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My heart goes out to Debojit

By Mahesh Peri
Last updated on: February 02, 2006 23:28 IST
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A couple of weeks ago, I watched an episode of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa on Zee TV. It made me sit up.

Crass commercialisation, ignorance, lack of finesse, jingoism. You name it. It had it all.

One lot of contestants gangs up against a singer from the Northeast. A couple of composers gang up against a fellow composer with greater credentials. And the channel peddles all this drama for television ratings.

The loser was India and Indianness.

Reality stars earn BIG money

Agreed, that Sa Re Ga Ma Pa is the best music programme on television. Agreed, that it has given the country the most number of playback singers. Then reality television hit the marquee. After Sony's Indian Idol, even the leader decided to change. And how.

Sa Re Ga Ma is a programme where you can vote for your favourite singer. A caveat: You can vote as many times as you want as long as money is not important to you or if it is balanced by your relative/friend/son/daughter becoming the winner. It is rigging, permitted by the rules.

On each episode, the show declares the vote share of the contestants. Only in the case of Debojit, a contestant from Assam, they also disclose the votes he receives from the Northeast. For the other contestants, the show reveals the votes they receive from places other than their hometowns, which don't even add up to 30 per cent.

But in Debojit's case, they announce the votes he receives from the Northeast, over 70 per cent. No such revelation is made about the votes Vinit receives from his native state, Uttar Pradesh, or Hemchandra receives from his home state, Andhra Pradesh.

You also have three more characters: Himesh Reshamiya, Aadesh Srivastav and Ismail Darbar, an integral part of the drama.

War of the music composers, literally

Himesh Reshamiya pleads Vinit's case so that the lad can get the girl he loves to say yes. Vinit, who is from Reshamiya's gharana, is all of 17. His voice croaks, thanks to his age. Even poor renditions of great songs by Vinit sees Reshamiya applauding, all for the cameras, you and me.

On the episode aired on January 19, Zee announces Debojit's vote share from the Northeast. It is upwards of 70 per cent. The other three contestants decide to walk out because the voting has a strong regional basis. The Northeast consists of seven states and yet Aadesh Srivastav equates Assam with the entire Northeast, demonstrating his ignorance.

One young lady screams on the show: 'It cannot be Assam's voice, it has to be India's voice.' Young lady, why then don't you blame the folks who vote for some dubious individuals to come to Parliament? And why didn't you vote many more times to take on the might of the seven northeastern states that are as integral a part of India as Maharashtra or Delhi are?

Can the other three contestants say they got a lesser vote percentage if they add up the vote share of the seven states that voted for them?

Debojit is aghast at his isolation by his fellow contestants. He weeps on his wife's shoulder. Ismail Darbar tries, in vain, to put things in perspective. He is heard shouting, 'Kya Assam India me nahin hai kya? (Isn't Assam a part of India?)?' The director of the show then appears on the floor, microphone in hand, and tries to argue with the judges and contestants. All this is supposed to be natural, impulsive.

The contest has turned into a battle between the upright Ismail Darbar, who understands music better than all the others on the show put together, and the rest. It has turned into a battle between one contestant from Assam and the rest.

Jarring notes on Sa Re Ga Ma

Two years ago, I saw American Idol where the three best singers, all Black, featured in the bottom three. It sparked off a huge debate in America. The Black American felt he did not belong to the larger American community. There, the judges cried. Here, our judges encouraged it.

The consequences are tragic. We will further alienate people from the Northeast -- all the seven states. We will further alienate Muslims. All this drama on prime time television. All for television ratings. All to get noticed.

My heart goes out to Debojit. To the Northeast. To all the good singers. To Ismail Darbar. But I won't vote on Sa Re Ga Ma just as I don't give alms to beggars. The consequences are grave.

Welcome to reality television.

Mahesh Peri is the publisher, Outlook magazine. These are his personal views.

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