Music reality shows do not serve as launch pads for talented artistes. They just create transient celebrities…

Historically, people have admired it when someone volunteers to struggle and suffer on their behalf. The romantic notion of the protagonist fighting against odds as representing the masses has time and again proved a successful formula for films as the spectators empathise with the character's trials and tribulations.

The same goes with a televised reality show high on drama quotient which is vicariously experienced by the viewers, contributing in the process to TRP ratings. The melodrama played out in these shows has given soap operas a run for their money, forcing them to concede prime channel time to the former. “The participants are from among us and unlike in the serials, they are for real. So we identify with them,” say avid reality show viewers, choosing to gloss over the gamut of questions raised over the merit of these shows.

“While my grandparents have always loved watching music reality shows [the most popular in Kerala], even imagining the little prodigies on TV to be their surrogate wards, they put up a stiff resistance when I chose to participate in one,” says Anjali, engineering student and quarterfinalist in an earlier edition of a popular music reality show. A casual entrant, she says she never allowed stress to get the better of her. However, despite obtaining a convenient shooting schedule, the show took a toll on her studies.

Tiring schedule

“In a way, I was lucky to get out just ahead of my exams. The gloss that you see on TV is just a façade; the experience is a little tiresome for the contestants,” she avers. “Generally, an edition of a reality show lasts almost a year, with as many as six episodes being shot in a day. In my case, the shooting was at a studio in rural Thiruvananthapuram. So, almost every week my parents and I had to commute between Ernakulam, where I belong, and Thiruvananthapuram for the shooting. The accommodation provided by the channel wasn't pleasant, what with four to five girls sharing a bed in a tiny room. The quality of food wasn't encouraging either. As the shooting schedule was tight, we didn't have the option to eat out,” she says.

While a range of reality shows are presented on TV, seldom do they transform into launch pads for budding talents, fashioning instead transient celebrities who fade into oblivion as new stars emerge to hog the limelight. A case in point is that of Pradip Somasundaran, currently principal of the IHRD-managed College of Applied Sciences at Vadakkencherry, and winner of the first-ever music reality show on Indian television, ‘Meri Awaz Suno', which was telecast on Doordarshan in 1996. A full 14 years after he was adjudged by a panel of judges comprising Pandit Jasraj, Lata Mangeshkar, Bhupen Hazarika and Manna Dey as the best male singing talent in India, he is still waiting for a break. “These talent hunts are largely inconsequential. I still have the contract signed by none other than Yash Chopra guaranteeing me a chance to sing at least one song in one of his future projects. But that day hasn't arrived yet. So, these shows are also about unkept promises,” says Mr. Somasundaran.

According to Joseph Thomas, IT professional and author of the popular free music website www.blogswara.in, which has brought out half-a-dozen music albums and launched fresh artistes, “if the music reality shows in Kerala do anybody any good, it is the TV channels, show sponsors and the permanent judges. TV channels get prime time viewers and thus advertisements and money. Even though no economic statistics of these shows is publicly available, what they spend is very little in comparison with what they earn. They get very talented people to perform for days and months for free, without paying a penny. The prizes are sponsored by business entities, so that is also covered. So the biggest grosser is the TV channel.”

Dubious prizes

“The prize offered, the villas or apartments, seems very tricky. We've recently heard a story of a winning singer not being able to move to the apartment he won because he cannot pay the taxes of the luxurious villa. Rumour has it that the sponsoring company would itself pay off the winner and get the apartment at a cheaper price. And we've heard how SMSing works in favour of telecom companies,” says Mr. Thomas.

Recently, a family comprising a mother and her four visually-challenged children that won a music reality show alleged at a press conference that they had not been handed over the villa that was promised by the channel. The channel, on its part, maintained that the family being cash-strapped was unable to pay the taxes and demanded money in lieu.

(All names changed on request.)

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