It’s fashionable to look down on reality shows, but I love Indian Idol. I’ve sat engrossed through its first two seasons, and with the piano rounds for the third season beginning today, will be unavailable for dinner on telecast days. My cellphone will be switched off.
At one level, I love the reality. Yes, I know the reality in reality shows isn’t quite real: The participants know they’re on camera. And yet, even this faux-reality reflects something true, for we know they know, and we know they’re acting for the camera, and in baring how they want to portray themselves, they reveal themselves. And they’re just like us! It’s India’s middle class on that show, with all its dreams and fears, and it’s like looking into a mirror. Immense empathy comes.
At another level, it’s about opportunity. Singing is part of Indian culture, and Bollywood is just a reflection of that, not a reason. In every village and town of this country, young men and women sing in front of mirrors, dreaming of being the next Kishore or Lata or Asha or (God forbid!) Himesh. Ten years ago, they wouldn’t even have dared to dream. Indian Idol gives them a chance.
And yes, there’s some wonderful singing on the show. But it’s not the singing that moves me, it’s the stories.