Something happened last week on II4 - which was just hitting its stride mind you - that stopped everyone dead in their tracks. The last singer who could hold a tune without losing sur or occasionally issuing a croak, Rajdeep Chatterjee, bit the dust. Eliminated!
All of this came as a bit of a shock. Why? Two reasons. First: Rajdeep had been a judge favorite throughout the season. And for good measure. He has a pleasing if somewhat stiff personality. And he could sing better than anyone else on the show. Second: the hot favorite for elimination last week was Torsha Sarkar, possessor of a fine voice but also a highly nervous personality that led to numerous shaky performances. Just the previous week she had rendered a version of "Laila Mien Laila" so horrifically out of tune (3:30 in this vid) that it sounded like the opening bars of an alley cat symphony.
More horrors! One after one fellow contestants Kapil Thappa and then Sourabhee were ushered into the safe zone. And when the final name was read, Torsha jumped up for joy and that smile on Rajdeep's face - well it looked more frozen than a Slurpee.
So why did Indian Idol 4 lose all its good singers? To that question you might say: dude, you are missing the point. II4 has never been about good singers. Its been about decent enough singers who could be good. And to that I'll say: fair enough. But its still a singing competition - and you can only get so far unless you have a good set of pipes on you.
Let's zero in on the judges shall we? II4 has four of them: Anu Malik, Javed Akhtar, Kailash Kher and Sonali Behl. Anu and Javed are the card carrying members. The other two are temps - or at least in their first season. Both Anu and Javed bring tons of experience with them. This makes them ideal judges. But they are also - how to say this politely - professorial. Which is perfectly ok until we get to the root issue.
All season long, Indian Idol 4 has resembled a classroom. Students come in, take a test (i.e. perform) and then the teachers have a go at them. Like all teachers the II4 judges also seem have students they love and who can do no wrong and students who they hate and who can do no right.
What used to happen to teachers' pets? Most people in class disliked them - I remember issuing mock gags whenever a teacher used to issue a radiant smile at her favorite just for showing up. And what about teachers' whipping boys? I found myself rooting for them.
Rajdeep was the teacher's pet on II4. Sure he sang well, but even on occassions that he issued thanda performances the judges genuflected in his presence.
On the other side of the fence, an early season disagreement with Javed Akhtar landed Kapil Thappa in the hot zone. The judges played gilli danda with the poor guys emotions - berating for him for acceptable performances. At one point this got to be so silly that the charming train wreck of the season - Remo Ghosh - would molest a song and get green lights all over the place. Kapil would come in and do a decent job and he'd be staring down the barrell of a gun.
This kind of judge contestant dynamic existed in the previous season as well. But it was offset by the fact that the judges often got into fights - thus dispelling the notion that they were adults for long enough to not let the Classroom of Doom fiza to settle in. This year the regal Sonali Behl seems to have had a calming effect on everyone, inadvertantly issuing the show a disservice because now the judges don't appear so juvenile.
Add the fact that Anu has been getting petulant with the voting audience. Often he's lost his temper at the voting junta for not dispensing their duties correctly and not understanding music and sur. This often ended up looking like (a) he was digging into the viewers for not agreeing with him and (b) he was a teacher who played favorites with one student and looked down on the rest of the school! You could just feel the voting audience squirming in their seats.
If judging the man rather than the performance is the fastest way to lose credibility with the audience, disrespecting them is the fastest way to establish battle lines. As far as phaltu Drift theories go - mine is that the way the judges positioned themselves this year did poor Rajdeep in.
The audience voted for Kapil because the guy came out with full confidence, sang his heart out and just swallowed hard when the judges called him bhulla bura. They voted for Sourabhee because she is this year's Indian Idol. They voted for Torsha because they didn't empathize enough with Rajdeep (after all, didn't he already have the judges on his side?).
None of this bugs or bothers me. The entertainment quotient of Indian Idol 4 has steadily gone up with the season, thanks to the hosts and ironically enough the judges themselves. Its poised to deliver a fine finale. Entertainment, rather than delivering a genuine breakout star, may well be Indian Idol's destiny.