Kayfabe and the Indian reality

We know that professional wrestling is rigged, yet we enjoy it. In fact, we know that Indian politics is rigged, and we are content

All of us at some point of time or the other have watched WWF (now know as WWE) or some other professional wrestling championship on TV. Knowing fully well that every fight is rigged, that it’s just elaborate theatre, the winner was decided before the match began. Trouble is, millions of people across the world know this, and the entertainment quotient for them is not reduced at all! “Kayfabe" is what the wrestling world calls its rigging system. Kayfabe lies at the heart of this multi-billion-dollar global business.

After encountering the term while idly surfing the web, I had to find out more. And I must admit it was quite fascinating to learn how much thought and effort goes into kayfabing. The next time I happen to catch a wrestling bout on TV, I shall watch carefully and with respect.

photoApparently, the backstage guys divide the wrestlers broadly into two categories: the “faces" (short for “babyface") and the “heels". The faces project fair and virtuous personalities, use fair means while beating up their opponents, and are nice to their fans. The heel, on the other hand, is villainous, focuses on inflicting maximum pain rather than go for a straight win, and often tries to attack the opponent even after the match is over and he (the heel) has lost. The heel snarls at the fans and is, in turn, booed roundly, which just makes him indulge in even nastier antics.

Elaborate storylines are built, including long-running feuds, family rivalries that are entirely fictional (both families and rivalries), and romantic relationships. Some of these scripted romantic relationships have even ended up in marriage. In one bizarre case, two wrestlers, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon had both a kayfabed marriage and divorce, and then got married in real life. Sometimes, a wrestler is “fired" to give the scripters time to repackage him and present him anew. Or in the case of The Rock, who has gone on to a fairly successful career in Hollywood, he was “fired" in 2001, so he could film The Scorpion King (which our movie channels never tire of showing). Shoot over, The Rock returned in all his glory.

Anyone with a bit of imagination can surely see all this as an amazingly apt metaphor for the way India is run (if “run" is the right word).

In professional wrestling, since by now everyone except the desperately uninformed and unobservant knows that it’s all make-believe, the businessmen have built the kayfabe storylines into meta-storylines. So, today, you even have shows where wrestlers discuss the plots. Soon, the men controlling the rings will be openly accepting public suggestions on new twists and turns, and the loop will be closed to everyone’s satisfaction.

It’s quite obvious that in India, we have kayfabe all around, and we willingly take part in the illusions. In politics, we watch parties abusing one another in stirring language and taking to the streets, but do they really mean it (and how many of us believe that they mean it)? What is Coalgate really about? Does any politician actually want an effective Jan Lokpal Bill passed? How many bureaucrats truly want the status quo changed even the slightest bit? What percentage of India’s big industrial houses would actually like itself to be set adrift in the market, with no security blanket of the political-business nexus? And do large masses of the electorate even halfway trust what their leaders are telling them and promising? Yet they vote. It’s all kayfabe, and everyone’s content.

In a December 2010 interview to rediff.com, Arun Shourie had said: “I don’t see the difference between (the BJP and the Congress). I feel they are one party. They are jointly ruling. It is a dinner party. They meet at dinners. They meet socially. They decide on what has to be done about issues. It is all very cooperative behaviour…(It’s all) just drama that is going on and on."

It’s time we Indians took kayfabe out of wrestling jargon and introduced the term in our vocabulary. Maybe someday we can even close the loop