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02 August 2010

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa…

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Surajit Dasgupta
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Can Challenge 2009 find the missing notes?

Na jAnE koI kaisI hai yeh zindagAnI,’ sang Debojit Dutta from Kolkata so marvellously — albeit he was out of breath once, a point conveniently ignored by the judges — last night that the audience, going a step ahead of whistling hysterically, gave him a standing ovation to mark the end of the first episode of “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa – Challenge 2009”. The rendition of the rock song from the film, Gangster, was so enthralling that, much as I conceived this article last night when the programme was being aired, I can’t recall the names of other singers now. That does not mean, however, that the other contestants did not sing well. They did. And the judges — Himesh Reshammiya, Aadesh Srivastava, Shankar Mahadevan and Preetam — boasted ad nauseam, though not unjustifiably, how the contest was many notches above the competing, me-too programmes on other channels. That was the happy part. The causes for concern follow.

Ever since “Sa Re Ga Ma” (the ‘Pa’ wasn’t yet added back then) was hosted more than a decade ago by Sonu Nigam and adjudged by maestros of Hindustani classical music and some master musicians of yesteryears, the standard of the programme has seen a constant decline, thanks to the contest turning into a reality show (which the first version was not). Teachers of music say that out of every 100 people, only 1 has an ear for music. Of 100 such people who are not tone-deaf, only 1 can distinguish between a well-sung and a badly sung song. Out of 100 people blessed with such discretion, only 1 can sing. And out of 100 people who can sing, only 1 can sing well (exactly the way a certain song should be sung). Given this 0.00000001% of people who are eligible for judging music, how dare an entertainment channel confer on 100% people, who choose to vote through telephone calls and mobile SMSs, the right to qualify or disqualify a singer!

The injustice meted out to several good singers in the programmes of the type aired so far is still fresh in the memory. Even the first version of the programme, which was anchored by Sonu Nigam, was not free of prejudice. While towards the end the judges came in the form of maestros and masters in dozens, many initial episodes had a single judge — sometimes a playback singer, at times only one All India Radio singer, at times only one music director. Could the judgement by one judge — say, a Kumar Sanu or a Penaz Masani — be comparable to the aggregate result reached by a dozen judges, including a Pandit Jasraj, an Ustaad Amjad Ali Khan, an Anil Biswas, a Naushad Ali et al? Certainly not. So, in the preliminary stages, we saw the elimination of several better singers and promotion of the less talented ones. Clearly, the dozen judges who got to judge the contestants in the final round did not get to hear the best of the lot. And in these 13 odd years ever since, Mohammed Wakil, the winner of “Sa Re Ga Ma”, is nowhere to be found except in some forgettable qawwaali or ghazal programmes on ETv Urdu. A music album was released right after the finals, none of whose songs anybody remembers today. The present scenario is worse.

Debojit Saha, the winner of “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa”, is no Kishore Kumar, though his style of singing is similar. So what? Most Bengali singers have a fascination for Kishore’s style. That does not mean all of them have the same baritone. In fact, since 13 October 1987, the Indian playback singing industry has not heard any singer who can deliver a deep throated sound in the upper octave. The industry may have broken free of me-too Rafis, Mukeshes and Kishores, thanks to the era of uninfluenced voices ushered in by Udit Narayan, beginning with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, but howsoever good Sonu Nigam, Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan might be, no voice has been as manly as Kishore’s in these 21 years after his death. For evidence, listen to Hariharan’s rendition of “Tum bin jaUn’ kahAn” — originally sung by Kishore Kumar in Pyar Ka Mausam — in the film, Dil Vil Pyar Vyar. Spare us your thin voices, folks!

The aspect of 'thin' voices brings us to Abhijit Sawant. This average singer was, in all probability, chosen as the "Indian Idol" for his ability to prance about the stage. "Indian Idol 2" Sandeep Acharya and "Indian Idol 3" Prashant Tamang, especially the latter, came across as much better choices by the audience. However, one drawback in all of them was evident: None could do justice to all the songs they sang in the course of the programme. Asha Bhosle is slated to appear as the special guest and judge in "Sa Re Ga Ma Pa – Challenge 2009" next week. One hopes she were the judge throughout such programmes, or at least for a longer duration, to teach a thing or two about versatility to the contestants.

That may be because they don’t make men anymore. From Shahrukh Khan to Aamir Khan to Salman Khan to Hrithik Roshan, they all sound and behave like boys. Whom will a deep throat suit? As for Amitabh Bachchan, it would have been good for both Sudesh Bhonsle and the industry if his mimicry was never discovered. He may be acceptable for ‘Jumma chumma dE dE’ or equivalents of Kishore’s light-hearted songs like ‘Tane dhin tandAnA’ (Desh Premi), but can he equal an ‘O sAthi rE’ (Muqaddar Ka Sikander) for Bachchan?

Back from the distant to the recent past, it really hurt when those who dared to sing songs rendered by Sukhwinder Singh, arguably the most difficult singer of this generation to emulate, were beaten by a rank mediocre Debojit, thanks to the frenzy with which viewers from eastern and north-eastern India voted him the winner. To add insult to injury, they have eliminated Vineet once again, this time from the programme, “Jo Jeeta Wohi Superstar”. This boy, who used to sport a cap during “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa”, won all the accolades from the then judges — Himesh used to be there, too — but couldn’t win the hearts of television viewers, tone-deaf most of them.

By the way, is the music director duo, Vishal Shekhar, left with no work in recording studios? They seem to be available for all reality shows! And what is a choreographer, Farah Khan, doing as a judge in JJWS, a music programme? Her misplaced enthusiasm becomes clear when she insists that today a singer should “perform” as much as he/she should sing. I dare any singer living anywhere in the world to dance while singing, not letting his voice waver even a little while thumping on the ground. If he can, I’ll serve as his slave all my life.

Well done! Kunal Ganjawala, Shreya Ghoshal & Preetam Chakraborty in VOI – CU did a much better job than Alka Yagnik, Abhijeet & Bappi Lahiri in SRGMP – LC and Suresh Wadkar & Sonu Nigam in SRGMP – LC 2; bigger names in playback singing and music composition do not necessarily make better judges
This is also an appeal to organisers of Gajendra Singh’s ilk to keep their dancers away from singers on the stage. Genuine music lovers were concerned about the performances of Aishwarya and Anwesha when some dancers, moved disturbingly close to the girls, prancing about them with hankies, mufflers, chairs and other props in the programme, “Voice of India – Chhote Ustaad”.

Anyway, Gajendra’s otherwise inimitable touch as an organiser was conspicuous in the Star Plus programme’s elongated set, especially in the sitting arrangements inside the auditoria where different rounds of the contest were shot. It seems the organisers of “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa” have no acoustician in their panel. It surprises one to note that in the set, the wall opposite the singer is too close to him/her for the right effect. It’s common sense that your voice sounds better inside a hall when you are facing its breadth along the length, not the opposite. And they have repeated this mistake after the last phase that was called challenge 2007.

Acoustics reminds me of an edition of Star News. That day before the finals of “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa 2”, Raja Hassan, who lost the fight to Aneek Dhar, was singing in the news channel’s studio on viewers’ request. Till then he had mesmerised many with sheer control over his voice. But that day there was no echo-effect in the mike, and there was no accompanying music. Anybody who has strolled on the lanes and by-lanes of a suburb in West Bengal can tell you that any of those girls singing with a harmonium (equivalent of a reed organ) and tabla-bãyah sound better than Raja Hassan when not assisted by technology.

Raja’s natural voice, not made fanciful by echo-effects, points a finger to the wrong parameters of judgement in these ‘reality’ shows. In the lines of the format of (the first) Sa Re Ga Ma, the organisers must put all participants to rigorous tests of various kinds. One of them has to be singing without a microphone and accompanying orchestra. Whoever thinks nobody sounds good without the echo-effect must refer to Kolkata Doordarshan’s archives and hear Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar (Hemanta Mukherjee), Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and other jewels of the bygone era sing in between their chats with interviewers. Fortunately for this generation, those golden moments are frequently relived on Kolkata Doordarshan after 11 pm.

Now, on to another programme, in the first version of “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa - Li’l Champs”, a visually impaired boy — the commiseration due for the disabled notwithstanding, the choice was supposed to be for the best singer, not he who was longanimity personified — reached the finals, riding a sympathy wave from voters who got animated enough to spend Rs 3.00 – Rs 6.00 per SMS, even though all his renditions lacked the respective right moods. For some reason best known to the velvety-voiced playback singer, Abhijeet, he kept calling a hoary-voiced, happy-go-lucky Sameer his “favourite” singer throughout the programme. Abhrakanti, who overcame his breathing problem within the first few episodes to render some memorable classical numbers, perhaps belonged to a genre that is unintelligible to today’s generation that excels on superficiality. Paavni, the 12-year old whose item ‘Khallas’ (Company) could give an adult female playback singer a run for her money, was shown the door, too. Mercifully, Sanchita, the winner, can still be accepted as a deserving winner. But one suspects she was more than the eligible age during the contest.

“Sa Re Ga Ma Pa - Li’l Champs 2” was grossly disappointing. Steeped as Suresh Wadkar and Sonu Nigam are in the classical genre, these judges deserved better than Anamika Choudhury, the winner whose performance throughout the series was inconsistent. Maybe to cover this lacuna, she had once thrown a tantrum, threatening to leave the show, purportedly citing as reason the death (or ill-health?) of a fellow-contestant’s father after the poor chap was thrown out of the contest a few weeks therebefore. Mercifully, Suresh and Sonu were not impressed. But for sure, the viewers were (they don’t qualify as the “audience”). Runner-up Rohanpreet, despite his average voice, was stable throughout. He must take advice from a guru, if he wants to further his career as a playback singer.


Great discoveries: Anamika (left), the winner of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa – Li’l Champs 2, is no match for either of them.
Anwesha (left in the right frame), the introvert, lost to Aishwarya for coming out of her cocoon a bit too late
Finally, with all its shortcomings, “Voice Of India – Chhote Ustaad” was a greater pleasure listening to — I can’t ‘see’ songs — than the simultaneously running “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa – Li'l Champs 2” sequel. Zee Telefilms Ltd must patch up with Gajendra Singh and call him back from Star TV Network. His contemporaries just don’t have his panache.

And let’s hope the audience does not have to relive the pains of injustice with “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa – Challenge 2009”. After all, as rightly pointed out by Himesh — pardon his garrulity — the very first episode of the programme has witnessed contestants of the caliber only the final rounds of the me-too competition has so far seen.

The writer is a mathematician and linguist, now a corporate communicator and has been a journalist, a teacher and marketing manager (in reverse chronological order) in his previous vocations. He holds a Sangeet Visharad too

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.