Javed Akhtar on voting

Much as I have criticized Javed Akhtar in the past—though only in the context of Indian Idol—he got it right on the show today when he said words to the effect of (I translate from memory):

Of course the voters can be wrong. Often they vote for the wrong political party. What’s so unusual about them voting for the wrong singer, then?

Akhtar was responding to Alisha Chinai’s silly argument that because the voters gave Suhit Gosain a final chance in Indian Idol, he can’t be that bad a singer. He was dead right when he said that Suhit’s voice was always flat. Indeed, I’d add that if they gave Suhit a flat for every time he was flat, he’d own Mumbai. Or at least Gurgaon, where the boy is from.


If you shake me really well, you’ll get an omelette, so much egg there is on my face. A couple of days ago I said that Bhavin Dhanak would be in the top three of Indian Idol, and now he’s out of the show. In my defence, I did add that he’d have the lottery of the next two rounds to go through—and he’s fallen in the second of them. With three people voted out in each of these episodes, the fifth factor that I mentioned here posed a danger to the good singers: The complacency of fans. It accounted for Bhavin a couple of hours ago and, in my opinion, for Aisha Sayed a couple of days ago. Sonorous sadness sails.

Udit Narayan is a giant. His expressions when singers are singing, the prosaic praise he bestows upon them in his poetic voice, the rapturous smile that often fills his face: they’re all immensely joyous, and I’m sure girls and children would even find it superfreakingcute. I say this because I find a strong need to seize that adjective away from Alisha Chinai, who I’d praised thus a post ago. Her enthusiastic support of Suhit Gosain, who survives in the show, is befuddling: The boy can’t sing! Those who have watched the last two years will know what I mean when I say that Gosain is the Amit Tandon of this season. Like Tandon, his looks and supposed cuteness have gotten him further than he should have come, but he’ll find himself in trouble around the final six or seven. (See factor three here.)

At this stage, my favourites for the last four are Meiyang Chang, Emon Chatterjee, Charu Semwal and Parleen Singh Gill. But if something goes wrong, please give me tomatoes for variety, not eggs!

Meiyang Chang, blogger

I think it is immensely cool for an Indian Idol contestant to have a blog. Indeed, make that blogs. Here’s Meiyang Chang’s Blogger page, which lists all his blogs:  The Buddha Soliloques is his regular blog, with travel posts and stuff, Fool’s Imagery contains his photographs, and The Amyegin Outburst has cartoons drawn by him.

Chang comes across on the show as much more intelligent and balanced than the rest of the contestants, and that comes through in his blogs as well. I predicted in my last Indian Idol post that he will reach the final three, and last night’s performance gave me no reason to rethink that. Among other things, his voice has a timbre that sets him apart from the others, and he sings with a certain sukoon, as it were, that most of the other singers just don’t have.

The boys were outstanding in last evening’s episode, and seem to be getting better with every performance. I take back what I said earlier about this year’s contestants not being as good as those in the last two: The boys, at least, are every bit as impressive as their predecessors in the last two seasons, even if there is no one quite as stunning as Karunya was last season.

Speaking of stunning, I never thought I’d think something like this, leave alone open myself to ridicule by expressing it publicly—but isn’t Alisha Chinai just superfreakingcute? The years have sat really well on her…

(More Indian Idol posts here.)

Update: Oops, apologies, forgot to indicate that I got the link to Chang’s Blogger page via email from reader VatsaL.

Bhavin Dhanak. Meiyang Chang.

I’m sticking my neck out: the two guys named in the headline of this post will reach the final three of this year’s Indian Idol. The third will either be Emon Chatterjee—good singer but a bit kiddish—or Parleen Singh Gill, who I see as a dark horse. There will be no girls in the final three, as much because of the bias against girls in the last two seasons that I spoke about here, as because none of the girls this time seem to be a complete package. All the boys I named are likable, and sing well, and that’s the ticket.

However, they have the lottery of the next two rounds to get through first. Last night, three out of 12 girls were eliminated, and this evening three boys will get a ticket home. I think there’s a fair bit of luck involved at this stage, as the supporters of a good singer might feel complacent, and criticism of a bad singer might just propel that person’s supporters to vote furiously. I’m assuming that’s why the excellent Aisha Sayed got eliminated, and the much-criticised and mediocre Vartika Shukla stayed in the contest. If Indian Idol had the voting mechanism of Bigg Boss, and viewers had to vote to throw people out instead of to keep them in, the results would be different.

The kids have taken over

If I’d waited for the piano rounds of this season’s Indian Idol to start, I might never had written this Rave Out. As I mentioned here, there are just too many kids in there. Twelve girls took part in yesterday’s round, and a third of them made me feel that I was watching some children’s singing competition. Most disconcerting.

A few quick thoughts:

And the boys perform on Indian Idol

After my post on how to predict the next Indian Idol, I suppose it is incumbent on me to give my impressions of the first piano round for the boys (as I did for the girls here). That way, you can all come back to this post a few weeks later and laugh your guts out at how badly I got it wrong. Ho ho ho, you can go. So, so, so?

My first impression is that the standard of singing is a bit lower than the last two seasons. Also, there is no one quite as outstanding as NC Karunya was last season. But there were enough good singers to keep me watching, though one full performance is too little to go by. The next week should be fun.

The first parameter I had stated was likability: “The winner is likely to be not the best singer, but a good singer with a pleasing personality,” I had written. In that regard, Bhavin Dhanak and Meiyang Chang score. Bhavin’s got good stage presence, and he sang well—he seems a complete package. Chang, who is of Chinese origin, was excellent, and both his persona and his voice seem more mature than his fellow contestants. I wonder if there will be any bias against his Chinese origin and looks—if not, he should go at least as far as the last three.

Among the others, Parleen Singh Gill has the likability, but I’m not sure about his voice. Emon Chaterjee’s got a great voice, but may come across as just a kid. Suhit Gosain has the best stage presence and the most enthu, but his voice, alas, doesn’t seem up to it.

And the judges, well well well. As I pointed out in a comment here, Javed Akhtar could spout philosophy about a shoelace. You could collect all his aphorisms from this show and put it in a self-help book, and mothers would use it to put their children to sleep. When is Anu Malik coming back? Nice is nice, but I want nasty!

How to predict the next Indian Idol

This piece of mine has been published in today’s Lounge, the Saturday edition of Mint.

We’re the world’s largest democracy, but let’s face it, politics is boring. Who to vote for? Why can’t we vote by SMS instead of having to trot to a voting booth? Why don’t our politicians perform? Pah!

That’s why Indian Idol is such a perfect show for us. It gives us the power, it gives us the ease, and it even gives us something to choose from. We’ve given up on governance – let’s vote on entertainment.

And wouldn’t it also be nice is if you could forecast the winner long before the rest of the country knew who it was? Oh, how your friends would admire you then! You would be the Indian Idol Pundit!

Well, Lounge is here to help you pick the Indian Idol winner this year. Large quantities of telephone polling are not required. Public choice theory need not be studied. All wisdom will now be revealed in seven points in the next few paragraphs. Read carefully.

One: The winner will be the boy next door.

Indian Idol is not a singing competition but a likability contest. The winner is likely to be not the best singer, but a good singer with a pleasing personality. In the first season, Rahul Saxena, Rahul Vaidya, Amit Sana, Aditi Paul and Prajakta Shukre were all better singers than the eventual winner, Abhijeet Sawant. In the second season, NC Karunya was streets ahead of Sandeep Acharya. And yet, Abhijeet and Sandeep, besides being competent singers, also had boy-next-door charm. The girls found them cute – the boys didn’t feel threatened by them. Killer combo.

Two: The winner will be an early favourite.

Keep a close eye on who wins the early piano rounds. Both Abhijeet and Sandeep won their piano round in their season of Indian Idol. Most viewers tend to decide early on who they like. The rest of the season, they ignore that person’s failings – unless they are too glaring – and find reasons to reinforce their choice.

This is also why Ravinder Ravi, who won a piano round with a powerful performance in the first season, survived until the final five despite a series of monstrously besura performances: those who had chosen him as their winner overlooked his failings, and kept finding reasons to validate their early choice. This brings us to our next point…

Three: Don’t worry about the besuras

It really is no fun unless a lousy singer goes really far in the competition, despite the jury’s criticism. This happened to Ravinder Ravi in Season One, and it happened recently to Sanjaya Malakar in American Idol. Both times, immense worries were expressed that they would win. But that could never happen.

No matter how much support they get, and for whatever reasons, bad singers will always have more people against them than for. Now, when there are seven or eight contestants left, those votes against are diffused among many people. When there are four or five left, the supporters of good singers who are eliminated switch allegiance to good singers still in the show. It then becomes harder for the besuras to survive. This also works against polarising personalities who are otherwise good singers, such as the arrogant Rahul Vaidya in Season One: the ‘against’ votes count for more as the field narrows down.

But criticism can also help the besura singers, as the next point illustrates.

Four: Criticism helps

Let us say you have your allegiances mapped out, and are planning to send one SMS each for your favourite three singers. Suddenly, one of them has a bad day, and Anu Malik goes ballistic. Seeing a singer you support in trouble, you send three SMSs instead of one. And so on.

A bad performance in a particular episode, or finishing in the last three of a results episode, can actually help contestants by motivating their supporters to vote more. And this can also work the other way.

Five: Complacency kills

The big upset of Season One came when Rahul Saxena got voted out in the last nine stage. A similar huge upset happened in the fifth season of American Idol, when Chris Daughtry got voted out in the last four stage. In Daughtry’s case, a commonly accepted theory is that his supporters became complacent, and assumed that he was so darned good that he would get through without their vote. I’d surmise the same happened in Saxena’s case, and also resulted in Melinda Dolittle’s ouster in this season of American idol. If a really good singer is coasting in the early stages of the competition, watch out.

Six: The winner will be non-South Indian

Viewers tend to support contestants they identify with or feel some empathy for, and they are far likelier to feel that way for people who are from their region. Sure, it’s politically incorrect, but region-specific voting certainly does take place, even if voters often don’t do this consciously, and can rationalize it in various ways. Now, Sony’s viewership is far less in the South than in the rest of India, which makes the going rather difficult for a South Indian contestant. Sure, Karunya got as far as the final two in Season Two, but he did not win despite being overwhelmingly the best singer.

Seven: The winner will be male

That’s why we said “boy next door” in our first guideline. This is bewildering, but Indian Idol doesn’t work like American Idol, and women simply seem to attract less votes, regardless of singing ability: none have made it to the final three in either season. There can be various reasons for this: Maybe voters opt to support someone of their own gender, and guys are more likely to waste SMSs. Maybe the guys vote more for guys, while the girls vote for both sexes. Whatever the reasons, expect a male winner.

Phew, well, there you are. Sure, some of these guidelines may conflict with each other in certain situations, but that’s when your innate sagacity kicks in, right? Also, remember that what makes for gripping television doesn’t always impact the voting: Viewers react more to personality than to back story, and the crying auntie in the audience or the two-minute segment on a contestant’s village won’t affect the voting too much.

Hey, why don’t you challenge Bejan Daruwalla to an Indian Idol prediction contest? Armed with our advice, you’ll surely win! Coming to think of it, if they had an Astrologer’s Idol

(Some of the analysis here elaborates on these earlier posts of mine: 1, 2, 3. Recent posts on Indian Idol: 1, 2.)

The Indian Idol piano rounds begin

As my Rave Out would have made apparent, I’m a fan of Indian Idol, especially from the piano round stage onwards. Today was the first piano round, involving 14 girls, and I was somewhat disappointed. Three reasons for this:

1] Though they called it a piano round, it no longer had just a piano as accompaniment, but a full orchestra. This is disappointing. Singing with just a piano as accompaniment is more challenging for the singers, and the combination of piano and human voice is one that I rather like.

2] Anu Malik was absent due to illness, and the other judges, all brought in for this season, did not balance criticism and praise. A few of the performances were quite underwhelming, but Javed Akhtar, Udit Narayan and Alisha China were uniform in their praise. It made their presence redundant. Halfway through the show, they began to make an effort to point out mistakes, as if they had been told as much by the producers.

Malik, who now calls himself Annu Malek, plays the Simon Cowell role, but even his fellow judges of the last two seasons, Sonu Nigam and Farah Khan, didn’t shy away from criticism. They paid attention to nuance, pointed out minor technical errors, set the bar quite high, and that made their praise all the more valuable. It wasn’t cheap.

Perhaps these new judges were swayed by the youngness of the girls who sang today. And that brings me to my next point: