Reality Shows: Nothing real about it (IANS Column: B-Town)

These reality shows, are they for real? Well, they make real money for the channels as well as the judges who laugh all the way to the bank

There are all kinds of reality shows on various television channels. And there are a lot of aspirants for these programmes, too.

There is ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, where people dream of hitting a jackpot, and then, there are other reality shows such as ‘Indian Idol’, which promotes young singers, besides ‘India’s Best Dancer’, which shows little of dance, least of all the dances as we know in India, and more of aerobics and acrobatics.

KBC is, of course, a quiz programme where general knowledge questions are posed and the winnings increase with every right answer. There are lifelines for outside help and the programme is very popular, thanks to host Amitabh Bachchan’s iconic status and to the huge amounts in prize money.

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Also popular is ‘Indian Idol’, where Indian youth show their singing talent and get breaks in the entertainment industry. The dance programme may not be as popular, but is made watchable with huge sets and, now, even special effects added, the kind not possible outside a television studio.

In my opinion, the best special effects so far used were for the song ‘Sara zamana…’ from the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer ‘Yaarana’. What was special about the song was its choreography, apart from its melodious tune and Bachchan’s costume, which was illuminated with tiny lights.

It was not even the LED era. To add to that, when the crowds could not be controlled, the song had to be shot without the crowds. But it was a public performance song and could not be shot without an audience. So, what did the makers do? They lit the stadium with candles to make it seem like a crowded hall.

The idea has become very popular now, be it in cricket matches or other events. The only difference is that the viewers light up their mobile phones.

This was all about applying minds. It was not computer generated as it is the practice today.

So, what is the first criteria to qualify for one of these reality talent shows? Talent? No! Though that is what you are supposed to possess.

The primary qualifying criteria is poverty. You have to come from a poor, deprived, almost starving family, fighting for survival. I mean, you can sing and there are a dozen or so who also can. But that does not make for an interesting script for the show. A participant’s poor background does help the narrative and create sympathy around him/her.

To add to the effect, the participant’s home (usually ramshackle) is visited. And shot for telecast. Some kids are also made to dress to suit the narrative and to go with the sad family background for greater effect.

The participant’s parents are invited to be a part of the show and asked to narrate the story of their poverty.

Earlier, we used to say that a lot of filmmakers depict India’s poverty in their films. These were called realistic films, they were viewed and lauded by international critics and in the festival circles! It tallied with their perception of India then.

Now, there is this case of a 13-year-old lad who possessed a good voice and was keen to participate. The boy’s father, a well-placed marketing executive, thought too that his son had what it took. For the sake of the boy, he gave up his marketing job in Delhi and took one in Mumbai just to promote his son’s talent and to be close to the action.

A recording of the boy’s singing was sent to the programme makers and they too approved of his talent.

So, was he selected? No. He was not poor enough to qualify. He had no sad stories to tell about his poor background. Strangely, his father was asked to leave his job. Become jobless and needy! The father did not fall for the bait.

Okay, so what happens to those poor singers who participate? Do they make millions, do they make a career once the show is finished? Does a promising career await them?

None of the above in most or almost all cases. They go back as poor as they were when they entered the show, except for whatever they get paid when the programme is on and the decent meals and lifestyle while it lasts.

And what is the criteria to be a judge on such a show? They have to be well-qualified cry babies. They are needed to start shedding tears as soon as a participant narrates the story of struggles and poverty! Besides the songs that these kids sing, these judges shedding tears, I suppose, serves as the entertainment quotient in such shows.

As for KBC, it has its lure. One being meeting Amitabh Bachchan face to face. Then comes the prize money. Even the biggest duffer is assured of at least Rs 10,000 with four lifelines available. But there are those who have won up to a crore.

Now, there are no poverty stories on KBC, but, for some time, the show has shifted its priority in that direction. The concentration was mostly on rural participation and they had poverty stories to tell. Probably, the MNC sponsors wanted it to be so, though their product was too pricey for the poor of the rural areas.

As for the singing stars who emerge from these shows, what is their future after a few months of limelight? Unless they survive on their own grit, these shows guarantee no future. The judges who praise every singer sky high and, at times, promise playback assignments, are just following the script. Their words of praise are grossly repetitive and sound fake.

So, what are these judges doing here, for there is a voting system that determines the popularity of the contestants and the winner? These singing contestants render and are appreciated for the old-time melodies they perform on the show. In such an event, wouldn’t it be better if the anchor blabbered less and let more songs play?

As for a couple of music composers who judge these shows, they don’t seem to have it in them to tune melodies. And the show producers also invite a celebrity guest who praises every singer as if that was part of their appearance contract! No analyses or suggestions; just praise!

The music today is mostly cacophony! Maybe they can sing ad jingles because most television and radio commercials use old film melodies nowadays.

As for the dance reality shows, little said the better. They won’t even fit in a film dance number as background dancers, for no present-day hero has that pep to dance like them.

These reality shows, are they for real? Well, they make real money for the channels as well as the judges who laugh all the way to the bank.

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