Talent Hunt Epidemic
The much beleaguered world of Indian classical music, struggling to keep its head up in the face of all odds, has now been dealt a spate of cruel blows by an unlikely enemy â€“ the hugely successful, steadily burgeoning string of talent hunts on virtually every television channel in the country. At least two of the many talent contests on television channels have decided to go the â€˜classicalâ€™ (pronounce â€˜klaasikalâ€™) way by cheekily appropriating terms connected with Indian classical music with a lack of sensitivity that doesnâ€™t surprise me in the least. What does amaze me is that the many purists and traditionalists and great vidwaans of Indian music have stood mute witness to this bold daylight robbery, and at times have even aided and abetted it without so much as a murmur.
Letâ€™s first take a look at the greatly successful â€œFame Gurukulâ€ on Sony Television. I have a big axe to grind with whoever coined the name for this show because he/she or they obviously never went to one. Why does one go to a gurukul in the first place? I would imagine it would be to obtain â€œGnyaanâ€ or knowledge, wisdom, mastery, skill and expertise, but certainly not fame or money. The knowledge gained from the gurukul may then prepare the learner for a life of success and fame and glory. But nowhere in the Indian tradition does one hear of a gurukul for fame alone.
Further, a gurukul is always presided over by the guru, a Master who imparts knowledge to disciples. Not so at Fame Gurukul, if we are to believe what we see! Frankly, all I have been able to see of the two young gurus at Fame Gurukul are the briefest and often most apologetic shots of two young individuals, one male and the other female, seated occasionally with one or the other participant across a harmonium. More television time is given to the horseplay between the participants or even their outings and shopping sprees than to their actual â€œtaleemâ€ or learning sessions! Hey, how about renaming the show â€œForget Your Gurus Gurukulâ€? What? No? Aw shucks? Thatâ€™s too many syllables, says the numerologist? Sigh!!!
Worse still, the young participants are made to dance and gesticulate while singing with the admonition that it isnâ€™t enough to just sing. You have to be a â€˜performerâ€™ to succeed in todayâ€™s world. By that logic, it would not just be difficult but well nigh impossible for Lata ji, Asha ji, Rafi Sahab, Mukesh ji, or even Shankar Mahadevan and KK, two brilliant singers who also judge the Fame Gurukul contest, to win had they been participants. All the recording and dubbing sessions I have attended have had most singers come in and stand in front of a mike and deliver the song without any of the shenanigans that are now forced on the young Gurukulites. In fact, as far as I can see, the poor young things might have been able to sing a trifle better had they not been made to swing and shift around unnaturally.
And that brings me to â€œSa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005â€ on Zee TV, the other contest with a professed classical twist! Fortunately, this show doesnâ€™t insist on having the contestants gyrate while they sing, and that perhaps is one of the reasons why we hear some better singing on this show. Unfortunately, that is also one of the only good things I can say about the show because on this one the five mentors namely, Aadesh Shrivastava, Ismail Durbar, Jatin-Lalit and Himesh Reshammiya, all successful music directors for Indian films pose as Gharana specialists. The term â€œgharanaâ€ is typical of Hindustani classical music and denotes a distinct musical style taught to members of a family or to successive generations of disciples. A gharana, we are told by the old and wise, comes in to being only when at least three generations of musicians follow the same style. But director Gajendra Singh obviously didnâ€™t listen to the old or wise, did he, when he decided to bestow gharana-dom on the five willing mentors he chose for his show? They didnâ€™t even bother to analyze whether they had a distinct musical style to claim as their own. After all, musical styles are not created on the fast track. Not only does it take decades for a musical style to evolve and mature, but a pre-requisite of a gharana demands that several generations follow the same style. How come there isnâ€™t any R.D.Burman Gharana or a C. Ramachandra or a Jaidev or even a Vanraj Bhatia Gharana? All of these composers had unique musical styles that were typical of them. And yet they didnâ€™t claim to have formed gharanas! What are these mentors hoping to teach their young charges? Music, musical style or sheer arrogance and swagger? As mentors, they have a responsibility towards their charges and the least they should do is to give them accurate information about music. And to be able to do so, they will first have to relinquish their claim to being leaders or founders of gharanas.
Another pseudo classical touch to this show is the little puja that each participant is made to undergo with his or her mentor, modeled on the gandaa-bandhan ceremony that students of Hindustani music observe when they are formally inducted into the guruâ€™s extended family. The five mentors on Challenge 2005 willingly go through this sacrosanct ceremony on television, heedless of the fact that their charges may have been learning for years from some other guru and will probably go back to the same guru after Challenge 2005 makes way for Challenge 2006 or whatever else is to follow. Surely they are aware of the protocol followed by Indian musicians? No honorable musician accepts another musicianâ€™s disciple as their own unless the disciple can prove that the transition is being made with the permission or â€œijaazatâ€ of the former guru. If the director of the show is unaware of these niceties and etiquette, surely the mentors themselves could point out the weak links, coming as some of them do, from families of classical musicians.
I must point out here that I donâ€™t have the slightest intention of pulling down talent hunts. I have nothing against them and the fact that they are acquiring epidemic proportions is proof enough of their popularity. What I am protesting about is the long lasting effect they will have on young minds. Two years from now people may believe that a gurukul is a space on television where you do the most embarrassing things you have ever done in order to be declared a Super Singer or an Idol or a Golden Voice who finally gets to sing a â€œChavvanniâ€ Or â€œAthanniâ€ wala song. If the makers of these shows are keen on promoting classical music, how come they havenâ€™t ever thought of presenting a show dedicated to true blue classical music? Thousands of deserving young students who devote their lives to the serious study of Indian classical music would benefit from the opportunity and we would all get to hear some good music too in the bargain. Anyone listening? Mentors, directors, sponsors, heads of channels? If you are, how about bursting into tears on the show and admitting that you havenâ€™t been fair to classical music so far! After all, it is reality TV and would make for great television!