THE ALTER-FACE OF CHANNEL REALITY SHOWS
A Short story By Rahul Sharma – Based on true events, feat: Reshma Raghavendra
All the incidents mentioned in the story are true to the core except few names and places, which are voluntarily changed so as to protect the identity of certain individuals.
1. THE DREAM:
“Every morning, I used to wake up like a new born baby and spend some time thinking who I am! “Well I’m a musician, in the making” utters my heart and I am all set for my day. Yes, there I see Shreya Ghoshal, Neha Kakkar and Arjit Singh in the distance, but being from a normal middle class South Indian family, with no many established trait of arts, say of any kind, I too tried to balance my career in music along with that of my studies. Music had always been part of my life and it has given me the social status which I do enjoy right now and I’m indebted to my parents and teachers for finding the ‘me’ in me.
However, each time I kept winning or heading various regional reality shows, I had to take my academic career along since I knew that I was living in a chaotic world. The art of balancing had always been tougher than the art itself! I’d completed my M.Com and was feeling incomplete and it was soon after my clearing of the UGC NET, I was affected by this ‘uncontrollable desire for my passion’ and I wanted to do something greater. This April, was a month of excitement for me, where I found this particular music reality show which recognizes the best music talent, say one of the most prestigious channel reality shows the country has ever seen post ‘Meri Awaaz Suno’ in cognizant with music! (I don’t want to mention the channel name and the program as well)
Out of the blue, I decided to give it a shot. As a normal Indian girl, I did never think much about it. Yet, I had that confidence within me, which kept me moving. “What if I’m a normal girl? What is not possible in India by being a normal girl?” I kept asking myself. I never wanted to settle down after my degree and get married to someone whom I don’t know. Instead, I always wanted to traverse in my own path, with my own desires. Confidence is that force one gets out of nothing. My previous achievements and all those appreciations and applauds I used to get from my audience kept boosting me.
I was glad enough when I was called for the auditions. I was super excited and then I calmed myself. Rigorous practice sessions and rehearsals filled the rest of my days. The day was approaching and I was busy drafting my plans. I was busy enlisting my songs, preferences and practicing them. As anyone could imagine, attending an audition that takes place at Mumbai itself could be considered as the first level of elimination for a ‘normal Indian girl’ from the south! I had to travel alone and that seemed to be a weird decision from all sides within the family. However, I am grateful to my Dad, who had allowed me wholeheartedly to travel alone, to stay with my cousin in Mumbai and to attend the audition! Yes, that is my Dad, every Indian girl would desire to have such a Dad and I’m lucky on that part. I felt like it was my responsibility to pay back the ones who loved me and I could pay them back by winning the show title! I aimed nothing lesser to the champion tag.
After doing a couple of overnight stage shows in Tamil Nadu, I took my flight to Mumbai, to attend my audition which was supposed to happen on the next day. I had 20 songs in my list which were all set perfect for me. I’d been practicing all of them for weeks so as to make myself unbeatable. I had to stay with my cousin who works on various shifts. It was so nice staying with her, who was alone there at that time and I had cooked food for both of us! (And at times you got to cook stuffs to ease yourselves!) That evening, I was relaxing and enjoying the Mumbai vibe from that apartment at Jogeshwari. Next day, I had the first two rounds of auditions and I was waiting with excitement and I was trying to imbibe the blessings of my well-wishers. My family, friends and people from my place kept wishing me, which kept me on the move.
2. THE REALITY:
The Mumbai heat was too scorching such that it could evaporate the body and soul as a whole! Knowing the consequences, I carried a couple of water bottles with me to the audition centre, located at Andheri (E). The Uber dropped me at the venue and I just walked in. The lady officials at the venue were showing great courtesy and I had felt that warmth. As I stepped in, all that I saw was a crowded population of more than 4000 people approximately. One third of them would be girls for sure I guess. For instance, I forgot that it was a music reality show- audition that is being held. Instead, I tried to recollect my statistics lessons and my mind was preparing bar and pie charts of the people gathered over there. There were people from the south as well. Unsurprisingly, there were few people whom I had defeated at regional reality shows as well! It was nice meeting and interacting with them. There were hundreds of male singers from all over India and many of them were looking like typical Bollywood models. There were girls who looked like supermodels and I was a bit confused whether it was an audition for a music reality show or for some Bollywood movie cast! I felt myself empowered within my Blue churidar. I felt thankful to all those boys who had ogled at me back in Kerala, and those yucky memories have now brought a confidence within me! “Appearances can be deceiving, you’ll be judged only on the basis of your talent” said my mind. I made up my mind, started interacting with few friends out there and befriended with few like-minded people I found there.
The ‘WAIT’ has just begun. The reality was pretty hard. All the candidates were waiting unconditionally for their names to get called. By the time I finished a bottle of water, I heard my name being called and went for the first round. Here there was a judge, sitting over there to evaluate me. With all strength, I had sung three songs. “Bhare Naina” being the first one, had swept the minds of the judge. I could read it from their faces and probably ‘the ability to judge one’s judge’ would be that one thing, I would have learnt from my previous channel reality show experiences! With ‘Raina beeth jaye’ and ‘Kamli’, I felt cloud nine when I was told that I was ‘IN’. Now I had to wait a lot for the second round. I am still not sure how many candidates got into the second round. It was nice watching other people being auditioned until I was exposed to the true business side of the reality! I got to see the judges’ remarks and got myself surprised! I got disillusioned when I saw the below average performance of a girl and the judges remarked it as ‘looks good’. There was another fellow who made laughter out of things and I saw the remarks as ‘for entertainment purpose’. We happened to see a lot more poor performances which were being accepted on ‘special grounds’! (Say for example, someone who could sing in male and female voice simultaneously). I was discussing the same with few other like-minded contestants I found there. At the end of the day, we realized two things: The first- was nothing, but the hard core reality that we will not be provided with any kind of food or refreshment and we ought to wait till midnight, unconditionally for the second round auditions without losing our ‘appetites’ to prove ourselves! The second piece of realization was the grave truth that the authorities were interested in not just spotting the genuine talents, but they were seeking for ‘other factors’ too which would boost their TRPs and that included purpose factors like ‘comic characters’, ‘good looking’ and various other stuffs on earth which included almost everything except music!
We were not allowed to leave the station for food and I was exhausted waiting like a hornbill since that morning. A thousand people were put in the same gaol since morning and I started feeling like we are being punished for something that we haven’t done! After 13 hours of long wait, I decided to order snacks via swiggy and that came like a ‘mirage’ in the scorching desert! The second bottle of water was about to finish and I was worried of my dried throat. However, I had kept an ounce of water in the bottle for last minute refreshment. “you should get through these to achieve it”- I said myself. I put myself in a meditative mode and sat there quietly. At the 15th hour of my waiting, I heard my name being called and I had given my second round audition in front of a single judge. “Bhare Naina”, one of my top priorities was my song again and the judge was overwhelmed and I was given a direct entry to the next level. I felt so glad that, however or whatever, at the end of the day, I could get through and now I could put myself on the roll for the third round which would fetch me there at the pinnacle for sure. By now, I had surpassed thousands of candidates and I felt like my Mumbai trip has turned meaningful. I had a gap day and the third round would be held on the day after. I managed to get an uber back to Jogeshwari, and I reached there post-midnight! I was extremely tired and exhausted, yet I could sleep peacefully. As AR Rahman Sir had said: “Ellaa pukazhum iraivanukk” (All credits to the almighty) and I felt that any girl with a genuine talent can reach anywhere and achieve anything in India.
I was relaxing peacefully at the apartments analysing the particularities of the auditions and discussing the same with other candidates and friends. Though I felt anxious and dubious regarding the ‘entertainment business thoughts’ involved in the selection that often abstracts the real talent, I was proud of myself as an ‘Indian girl’, and I wanted to prove it to myself and I was waiting for that to happen. Silent audition was happening on the other side as well, which included ‘other candidates’ who had already attended the auditions and all. They were given a kind of ‘special status’ altogether and it seemed fishy for normal candidates like us. Silent audition was a different ball game altogether and I don’t know how fairly it was being conducted. Imagine this was a national level audition where about four thousand candidates contested for the championship openly, while few guys enjoyed a privileged kind of status in the name of ‘silent audition’ and I am not even sure whether such a trend is appreciable or not. Anyway, I decided myself to groom up for the next day, round three!
Sun rose brighter in Mumbai and it was the crucial day for me. The game starts at 09:00 AM and that was what we were informed. I reached there by 08:30 in the morning and there was no any sign of competitions over there. As time passed, I saw dozens of candidates approaching. Girls were looking more beautiful that day. Boys appeared more handsome as well and I checked myself in that pink dress and said that I was not that bad indeed! After all, I was sure that we will be evaluated not just on the basis of singing but something else indeed. I knew nothing except singing. I am still a music lover and learner and that’s what I am and that’s what I will be. I heard that they were looking for people with ‘stories’ and I didn’t have any dramatic stories in my life to put in my bio.
We were notified that the third round audition has been postponed to that afternoon. Maybe the judges were tired of the previous night auditions and that could be the reason. I decided to wait and that was the least thing I could be doing and I was used to it! I was a bit anxious since I had to catch my flight back home that evening and I had to do check in by 03:30 PM. I wouldn’t have booked my flight on that day. It was just because the authorities assured me that the auditions will be over before noon, I did book my flight that evening. However, at the worst case, I was even ready to cancel my flight and I had made up myself for anything that could follow. Life has taught me a lot of things and I had always realized that whatever you do and how victorious you emerge, at the end of the day, you’ll have none by your side except your shadow. At around 11:00 AM, I discussed my plight with one of the channel officials and she had assured me that I’ll be called for the auditions by 1 o’clock at the maximum and I’ll be the first one to go. That news was a relief for me and once again, I felt happy for them.
The clock struck 1:00 PM and there was no sign of auditions happening and I was worried.
It was 01:15 PM.
There was no orchestra being set up.
There was no mic.
There were no speakers.
No judges showed up.
The world seemed still.
I was worried whether I was at the wrong place or what! I went myself to consult an official out there and she said that I will be called soon for my auditions without orchestra. I informed her that I could wait until 03:30 PM since I am done with my web check in. Though I said that I was not in any rush, it seemed like they were in a rush to send me out as soon as possible. Suddenly, I was called in and I had sung a couple of songs (Bhare Naina and Hai rama) without orchestra and mic. I was wondering like what was happening around. Only a couple of judges had showed up while I sang and after that, I saw three more judges joining for the candidates that followed. I had no clue regarding what kind of judgement they were going to make. With a frozen mind, I saw different candidates being measured on different scales. It was a music reality show and music was in the air! I saw judges making ridiculous comments on quality singers. I heard that few guys with mediocre performance had already made it into the next level through silent auditions and I really didn’t know what kind of drama was happening behind. I felt like a clown within a circus tent. Whatever stunts I do, people will laugh at me and that was what it meant for a ‘normal girl’ in India I guess. A normal Indian girl is no less to a joker for the narrow minded world around and that is the hard core truth.
All that I wanted was to return back home, remove the mask of the ‘winning contestant’ and to cry loudly. I left the place after few minutes, wishing few other contestant friends all the very best. I felt like the mud under my feet was getting washed away.
3. THE REALIZATION:
Today, back at home, I was checking the selection list and as expected, my name was not there. I didn’t get a call from them either. I was devastated. But I was prepared. I have learnt to stay close bound to realities. Life has taught me a lot as a small town girl. A normal Indian girl. Later, I came to know that all the quality singers whom I had met there were not selected. My fellow contestants were rejected too. Many of them too had to sing without orchestra and mic as well. I also came to know that few mediocre candidates were selected due to their strange voice features. Most of the candidates who got selected were from the ‘silent audition’ which appeared to be a ‘faking concealed tender’ in an auction market that bags the entire deal at the last moment! I was not bothered whether I was IN or NOT. What bothered me was the unprofessional method of selection they had conducted. Is this how a prestigious reality show is being conducted? Is this the way to deal with four thousand aspirants across the country? Is this the way the channel is set to increase their TRP? Is this the way talent is being evaluated in this country of diversities? Is this how the nation with the second largest population in the world is getting acknowledged on creative behalf? All these questions were left unanswered within my mind and that is what made me think of putting up my personal experience as a story. The problem is not just with the people, but with the system in its entirety. The system has to be rectified. In order to bring a change, the attitude of the public towards the system has to be changed and I guess my vindication would bring some sort of awareness among the readers at least.
I want nothing, but people out there to know how hard the ground realities are. How fake some ‘realities’ are! How devastatingly genuine talents are being obscured in this country! How much close an ordinary small town girl like me could get in touch with the pinnacle and lose it for being genuine! I wouldn’t have minded if I was rejected just because there were more talented people. I am concerned only because even people whom I found as more talented than me, got rejected for no reason! We are singers. We are musicians and music is what we breathe all through our life. I swear that no audition politics can take out the music from us.
Now, as I gaze along the accolades and awards in my showcase, I just think who I am.
I searched for reasons.
I don’t possess any special skills.
I don’t compromise.
I don’t have the pleasing factor of entertainment.
I am not an appealing kind.
And above all, I DON’T HAVE STORIES.
But, I should thank them. Because, now, I DO HAVE A STORY.
The story of an ordinary normal Indian girl from a small town.
The story of an uncompromising dreamer.
The story of a struggling musician.
The story of a struggling woman.
The story of genuine music.
Now I feel relieved. I have emerged stronger. I see my family out there welcoming me as usual. I see my friends loving me as usual. I see my teacher loving me more than before. I see the world as quite normal. Everything is fine in the world of art. Everything strikes the chord at the right time and when you are in sync with the universal time, there comes the music of your soul. Now I am listening to the music of my soul. Here on wards, I will never wait for anything. I just love the process but not the achievements. I don’t want anything for granted and I don’t want people to take me for granted as well. My awards are nothing but my invaluable audience who enjoys me singing. I owe my soul to my audience. I owe my life to music and that’s what I am here for and I will always be. Whatever comes in between, I don’t mind and I will be a singer for sure. Genuine talents will get recognized beyond the world of judgments.
To all those fellow musicians out there, I would like to say that, the world is out there for you- cheering up, waiting for your voice. Render your voice, do it for them. Do it for music but not for the fake games. Don’t waste your life in proving yourself before an unworthy crowd. Luck never comes as such. It comes through blessings. It comes through perseverance.
Remember, at the right place, at the right time, with the right people,
YOU’RE THE ONE!
(-as narrated by Reshma Raghavendra)
FOOTNOTE: Reality Shows of various kind had always been an inevitable part of the Television and the entertainment media across the globe since its inception. No wonder that the mainstream Indian and local channels kept successfully mimicking the west in various aspects. Reality Shows have provided great exposures to various genuine talents across the country which is a great fact. It has helped in bringing a lot of genuine talents from the unseen corners of the country to the limelight. However, the intended purpose of this perspective write up is not to demean any channels or shows as a whole, but just to point out certain shady realities and non genuine aspects that gets worked behind which abstract the genuine talents to a great extent.
When my friend Reshma, who expressed her pathetic personal experiences, after attending the audition of 'one of the most prestigious reality shows' in the country, I found a story in it which I felt should never be left untold. I think this is not just the story of my friend, but this also is the same story of any Indian girl who goes through various struggles to reach the top. Thus, I decided to put up this as a story to throw some light into the issue, where Reshma had provided me with the necessary feeds and she was more like a co-author in this process and I would like to extend my gratitude towards her for helping me to complete this and appreciate her for being so bold, so as to get it done without abstracting her identity as well, which I think is really admirable.
- © by RAHUL SHARMA
Picture courtesy: Internet(Picture for representational purpose only)