Friday, November 04, 2005

Indian Idle

If none you use an Airtel connection on your Mobile Phone, you might sympathize with me. If you use Airtel, you will empathize with me. In either case, I hope you don't dismiss it as the ramblings of an incorrigible sceptic. But ever since I've started using my mobile phone, I've been getting messages like "Abhijeet Sawant ke saath ek rangeen shaam bitaaen", "Abhijeet Sawant ko vote dene ke liye 09446373518 pe Abhi type karke SMS bhejiye" at annoyingly short intervals. In fact, I wouldn't mind approaching Yahoo to design a spam guard for my message inbox.  

Welcome to Indian television. It was widely believed that the 21st century would see entertainment standards scale giddy heights, in terms of both technology and quality of entertainment. Sadly, the upgradation seems to be in an infinite loop with Stage 1 as the only code block. Inspired by the Reality Show concept, which worked wonders for AXN, major Indian channels have taken a fancy to creating superstars of common men.

Their aim: To give talented youngsters an opportunity to taste fame.
Their definition of fame: 20 crore SMSes from the Indian Idles, streaked hair, a cover story in a leading magazine, high TRP ratings for the channel, plenty of fuss about how The Show transformed them from the-girl-next-door to national icons, interviews on major news channels, etc.
The promise: an album/a movie with a big label, loads of cash, streaked hair, a car, etc.
The contests: Popstars I & II (Channel V), Indian Idol (Sony), SuperSinger(Channel V), Fame Gurukul (Sony)

It is sad to see that the country is accepting singers as idols. With all due respect to the profession, singing is easier than a lot of other things in the world, and definitely not worthy of idolatry. While TV watchers watch the programme more for the drama and politics shown than to fervently hunt for the best singer in the country, the TV channels claim that Reality Shows is the best way of picking jewels from the sand. Unlike singing competitions like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, the judge in most of these shows is the junta who may know as much about singing as I know about Hebrew. As a result, contestants are judged on a number of parameters other than quality of singing. A contestant who endears himself to the public (by being saccharine, public-savvy, and fun-loving) stands a much better chance than an excellent-but-introverted singer. When questioned about the veracity of their selection process, channels say that the winners will entertain the public and hence the public must choose its preferred entertainer. It doesn’t seem to matter that after their first stage show and the first song of their first album shown for the first time on TV channels, the champions are remembered as much as Ganguly’s last century is.
On this count, even shows like Popstars, where an expert panel was the sole judge, have failed to sustain the hype they created around the winners. After one album with music by Shankar-Ehsan-Loy, Jatin-Lalit, Salim-Sulaiman, Sandeep Chowta, etc. and lyrics by Javed Akhtar, the five Popstars (Viva) were left to fend for themselves. The deal was, ‘we give you a launch-pad, you take the leap.’ But the launch pad launched them with the escape velocity and none of them are on the radar of popular entertainment today.

It is assumed that the winners will be so impressive in their debut album that music directors will queue up with blank cheques. Or Sony and EMI records will fight to sponsor their next album. However well Qazi, Abhijeet, and Neeti sing, Jatin-Lalit will always pick Sonu Nigam and Asha Bhonsle and Sandeep Chowta will always pick Sukhwinder Singh. Most of them, thus, are reduced to be just one-album wonders.  

Two members of Viva left the band, Pratichee cut a solo album with shaded eyes, streaked-hair, fancy clothes, and pathetic sales. Mahua, Neha, and Anoushka (who bunked her board exams to appear in the screening) are non-entities.

Aasma, born from Popstars-II, cut an album (including the (s)hit single Chandu ke Chacha) and now rely on appearances in tele-serials for sustenance. They may be cutting another album but who cares? People were charmed by Neeti’s vivacity, Vasudha’s simplicity, Jimmy’s cool-dude attitude, and Sangeet’s smile. That all four of them can sing better than I is just incidental and insignificant.

Abhijeet Sawant (Indian Idol) may sell his debut album on the back of the video of his first song, but after that Indian Idol-2 will be announced and people will have little interest in persisting with Abhijeet Sawant. The junta is more excited about watching Indian Idol-2 and Fame Gurukul, than about checking on Abhijeet’s progress. My mother voted twice for Abhijeet but didn’t even consider buying her darling’s album. I’m sure she’s not alone. Amit Sana and Rahul Vaidya (the other winners of Indian Idol) also released their albums, but people are keener to know how Qazi, Rex, Ruprekha, Arpita, and Arijit are faring in Fame Gurukul. Qazi and Ruprekha have been declared the Fame Jodi by the Indian public.
So what are they doing these days, Ma?
Don’t know beta, anyway Indian Idol-2 has started.
*But Ma, you voted 10 times for Qazi, don’t you want to see his songs?
The messages from my mobile phone are free, the CD is not. Anyway, I voted for Qazi because he was the cutest of the lot.

Credit must be given to Channel V’s Super Singer for two reasons.
  1. Very little hype was built around the programme and the winners. I wonder whether that was planned or incidental.

  2. The winners are genuinely good singers with a bright future in the Hindi playback industry. (Unlike Ruprekha who has a big heart, Abhijeet whose face is very expressive, Qazi who looked adorable when he cried on stage, and Rahul Vaidya who looks a little like Sonu Nigam.)

India is a nation deprived of true idols, and the entertainment industry is not helping matters. If private channels are not regulated now, we may find the next generation answering to the standard what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up with I-want-to-be-Abhijeet-Sawant. There is no denying that the visual medium is the most far-reaching and powerful means of communication and entertainment. TV channels unfortunately equate entertainment with Shahrukh Khan, songs, and dance. It is time for Doordarshan to step in and produce short films on the life of Dhirubai Ambani, Jamshedji Tata, CV Raman, Narayana Murthy, Dhyan Chand, VS Naipual, Girish Karnad, Rabindranath Tagore, etc.; to appreciate existing idols before creating new ones. It’s sad that such biographies are labeled ‘Documentary’ and thrust to an insignificant corner on Discovery and History Channel. It will be nice to see a popular channel like Star taking the initiative of upgrading the quality of entertainment on TV. Singing contests interspersed with quizzes, biographies, even laughter shows, will serve well to improve the standard of television. But for this, somebody must give Peter Mukherjea and Subhash Chandra a strong wake-up call. They say they air Reality Shows because the public wants to see it, and the public says it watches them because they are shown on TV. Passing the buck will only tear the note.
All that is needed is an Ekta Kapoor-like transformation, but this time to undo the spell she has cast over the Indian audience.

*She did not.