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The acting circus

Hunting talent for treasure. That is what many channels are doing, says ANUJ KUMAR

MUMMY, I am on T.V. Beta, you have arrived in life.

Welcome to the instant gratification generation where media houses are milking talent for TRPand youth don't mind being used for free. No more debating societies or youth festivals. Everyone is headed for a queue that promises to pitchfork him or her into fame as a singing idol, a superstar, a commentator, a radio jockey, or a supermodel. For some even a bomb tag will do.

Meet Suchita Verma the 21-year-old Delhiite, recently crowned as Pantene Zoom Elite Model Look 2004 and representing India at the International finals in Shanghai. "It was the result of hard work. I want to be an international model." Hard work? Her name was not in the list of 23 finalists provided to the media.

"She was not on the original list but when one girl could not make it to Delhi, she was asked to join," says Ajay Puri, co-director Elite India, who was present as one the judges. Strange coincidence.

"None of the participants were good enough. Some even have cellulite. Suchita doesn't have a good face but she at least has a good body. She walked the ramp on one of my shows and she was great," says another judge designer Suneet Verma. Talk of impartiality? The models were judged without a choreographer and one of the judges, supermodel, Joey Mathews was missing in the middle of the show.

All is fair...

Justifications are multiple. If Zoom CEO, Arun Arora says his channel is taking care of the aspirational needs of young urban India, Zee's spokesperson Ashish Kaul terms it the democratisation of the media.

"With our India's Best Cinestars Ki Khoj we have reached out to the masses -- to places like Rajkot and Varanasi. Except for Shah Rukh Khan, it is impossible for an outsider to get a break in the industry. Also all finalists are trained by the channel and more importantly winners will be judged by the audience who will eventually watch their film to be made by Zee." It is another matter the series has got the highest TRP ratings in the history of the channel. The 10 lakh youth who turned up for the auditions provided real masala of triumphs and failure and seems to justify the Rs.100 crores the channel claims to have put in the whole exercise.

The face of entertainment has changed once again. Now one does not need to go hunting for a script or chase after stars; the gullible audience is providing both the input and output for the idiot box. As for the audience judging the talent, the channel has not been bold enough to divulge how many people have actually voted via SMS.

In this jamboree of talent hunts, some have come up with rather queer ideas. There is one called Gladrags Mrs. India Contest. How is it different from Miss India? "Here only married women can participate and there is no swim suit round," replies Maureen Wadia who runs the show. Enlightening indeed. "Here we give an opportunity to married women irrespective of age who run their house and/or career with elan to discover themselves all over again." Ironically, running a home successfully is not a criterion and in its five years of existence, three times established names - Aditi Gowitrikar, Tanaaz Currim and Deepshikha have cornered the glory.

And in an effort to steal competitor's thunder, rival channels are copying formats. So Sahara is ready with its own Mrs. India contest, which it claims will represent India in Mrs. World, something Maureen rubbishes vehemently. Similarly to counter Sony's Idol, Star's Channel V is busy creating a Super Singer. Then there are the item bomb competitions. This glut of competitions merely promote mediocrity and give the young generation a false sense of achievement. "Singing is not like playing the keyboard, that you can give the same performance every time. Here a lot depends on the mood. Participants should be given at least three chances to sing before being judged that they are not good enough to sing even in bathrooms. It may be impossible with so many participants but you can't castigate anybody without given him a proper opportunity," says Nitin Malik, lead singer of Parikrama band in reference to Sony's Indian Idol.

"Even those who are selected, soon discover that they are not good enough to fight out the open competition once the contract period is over. Look what happened with VIVA and Asma," points out Karan Oberoi of Band of Boys.

Samir Nair, CEO, Star feels, "Reality T.V hasn't worked in India. So media houses are taking western formats and Indianising them." Nevertheless, it is not a one-way process. In the absence of roles models and materialism taking root by the hour, the generation is willingly falling for this hunting circus for instant recognition. "Even parents don't mind. When we organised the Item Bomb hunt on Zee Music we asked for affidavits from participants to be signed by parents. One senior Army officer sat through the entire proceedings including pole dance and when his daughter was not selected, he threatened to sue us," quips Kaul. Did someone say media reflects society? A section for sure!

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