more evolved way to find love.
The format sets up a girl looking for love on three blind dates in one day. She can hear the eligible bachelors speak, see their homes, what they do and even meet his friends, but not see his face. Each suitor gets three virtual dates with the girl, and she sees them trying to impress her through the rather cheesily named ‘dil ka screen’ (screen to the heart). After three dates, she chooses one faceless man for a final date, after which we are left to assume that they walked out of the studio together.
The show hopes to combine the new world technology of mini cameras and live streaming video with supposedly old-school ideas of romance where hearts meet and looks are sidestepped for a deeper connection. Former Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty Kundra (who pronounces Shetty like jetty and Kundra like Tundra) is the celebrity friend, philosopher and guide offering her reactions and wise insights on how the heart is on the left, but it’s always right!
Over the years, several such love and dating based shows have released in India, both on youth-centric channels like MTV, Channel V and on mainstream GECs. There were the infamous swayamvars of Rakhi Sawant and Rahul Mahajan, and the gloriously patriarchal Lux Perfect Bride where prospective mothers-in-law rejected girls for not being marriage material. For the millennial audience, there are a plethora of shows, from the long-running Splitsvilla to newer concepts like Dating in the Dark and Love School. Hear Me. Love Me is designed to compete with shows on TV channels like MTV or Bindaas. From reality segments featuring interviews, glamorous introduction montages, reaction shots and bright youthful colours, Hear Me. Love Me has it all but offers no real surprises.
In a show that’s supposed to sidestep looks, the men and women on the show are objectified as pretty and desirable from the get-go. Shilpa even begins every episode by asking the person looking for love why he/she is single in spite of being so good-looking. Each one of the girls is perfectly coiffed from head to toe though none of the suitors can really see her till the last 5 minutes. Ironically, this is when she appears looking even more glamorous than before as if to avoid disappointing the men. The men are also largely fit and good-looking with some of them baring their abs while they do their push-ups. It’s almost as if to assure audiences that though this is a blind date, no one is going to end up with anyone dark, fat, or ugly. As I discovered, quite a few of the girls and their suitors have already appeared on other shows before, are aspiring models and actors, or are minor celebrities in their own right. It’s quite obvious given their ease in front of the camera and the effortlessness with which they mouth scripted lines. It is this continuous artifice that goes against the premise of the show shunning the superficial.
It was especially awkward to see women using their physicality to gain brownie points with Sreeram Chandra, one of the only men on the couch. While one of his prospective dates spoke to him while the camera captured her bare legs getting a massage, another proceeded to peel off her clothes and pole dance while the camera peeked into and then dodged her cleavage. It’s titillation 101, and if we are still using female bodies to grab eyeballs, have we really broken any creative boundaries at all?
It’s true that the show does not promise a happily ever after or even a second date, but it desperately lacks the spontaneity that is crucial to its core promise. The contestants are obsessed with each other’s past relationships and why their previous break-ups happened. At the risk of sounding callous, the only serious topic of conversation on the show is when contestants talk about losing a parent. They also admit directly or indirectly that a person’s looks are important, and after their final face-to-face encounter that they were expecting someone who looked different. These admissions, while honest, again detract from the show’s attempt at ennobling the process of finding a mate.
A show like this would have perhaps been more successful as weekly episodes on television, where some interest can be built up using on-air promotions and sustained marketing. On a digital format, you lose interest by episode 3 because it’s the same silliness over and over again. Shilpa tries very hard to breathe life into the proceedings on the couch by introducing her trademark one-liners and is honestly the only redeeming factor of the show, but even she can’t do much to salvage this snooze fest where the protagonist just sits on a couch doing nothing proactive to find love.