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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
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Sunday, August 19, 2007

The idol hunting season

The “find the annual music star” season is almost half way through. In India, Indian Idol, Star Voice of India, and Sa re ga ma, have all got another two months or so to go. The shows so far have all stuck to repeating the same concepts. The candidates have been fervent as always in their respect for the judges, raring to touch their feet at every sign; so much so, that I suspect that the studios would be quite pungent from the smells the candidates would release as they constantly bend over to touch all the judge’s feet. The candidates have finally resorted to appealing to communal feelings (Jai Maharashtra!) when making their vote appeals. There have been intense (most probably staged) fights between the judges in all the contests. The same list of celebrities appeared as guest judges for all three shows, their appearances timed with the release of their movies. And this time around all these shows had a brilliant innovation: re-entry of contestants once they had been voted out; a brilliant strategy to elongate infinitely such assembly line shows.

I am also astounded by the rate at which the contestants fall sick. Their frequent glorification of having caught an infection makes me seriously doubt whether government statistics on increasing life spans are correct. But, for me, the greatest moments in such contests are when the presenter is announcing the phone numbers for voting, the camera is on the contestant’s face, and he or she has to make impressive expressions in a “deer in a headlight” moment. The other thing I adore is the glorious tears shed by everyone when someone is voted out. I am amazed at the resilience of these contestants who after looking so dejected and suicidal when a fellow contestant is voted out, come back the next week, all smiles, dishing out another mindless dance beat.

The presenters and the judges in these shows constantly remind the audience of the need to select the right winner since it’s the nation’s pride at stake (WOW). Therefore, given the importance of such programs, there is an immediate need for our government to impose certain regulations on them. For instance, special high speed courts can be set up to settle the frequent fights between the judges (on the lines of TADA courts). Given the national importance of such contests, the parliament needs to debate on whether foreigners could be allowed to participate (so many Pakistanis on such shows). The participation of people in the selection process of idols has been abysmal; we still have only a few million votes after every episode. There are quite a few locations in India where more people vote for actual parliamentary elections than for such “vote your idol” contests. To correct such anomalies, voting in such contests needs to be made mandatory. The government must immediately make it compulsory to file proof of idol voting along with tax returns.

Also, very soon, private coaching institutes will start providing training for such contests and the government needs to support that by setting up its own institutes to generate mass singing idols. Other government art institutes such as the National School of Drama (NSD) have miserably failed to generate mass idols. So a new set of colleges, more in tune with the cable market, are required to nurture the country’s art scene. Believe me, it won’t be a bad investment, the contestants are the best citizens a country can have: versatile (can sing, dance and touch feet), religious, conservative, traditional, nationalistic, shiny-happy, loads of selfless do-good attitude and seemingly no viewpoint on anything else.

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