Raghu Ram Ambadapudi and Rajiv Lakshman Ambadapudi, easily among the rudest men on Indian television, are back with a new reality show. Amazon Prime Video’s Skulls & Roses promises the best of two worlds inhabited by the terror twins in the 2000s – the adventure-based MTV Roadies and the romance-tinged MTV Splitsvilla. Shot in the picturesque town Knysna in South Africa, Skulls & Roses will be premiered on the streaming platform on August 30.
Is Skulls & Roses a combination of MTV Roadies and MTV Splitsvilla? Yes and no, Rajiv said: “Take water. It’s di-hydrogen monoxide. Hydrogen and oxygen have their respective qualities, but mixed in a certain manner as water, the final compound is greater than just the simple sum of their parts, which is how one should see Skulls & Roses.”
The trailers tell us that 16 contestants (“Sixteen hot men and women”, Rajiv says) will be tested for their abilities to find love and survive physical challenges on Rose Island, where Rajiv makes the rules, and Skull Island, where Raghu is king.
Will the series see couples bonding at one place and tested at another? “Not exactly,” Rajiv said. “The series offers two unique worlds with polar opposite ends. You can only enter this competition if you find love, but you can only survive if you betray. That’s a very interesting, existential conundrum in front of the contestants.” The winning couple will take home Rs 10 lakh.
The identical twins grew up in South Delhi’s Munrika, were physically bullied throughout school, and learned to hit back for survival, as documented in Raghu’s 2013 autobiography Rearview: My Roadies Journey. The need to hold one’s ground and achieve goals underpinned MTV Roadies. The series particularly revealed the men’s shared propensity for being vituperative towards contestants.
The trash talking and violent behaviour pushed the boundaries on Indian television. Would such a show work today?
Are you looking forward to seeing Raghu-Rajiv again?
“If someone calls us bullies, that’s an ignorant point of view,” Raghu said. “We stand up to bullies, we don’t bully. There’s a difference. We have always been anti-bullying. If someone is being racist or sexist on the show, we are aggressively against that. It’s not that whoever is the loudest is the bully. There are clear expectations from our show, and we hope we can fulfill them. But if you are part of the snowflake generation, you can choose to not watch.”
Rajiv added that talking rudely was hardly as problematic as bullying. “But I understand that this is 2019, the generation is different,” he said. “That said, it’s still a challenging world, and our show won’t be all praises and lullabies and compliments.”
The 44-year-old television hosts and producers have been working with contestants in their early twenties throughout the shows they created, including the short-lived MTV Dropout Pvt Ltd. (2017), in which aspiring entrepreneurs were tested on the ability to raise investment for startups.
“A lot of the things stay the same: the willingness and desire to test yourself through self-actualisation and challenges remain,” Raghu said about the difference between older and younger millennials. “With a lot of exposure and awareness, there’s a lot of confidence. But there’s also a lot of vulnerability. And the invincibility some feel is fragile. The opinions of others have become important now, in terms of likes and comments. That can be a vicious spot to be in.”
Auditions for MTV Roadies and MTV Splitsvilla drew lakhs of aspiring participants from across India. Rajiv began appearing on the show in 2008 on the suggestion of MTV Roadies co-host Rannvijay Singh.
Rivals found it hard to match the twins’ good cop-bad cop energy, and the ratings rose. Yet, in 2014, Raghu and Rajiv ended their association with MTV Roadies after its 12th season and formed their own company, Monozygotic Solutions. Longtime fans were aghast and perplexed.
“The politics and vote-outs and losing in Roadies was traumatic enough,” Raghu explained. “But I left Splitsvilla particularly early after just two seasons. Roadies is one thing, but being dumped publicly was a more personal form of rejection. Suddenly, I saw myself as being exploitative for other people’s entertainment. Rajiv stayed a producer, but I left. I didn’t have the heart for it. That said, there is an audience for shows like Splitsvilla, and all the best to them. And it’s okay for someone to not like it, but to say that it shouldn’t exist or something is wrong.”
After two decades in the entertainment industry, with experience over multiple shows for MTV as well as Channel V and the digital space, what’s the legacy that the twins would like to leave behind?
“You tell us,” Raghu quipped. Rajiv elaborated: “Legacy is a tricky thing. We can imagine and want it to be a certain thing, but people will perceive us as they see us. I think a lot of people will say we started the screaming, abusive, rude shit on television. But maybe a lot will remember us for questioning the status quo of Indian television, giving new meaning to what it means to be real, and opening up new spaces for youth entertainment.”