Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Oye its PJ! Why Oye Its Friday is important (although not just yet)

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.

The Framework

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!

The Host

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.

The Guests

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.

The Rest

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
  1. Hrithik Roshan
  2. Aamir Khan
  3. Shankar Ehsaan Loy
  4. Priyanka Chopra
  5. Deepika Padukone
  6. SRK Part 1
  7. SRK Part 2
  8. Ranbir Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Isha Sharvani
  9. Rock On!! Cast
  10. Katrina Kaif
  11. Karan Johar
  12. Sourav Ganguly, Kangana Ranaut
  13. Sonam Kapoor
  14. Abhishek Bachchan
  15. Shilpa Shetty


j said...

Now that dish network has started carrying NDTV Imagine, I got to catch a couple of these shows. Have to say very few indians are able to carry a Letterman/O Brien kind of show as you have to be intelligent, witty and have impecable comic timing. Fortunately Farhan has all.

This is such a niche for Farhan. Very few bollywoodians or indians can pick up this kind of a talk show format. Most indians are very guarded and most bollywoodians make uninteresting interview subjects.

I saw the Ranbir episode and liked how Farhan made an otherwise boring show interesting. The towel dance was very funny.

musical said...

Thanks for introducing me to another possible addiction ;). Does he do a monologue on his show? This reminds me, there used to be this show by Shekhar Suman, right? Somewhat on the lines of the late night shows. I just remember one episode (the only one i watched), where he interviewed KK. The show didn't leave much impression. But on my last trip home, he was on another show with Navjot Siddhu and that one was mostly a stand-up comedy routine.

Btw, what are your thoughts on Mr. Fallon?

Unknown said...

j, I agree - Farhan is well positioned to do this show. But he'll eventually run out of A-list celebs.

musical, I remember watching a few episodes of Shekhar's show but it didn't look like it had a live audience, most of the reactions were from a track, no? Nowadays Shekhar IS the paid audience, i.e. his job is to sit as a 'judge' on comedy shows and laugh.

Haven't watched Fallon yet, but as usual read all about it. All I can say is he's a very lucky guy. It takes much luck to make the kind of turkeys he did, bottom out in your career and still get a second shot at it.

j said...

And speaking of laughing, how annoying is Archana Puransingh's laugh. It pretty much turns me off from an otherwise good comedy show.

I think Farhan though should move away from the A-listers and bring in more current stars. Every Friday is a movie release, why not interview people connected with it. Same with music albums etc., Indian Idol contestants. You never know where you will find a good interview subject.

I liked the show where he had Sonam and Anoushka Shankar.

Unknown said...

Ah, crap I missed the Sonam/Anoushka episode. Curiosity abounds.

I agree about changing the pool of guests. My guess is that it has a huge impact on the TRPs. Why just look at the Dus Ka Dum producers scrambling to get big names now that Salman is in a particularly foul mood about the show and won't help them poach celebs.

Mind Rush said...

Interesting analysis. I always felt the difference between Letterman and Farhan Akhtar is that the stars come to the former for their own publicity. They come to the latter to " pay a debt" or to ingratiate themselves to a potentially powerful Bollywood magnate.

m said...

don't care about the rest but will watch the kangana episode sometime

rest of them i don't rly care.. like eg Deepika i like a lot but her interviews don't really appeal to me

Unknown said...

You should watch it, m. Kangana Ranaut's hair will someday get offered a role all of its own :)

Anonymous said...

I am stil giggling at the part about C-listers doing an item dance and then going away with no further recognition. I now really want to watch this show!

Unknown said...

I've heard they get paid to come and do the dance. I'll have to confirm this with someone - tremendous curiosity abounds.