Friday, November 23, 2007

Religion and Star Voice of India - Unholy Milawat?

Sidekick steps on her soapbox to protest VoI's regional and religious play for votes

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been troubled by VoI’s vote grubbing techniques. For me things came to a head with last week’s road shows. Saritha wanted to know what I meant by that, so here goes. If nothing else, it is another reminder to be careful what you wish for because I’m stepping onto my soapbox (which I do every now and again!).

My peeve against Star is about how the show presents its results and incites SMS voting. No secret that these reality shows make pots of money from the SMSs and this is purely an economic game: more votes = more profit for the channel. However, is it too much to ask for some modicum of social responsibility? How so, you might ask.

Well, SRGMP split voting results between International voters and India - not a huge problem in my mind. Given the composition of the audience, the Indian votes are always going to be decisive and it’ll be a cold day in hell before a non-Indian, much less a Pakistani, wins the show. Poor Amanat never did stand a chance.

However, Star VoI plays a much more insidious game. The show first presents votes from the “neutral” zone and then unveils the biggie – the home state’s contribution. Again, no secret that the typical Indian or desi abroad is terribly parochial, whether it is politics or a reality show - we vote along regional, religious, state,..., lines. Isn’t it then duplicitous of judges on the show to implore voters to choose based on merit and then incite the concerned states to support their home grown candidates?

On one episode I recall Alka Yagnik bemoaning the fact that Irfan was not getting enough support from Andhra Pradesh. Duh! Hey Einstein, Hyderabad is the solo Hindi pocket in Andhra. The rest of South India doesn’t care a fig about Hindi reality shows. They have other regional fish to fry.

It got much worse this weekend with the Ludhiana and Banaras road shows. This time not only were regional and linguistic allegiances called into play but a new one - religion got drawn into the mix. Cries of “Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal” in Ludhiana and “Har Har Mahadev” in Banaras were rending the air. Even if the religious connection was only implicit up to this point, it was made explicit by all concerned this week.

The worst offender of course was Aadesh, aptly titled the hooligan by Saritha. He led the “Har, Har Mahadev” chants and freely invoked Ganga maiyya and Saraswati ma (although not Lata Mangeshkar this time!). His disintegration began right at the start when he announced that he was bringing with him the good wishes of Amitabh Bachchan ---- huh??? Whether that was to strengthen the UP connection or it was to prove how he is so well connected in Bollywood, to me by the end of the show Aadesh seemed irredeemable.

I’m capitalist enough to acknowledge that the channels will follow the money, but I’m also secular Hindu enough to regard gratuitous dragging of religion into the mix as truly despicable. Even without Sony’s active participation riots broke out in Shillong and Darjeeling over the II3 finalists. It is not as if people need much help to get belligerent or even violent over their local candidates.

It is indeed fortunate that VoI is not raking in the TRPs because I shudder to think of a full-on clash between Ludhiana and Banaras much less between Punjab and Uttar Pradesh! Oh, well time to step off the soap box. If you’re still reading, this is your cue to breathe a sigh of relief and mutter “Not a moment too soon”



Tania said...

Sidekick and others,
Call me biased if you want, but aren't all these shows about being regional anyway. I see commenters here loving their favorites not becuase he/she is a good singer, but becuase he/she speaks the same language or followed the same religion(don't want to spoil Aspi's blog with further name calling). In SRGMP Punjabis supported Harpreet becuase he was a Punjabi, Muslims supported Raja and Amanat( both in India and out of India) becuase they were Muslims and when it came to Aneek winning the votes, people called the Bengalis regionally biased.
Regionalism and regional biases will exist you be anywhere in the world.It will happen when you bring in a bunch of desis and goras in a show in US , the desis don't stand a chance unless they are Christians.

Unknown said...

Tania, you're right of course. But I think Sidekick is protesting making it a show's official policy and playing it up.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Aspi. Yes Tania, you're probably right that the channels are only tapping into our ingrained natural affiliation. Logical corollary --- so what's the big deal?

Call me an idealist, or just impractical - that sort of name calling is A-Okay :D. I do believe by khule aam stoking of these allegiances, the channels are a) increasing the strength of allegiances that may only simmering and b) more importantly granting legitimacy to such allegiances taking precedence over merit. If we truly want to be a meritocracy and rise above that crab like mentality of pulling down out groups, it starts here.

And now I sound like a 2 bit politician or worse yet a preachy goody 2 shoes and that makes me laugh --- at myself! Sorry, I have trouble stepping off the soapbox when I get onto it :P

Anonymous said...

Wow Sidekick,very interesting.I think its not nice at all to bring in religion and region into the picture.Irfan was right...he belonged to India (tho see where it landed him).
I think Gajji also has a special technique to ensure that the judge's favourite/better singer wins. In the Little champs episode, when Diwakar and Sameer kept getting votes, he cleverly announced that the girl was lagging behind. I am sure the boy;s supporters got complacent, and Sanchita got more votes, so fiinally she won...she was of course the better singer.
I find that even in VOI Ishmeet is being announced as the leader, esp in the I am sure lots of people will vote for Harshit to make up the gap, and ultimately he will win. Of course he does have a much more powerful voice than Ishmeet.

Anonymous said...

Sidekick, Great write up. I definitely second your sentiments.

Anonymous said...

Sidekick,as I watched parts of the finale, I understood and appreciated what u said.....I second ur opinion totally!Of course I was also proved wrong. I thought Harshit would win.

Anonymous said...

Hey wheres our VOI expert? Saritha, how can u be absent today. Just like the non=playing cricketers appear on all the news channels after a match, giving their expert comments, I was expecting u to be here giving ur views and analysis on the results.Come on board please. Sidekick, u must provide the technical analysis!!

Anonymous said...

Seems like Indians have a special fondness for singers who maybe nice people but have a very weak voice.First Prashant and now Ishmeet. Only some songs suit them.

Anonymous said...

I think this show has earned enough merit to be renamed as "Vices of India".

Anonymous said...

i agree with tania...aspi..even in american idol..sanjaya malakar was voted out...only the homegrown people will win in ANY part of the world you think in the pakistani version of SRGMP (if ever it happens), any indian would stand a chance?so why single out amanat? it or not even tho he was good..i think people have a right to vote their own,after all they are paying for the privilege thro their nose...its just that the shows are misusing this instinct to fill their coffers!

Anonymous said...

Sidekick,welcome to blogging.Terrific post- you shd step onto ur soapbox more often:)

wrt Irfan,Iam not sure how many have seen the show.Agree that hindi(hyderabadi hindi,more so) is predominant in hyd,not many of them follow these shows and even if they do,not many vote for these contestants.My friends and family said "It doesn't matter,a SI will never win,so there's no point in voting" Dont ask me why they'd think so.

When II2 finalist Karunya went home before the finale,he was greeted with fewer people as opposed to the thousands who came to see the other finalist Sandeep acharya in Bikaner.Karunya gave up long before the GrandFinale after watching Sandeep's stern support from his hometown.In any case,there's no harm in favoring the contestant from ur region me thinks :)

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

anu g, mind rush, as, minnie, saritha, - many thanks for yr comments! i was traveling over the thanksgiving break and am only just catching up!

saritha, i agree with yr peeps that it will take a near miracle for someone fm south india to win - there just isn't the sort of craze for hindi reality shows that drives people to open their hearts.... and consequently wallets. if anything the fact that amanat on SRGMP and karunaya on II2 made it to the finals is both a sign of their phenomenal talent and to an extent the maturity of the audience.

minnie, i agree that it is no different in india than on AI in the US. A Indian in a Pakistani show will likely fare much worse than Amanat did here. I can even live with channels misusing this to fill their coffers, it's using the flaming sword that is religion to do this that troubles me, esp. in the times we live in.

Anonymous said...

saritha, i hope u're doing one last hurrah for VoI. the finale was worth it just to see the beauteous madhuri who played gamely along with shaan in ratcheting up the suspense while announcing the final results.