Zee has Sa Re Ga Ma, Sony has Indian Idol. Can Star TV be far behind? In a bid to cash in on the popularity of music reality shows, the channel introduced Star Voice of India a few weeks ago , closely patterned after the other successful shows.
The dilemma producer Gajendra Singh found himself in was how to separate the show from the herd while still retaining all the elements that made the previous shows work. As with the others, there are several preliminary auditions where the singers are culled by judges. Ultimately a top 12 is voted on by the general public.
Seems pretty straightforward. But, as they say, the devil is in the details. And here is where VOI is so quintessentially Indian.
First, the show has 5 judges instead of the usual 3, named the ‘Panch Parmeshwar’ by some wag behind the scenes. While most sane people would try as far as possible to distance themselves from such a pompous appellation, the judges themselves are apparently dead serious about it.
In mythological style, divine battles ensue every week. Tantrums are thrown, walkouts are staged. Mind you, these are the judges we’re talking about.The men also make up with hugs and kisses, something that can happen among heterosexuals only in amchi India. The sole female judge, very unsubtly, scores the girls very poorly and reserves her nastiest comments for them.
The format is completely fluid, apparently being made up as they go along. This can sometimes lead to awkward situations where the judges pause mid-routine and ask,” Uh, ab hum kya kare?” After one contestant accompanied the performance of a particularly sexy number with coordinating body movements, one of the leering middle aged judges decreed that everyone else must ‘perform’ too; with the result that somehow a show to find a playback singer has morphed into Indian Idol Too.
At the end of the judges’ selections, instead of the ‘Bemisal Baarah’ there were 14 singers left, to everyone’s consternation(including the participants). A mad scramble happened to figure out whether to eliminate 2 more singers or find a rhyme for ‘Chaudah’.
Somehow everything got sorted out and now the audience voting rounds have begun. In true Indian fashion, the voting numbers are announced before the singers have performed and after their video biography is shown, pointedly revealing their place of origin. This is probably to ensure that there is no discrimination against tone-deaf people who may not be able to judge the singers by their merits.
Among all this chaos are the singers themselves, humble, hopeful and highly talented. They take the judges in their stride and criticism with aplomb. The talent pool is so deep that any of the guys or gals eliminated in the first round of auditions by the judges could out sing this year’s American Idol winner( which is why the Sanjaya Malakars of the world drive me crazy). The ‘Bemisal Baarah'( yes, they couldn’t find the rhyme after all) are truly outstanding. Only one winner is assured a playback contract but I imagine that the established artistes of the Hindi movie industry must be quaking in their Batas by now.
Which is why I still watch VOI and will continue to watch despite the fact I cannot vote in it. As for the crazy judges and the corny jokes and the gushing suck-ups, it’s all one big dose of Bharatiyana. When I can’t take it anymore, I’ll just fast forward.
(Star Voice of India is available through Direct TV’s Hindi Direct service.)