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 – 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 ‘classical’ (pronounce ‘klaasikal’) way by cheekily appropriating terms connected with Indian classical music with a lack of sensitivity that doesn’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.

Let’s first take a look at the greatly successful “Fame Gurukul” 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 “Gnyaan” 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 “taleem” or learning sessions! Hey, how about renaming the show “Forget Your Gurus Gurukul”? What? No? Aw shucks? That’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 isn’t enough to just sing. You have to be a ‘performer’ to succeed in today’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 “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005” on Zee TV, the other contest with a professed classical twist! Fortunately, this show doesn’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 “gharana” 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 didn’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 didn’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 isn’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 didn’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 guru’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 musician’s disciple as their own unless the disciple can prove that the transition is being made with the permission or “ijaazat” 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 don’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 “Chavvanni” Or “Athanni” wala song. If the makers of these shows are keen on promoting classical music, how come they haven’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 haven’t been fair to classical music so far! After all, it is reality TV and would make for great television!

Shubha Mudgal

Shubha Mudgal


  •    Reply

    i couldnt agree more shubha di.
    Music reality shows are used as a platform merely to promote and publicise films, make money through ridiculous voting systems and judged by obnoxious film stars who are busy displaying their insensitivity.
    A case in point being the talented Aneek dhar. Full marks to him for not losing his nerve when salman khan ripped his shirt off. One seriously wonders why the organizers of the show don’t object to such crude behaviour. No one- not even the mentors objected. Dear salman probably forgot that he was gracing a contest where the careers were at stake. All dignity was dispensed with as salman made a laughing stock of himself as well as aneek- and the poor child was made to sing without a shirt.
    Which actually makes me wonder what the point is of getting these stupid film stars to ‘judge’ such shows when none of them have the faintest idea of music. Oh yes- the promotions…the programme is used to promote forthcoming movies which is forced upon by the channels which in turn makes it hilarious. Can you imagine a sajid khan commenting on the finer nuances of music? i

    Doesnt anyone realize that these participants are roughing it out away from their loved ones, rehearsing all day, exhausted from performing at small towns and colleges to promote the show and garner votes while most of these shows are actually done only to promote the channel and NOT to promote the artistes. The poor kids are trained to give the appropriate sound bytes- the programme heads are clearly not the decision makers here but the channel is…and after the nail biting, anxiety ridden shoots that last for endless hours, the kids are subjected to irresponsible comments by arrogant and ill informed films stars.
    To add insult to injury, not only do the respected mentors allow such exhibitionism but also indulge in mock fights and mud slinging quite openly.
    Their manner of judging also is dispassionate and almost unkind at times.
    Gone are the times when artistes like Pt. Jasraj, Pt. Hariprasad chaurasia Zila khan, and even Naushad saab graced these shows and touched many hearts with their compassionate and gentle guidance. Artistes like you are rare didi, as are the above and we need you. To gently guide and educate us and let the youngsters breathe in the fragrance of the music, which helps us understand ourselves, understand the divine and liberates us.
    many pranaams,
    roop malik

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    It is not a space for the learned and the wise. Theirs is just to work quietly in the peace of their “Aranya”. And if they weep their “aranya-rudan” does not reach the ears deafened by frenzy in which the “flesh, fowl and fish commend all summer long” because India is no longer a country of the yore. Along with material goodness has crept in a moral, intellectual, emotional poverty that keeps them engaged with their TV sets and ipods. Even when institutions like http://www.omenad.net organize academic activities that concern the future of arts the citizens in this age of information stay curiously unconcerned. There was a time when the talented Eklavya hunted for Guru, today it is the Kurus who pronounce one as talented. In this “Andha Yug” who dares speak?

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    How does it feel to judge a talent hunt where the format of the show requires a mother to sing in order to save her child. Do you think there is a reasonable nexus between the talent of a child and conviction of the mother to save her child ? What happens to children born to mothers who have no ear for music ? Isnt the competition harsh on those kids ?

    •    Reply

      Harsh ji,

      From what I have been told about the format of the show, it requires the mother to not only sing in order to try and save her child, it could involve several other kinds of dares. I am told the original show called Mamma Mia, for which Star has bought a license, has horrifying dares where mothers spend time in a pit full of cockroaches and lizards. Fortunately, these aren’t the kind of dares that mothers on this show are expected to perform.

      However, to answer your question, I think this is a game show, and if the mothers accept to be a part of it as conscious, thinking adults, then there is no point sympathizing with one or the other mother who is unable to sing. I think it has to be taken in a sporting spirit, and not be treated as if it is a make or break situation.

      Since I am a mother myself, I was asked by the producers if I would perform a dare for my son (who is in any case not participating in the show) just to cheer on the mums. I refused because I am not comfortable with such antics, and neither would my son have been comfortable. And no one could force me to do so. The mums in the show had the opportunity to say no, and still do. They should exercise that choice if they wish to.

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