The molten era of Annu Kapoor. That's what the caption read for a video that went viral in 2015. After seeing it pop up under various handles on social media, a little part of me became curious. As much as I had begun resenting that format of television, I finally gave in and clicked on it. The setting involved small boy singing AR Rahman's version of 'Mera Rang De Basanti Chola' from Rajkumar Santoshi's The Legend of Bhagat Singh. Just as he finished Annu Kapoor went on a jingoistic rant about Bharat Mata and how the kid deserved extra points for his choice of song.
Only after the commotion settles down do we realise that the 'talent' has been long forgotten.
Kunal Kohli (the guy who ruined Harry Met Sally) became the voice of reason on stage as he objected to being swayed by the choice of song. And he had a point. But Annu Kapoor obviously wouldn't have any of it and he raises his voice and says 'Iske upar nahi bolne ka!' The screen goes black and white and we're shown the pure rage on Kapoor's face and the shock on Kohli's face from various angles. Kunal Kohli made a dignified exit as Annu Kapoor went on another rant about deshbhakti. And when the camera cutto a close up of the kid who had just sung the song, is when you realise we forgot something.
Dramatised confrontations and fights sell more than any talent however sensational.
This is musical reality show meant to be a platform for those who normally wouldn't get the opportunity to showcase their talent show. As judges on the show, Annu Kapoor and Kunal Kohli are supposed to pick the best performances and give their take on each of them. Instead, they participated in this dramatic showdown which not only punctured the enthusiasm of all the contestants but also served as a fresh meat of entertainment for its viewers. What set out to be a talent hunt, became a contest between flaring tempers. But as the producers will tell you, it sells. A fight among celebrities sells faster than hot cake. It grabs more eyeballs than any performance, however sensational.
There are shows today which manufacture the confrontation out of thin air.
Such 'virality' for the lack of a better word, encourages producers to make more of such content and package it in the form of a show fit for Indian television. With Roadies, Splitsvilla or even Big Boss, these shows literally manufactured all the confrontation from practically nothing. MTV's Roadies and Splitsvilla peg their shows as another 'talent hunt' where they are looking at the most spirited youngster or the most desirable one.
Pegged as 'talent hunts' these shows grab eyeballs with their behind the scene footage.
But the real TRPs for the show come from the behind the scenes footage where the contestants are at the receiving end of some choicest of swear words, or are involved in altercations among themselves. Big Boss which is India's version of Big Brother, scripts a drama around the biggest trouble/news-makers of the time. And people love the voyeuristic pleasure of it.
Whatever happened to the reality show winners, most of them don't have successful careers.
I remember the kind of frenzy surrounding Indian television just a few weeks ahead of the finale of Sony's Indian Idol. We hadn't seen such madness, and the whole world seemed to have divided in two parts - Abhijeet Sawant and Amit Sana. 'Mohabbatein lutaunga' quickly got anthem-like popularity. 12 years later, runner-up Amit Sana is nowhere to be seen and the winner Abhijeet Sawant was last heard to have joined the student-wing of a regional political party.
With these shows, the producers get their TRPs and the talent is left out in the cold.
Not just them, none of the reality show winners have gone on to make it big after they were 'discovered'. The biggest success story is probably a certain Mr Rannvijay Singh who went on to host the very show he won. These shows make several promises to the contestants, give a peek into dreams they didn't think were possible and then there is silence. The show gets over, the producer has his ratings and the 'talent' is left out in the cold. Not before getting some of the celebrity mentors to fight on camera, and a healthy spike in TRPs for the channel.
Reality shows are a hollow enterprise, which function on the human desire to eavesdrop on the lives of strangers. Along the way if you can find some 'talent' then good. If not, then the bickering and the confrontations do the job.