Saturday, December 2, 2006

Reality bites
Talent hunts, a rage on the small screen, make instant idols and celebrities of the girl or boy next door. But, do these riveting real-life contests, asks Srabanti Chakrabarti, bring real and lasting success to the winners. Or, do they merely provide two minutes of fame that begins and ends with the show.

The saying that there are no shortcuts to success, perhaps, no longer holds true in today’s television world. All you need to attain overnight stardom and fame is a victory in any of the reality shows on Indian television – be it Sony’s Indian Idol, Zee’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa or Star’s The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. In return you will get everything that you have always dreamt of – fame, money, luxury and stardom.

Finalists of Indian Idol on Sony TV
Finalists of Indian Idol on Sony TV

For instance, Zee Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li’l Champs recently got over with close to 50 lakh voters deciding on crowning Sanchita Bhattacharya from Kolkata. None other than King Khan Shahrukh crowned Sanchita (a 13-year-old student from Howrah – a suburb of Kolkata) as the Little Champ.

Needless to say, the girl mustn’t have dreamt of something like this before participating in the show. The usual flood of tears, flowers and smiles followed just after her victory and Sanchita returned home to Kolkata a few days later only to be mobbed by hundreds of fans. An open jeep ride with photographers and fans in tow, front-page splash in leading dailies, request for interviews from journalists — life sure was changing for this teenager.

But how long will this instant success last? Is it something like the artificial sweetener that gives you a taste of sweetness and then suddenly disappears? Or is like the good old sugar which takes time to dissolve, but the taste of which lingers till the end?

Though it’s too early to completely write off long-lasting success in reality shows (Indian Idol started two years ago and Shreya Ghoshal and Kunal Ganjawala were discovered at Sa Re Ga Ma Pa), it is generally seen that instant success does not last long. Sounds too pessimistic? Take this test – What is Abhijit Sawant, Indian Idol, doing these days? Or for that matter Ruprekha-Qazi, the winners of Fame Gurukul? If you don’t know what they have been doing lately, we have a case in point.

While all of those who have been winning these reality shows have accumulated a lot of wealth through stage shows and commercials, very few have successfully ventured into playback singing – the so-called acid test of an Indian singer’s success.

Sample this: while you might not have heard many a song from Rahul Vaidya — one of the most popular finalists of Indian Idol, his monthly earnings cross Rs 10 lakh. Sounds unbelievable? It won’t if you take into account the fact that as per his contract with Sony-BMG, he gets Rs 3 lakh every quarter and Vaidya has been doing stage shows all over the world, for which he charges close to a lakh per show.

Debojit Saha with Dia Mirza at Zee Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005
Debojit Saha with Dia Mirza at Zee Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005 

And he is not alone. Aditi Paul, another Indian Idol finalist also charges a lakh per show. So do Amey Date and Anuj Sharma — both finalists of Indian Idol 2. And their Sa Re Ga Ma Pa counterparts (Debojit, Vineet et al) are also not far behind. They too charge an equal sum for their shows. And if media reports are to be believed, even the teenagers of Li’l Champs —Sanchita, Sameer, Diwakar and Abhrokanti — charge more than a lakh per show.

But is this the only measure of success? Not really. And, thankfully, some of the participants realise this. As Vaidya was recently quoted in the media as saying, "I feel it is important to sing for movies to survive in the industry. I have sung in Shaadi No 1, Jaaneman and Jigyasa and also for a few television serials. But there’s still a long way to go."

Explains Debojit, winner of this year’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, which had seen as many as 1.2 lakh participants competing for the top slot, "Merely winning a reality show is not a yardstick of success. On the contrary, it is just the beginning of a career that can be successful. I believe reality shows give you a platform and nothing else. What you do after that is entirely up to you. Reality shows show you the way and it is entirely up to you how hard you work to travel on that road."

This is in line with what Vaidya has to say, "We have to approach the music directors ourselves, the channels don’t do that for us. But getting work has definitely become easier as music directors know us now."

Zubeen Garg, the voice behind the chartbuster Ya Ali, is, however, totally against these shows. "I don’t believe in these shows at all. If someone is talented, he or she will succeed irrespective of whether he came through a talent show or not," says the singer who had to struggle for more than a decade to carve a niche for himself.

This phenomenon is not limited to music talent hunts. The talent hunt shows for actors and actresses have not yielded very good results either. If you are interested in taking another test, tickle your grey cells to remember if you have seen Zee Cinestars Ki Khoj winners Sarvar and Aditi since they were crowned the topmost acting talents in the country. Though a number of promises were made about their launch through a big banner film, very little has actually materialised. They have been seen of late in the promos of the latest edition of Zee Cinestars Ki Khoj.

However, some of the finalists — like Naman Shah, Yuvika Chowdhury and Amruta — have got a foothold in the small screen. Comments Naman (better known as Nakul in Kyun Ki`85and Pushkar in Kasam Se) when asked how much reality shows helped him in his career, "They have definitely helped me. Thanks to Zee, my dream is coming true. They deserve full credit for training me and giving me a platform. But what happens beyond that is completely up to the person concerned — no show or channel can compensate for the hard work required to make it big in showbiz."

Is this opening the floodgates to dreamy-eyed teenagers who have over the years wanted to come to Bollywood to make it big in the film industry? Is this opening up of an alternate career path for teenagers? Is it an attempt to go miles away from my-parents-want-me-to-become-an-engineer syndrome? No one is ready to comment.

Encouraged by the success of Little Champs, Star TV has teamed up with Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) to kick-start a new show — Rin Mera Star Super Star. The programme is supposed to be a nationwide hunt dedicated to unearthing talent in children aged 5-14. It promises to offer a national platform for talented children to showcase their potential in three categories — singing, acting and dancing. The winning contestant will get a scholarship of Rs 5 lakh to help pursue their dream of becoming an artiste or going for higher education.

Scholarships notwithstanding, what happens to the studies of participants and winners is a different story altogether. With offers of stage shows pouring in, it would really be very difficult for the likes of Sanchita and Sameer to complete their studies.

Their elder counterparts are no better either. Amit Sana (Indian Idol runners up) quit his engineering degree course to join showbiz. Same with N. C. Karunya, runner up of Indian Idol 2. And Rahul Vaidya, thanks to the hectic schedule he has to keep, couldn’t even finish his plus two exams.

But these reality shows have definitely done to music what cricket did to Indian sports a decade or so back — glamorised it to such an extent that everything else looks pale in contrast. Remember the early 1990s (and the trend is still continuing) when mothers used to rush their kids to the closest cricket coaching camp in a bid to produce another Sachin Tendulkar or Sourav Ganguly? The same frenzy and mass hysteria is now continuing with reality shows. Without venturing into the propriety of such a trend, one can’t but comment on the fact that if it were not for instant fame and money, these shows wouldn’t have been so popular.

All said and done, there’s little doubt that these reality shows are encouraging kids to take up an alternate profession — different from the routine jobs related to engineering, medicine or MBA. But whether the model is sustainable or not, only time will. We have already witnessed a number of IIM graduates joining the showbiz as marketing whizkids. Perhaps the day is not far when parents will prepare their kids for reality shows in the same manner as they burn midnight oil today to see their kids sail through JEEs and CATs.