Now that Oye it's Friday! has mothballed its first season in the US (and a while ago in India), it's time to sit back in my armchair and point out what worked and what didn't. I recognize that its patently unfair to snootily judge the hard work of so many. Right, so moving on.
Farhan's show - OIF - is essentially a scripted talk show in the fine tradition of American Johnny Carson-esque talk shows. Everyone who keeps calling it a "unique show" or perhaps more amusingly - a "reality show", please no. Just about everything (format, presentation, heck even the way Farhan positions himself) on OIF is derived from David Letterman or Conan O'Brien - only focussed on Bollywood. Its not a bad thing at all, I mean look at how successful the IPL turned out to be. I'm just saying.
Produced by Endemol, India - who have been putting their reality properties all over the Indian TV-scape, OIF airs on NDTV and is easily the most glamorous show on the upstart channel's schedule. The importance of OIF to NDTV can't be overstated - nighttime talk shows are an underdeveloped market in India. But the tapping of the urban market by Bollywood makes it tempting to try and reach the same viewers on broadcast television. OIF is a way for NDTV to get there, establish an early grip in this category and make the channel a destination for commercial friendly, disposable income rich audiences.
So back to the show - OIF runs in the US about a month behind its Indian counterpart (here I'd like to suggest that the person behind this type of programming - which indicates basic disrespect for US audiences - should be rewarded with a vacation, a very long one). It is operated within a standard framework - it's taped in front of a live audience and the host is accompanied by a live band. There is the requisite stage with couches where celebrity guests are perched. The backdrop is the ghisa pita, urban skyline of many other talk shows (it is supposed to indicate a vibrant, happening city - a basic suggestion to audiences that they can partake in the urban party by just sitting on their couch and tuning in).
Farhan comes in - usually via some opening gag - does a mild stand up routine and announces his line up. There is a celebrity guest - an A-lister thanks to Farhan's own star wattage. There are sketches (on OIF they are called "gags"). There are performances - some by musicians and some by what look like European ex-circus acts.
OIF also features an item number - an idea that at first glance looks creatively vapid but later comes across as deliberate irony in Farhan's wink-wink presence. This is usually done by a starlet with accompanying dancers. The performers are - as they should be - a who's who of C-listers. I would like to see everyone who appeared in this song to show up as a performer on OIF. What OIF does really well is that as soon as the dance is over, the starlet is dismissed summarily - no maska polish, kem chho type of banter to stoke anyone's ego. Just appearing on OIF, the show seems to say, is enough of a time slice for the likes of you. Terrific!
Farhan positions himself as a Conan O'Brien - a genial goofball who is good natured, but not above pulling someone's leg in the name of fun. He tries everything, often verbally throwing stuff at his guests that may or may not work and just watching what will stick. More on Farhan's interaction with his guests later. But decked out in geeky T-shirt on shirt outfits, Farhan seems to create an fairly inviting space for his viewers. He shrugs off bad jokes and keeps at it with an enthusiasm that makes you root for him.
There are two types of guests on OIF that I care about. The celebs who are the centerpiece, and the starlets who are the item types. Most celebs, savvy to the nature of the show, submit to participating in sketches that poke fun at themselves. The ones with a funny bone will match Farhan's ribbing pound for pound.
Which leads me to one of the biggest issues with this show - it lives and dies with the personality of the center-stage celeb.
Invite Shahrukh Khan or a Priyanka Chopra, and they'll keep the show motoring along with wisecracks and generally engaging chat. Often a Mughda Godse will surprise you with her sparkling personality. But invite the reserved Ranbir Kapoor or the surprisingly stoic Katrina Kaif and the show just stops dead in its tracks. Somehow Farhan has to reach beyond his (lack of) history with his guests and deliver consistently engaging chats. The format of the show doesn't help in this regard - the banter is supposed to be light hearted. All celeb guests aren't comfortable with light hearted gup shup. Good luck, buddy!
It's in all the tangential references that OIF really shines. I loved the fact that Monica Bedi shimmied to a Rakhi Sawant song when SRK's arrival was announced with the music of Don playing in the back. In numerous episodes Farhan will ask his guest to do something they did in a movie that became really popular (Ranbir's towel dance in Saawariya, Katrina's Zara Zara Touch Me sashay from Race) - which becomes sharply funny against the backdrop of the terrific Mac Mohan cameo in Luck By Chance.
Often Farhan will recall those star kids birthday parties with his guests in which he partook. And if you are particularly bored, you can watch him closely to see if you can figure out where he was in the star kids hierarchy back in the day.
OIF has a house band - we don't get to see them much. And here I think OIF has locked up potential that may be worth exploring. After all, music is the centerpiece of Bollywood and its one endearing knight in shining armor (which is another way to say: we can all rely on the music to rock even when the rest of everything sucks).
Why wouldn't you invite a kick ass new voice to front up the band and then make sure they were seen? Can we have a Shilpa Rao, Manasi Scott or a Himani Kapoor? How about Blaaze or Ash King? (e.g. Raghu Dixit project on the show - good idea!)
There are two additional things in OIF worth mentioning - I love the set, which reminds me of the insides of that bad ass Alien from the Sigourney Weaver movie. It allows some visual momentum to be created when guests are coming in or being escorted out. Plus it looks cool!
Second, whoever does the outfits for the dancers is doing a fabulous job. Why I've felt like wearing some of them myself during Family Disco Night. But while we are talking about outfits, whoever is responsible for dressing up the guests - the ones who don't come in their own super-expensive outfits - can you please take a little more care? Either leave the guests in their own threads or find a jacket that fits them, yes?
OIF's Season 1 Episodes