I must admit that for the past few days, I have been hooked on the song ‘Naina Lagay’, sung by Amanat Ali and Maria Meer. I remember when Amanat Ali, a young and talented boy from Faisalabad, sang on Saregama, a popular Indian talent hunt show. An avid fan of music and music shows, I have remained loyal to Indian musical programmes since the days of Antakshari and have loved the way the young and the talented have been groomed and promoted, and how the young and not-so-blessed have been gently let down by the wonderful judges so as not to crush their spirits.
Given this background, I was understandably excited when a popular television channel started advertising the forthcoming Pakistan Idol — our very own talent hunt show. Like other Pakistanis, I waited in anticipation with bated breath. What I was to find out soon enough was that the show left a bad taste in my mouth and in that of thousands others.
Maria Meer, the 18-year-old daughter of an electrician from Faisalabad, who could not study after eighth grade due to financial constraints, was able to persuade her parents to let her pursue her singing ambition. She auditioned for Pakistan Idol and sang beautifully. However, she was rejected by all three judges who declared that her voice quality was “patli” (thin) and “soft”, she was unable to “push”, should listen to “different styles of music”, use powerful and forceful vocals and that, though she was 18, her voice was like a 12-year-old’s. One judge claimed that he could not even hear her voice and that her confidence for the stage was “zero”!
After watching Maria’s audition video clip, I was impatient to watch the original song ‘Sun Raha Hai Na Tu’. Anyone who has heard the song would know that it is not exactly one that requires ‘push’ or powerful and forceful vocals — it is soft and melodious, sung by Shreya Goshal. So much for the judging ability of a pop-stage performer! Top that with the comment that since Maria was 18 her voice still had to develop. Google the judge — she released her first ‘album’ in 1995 — pray, exactly how old was she when she started singing or debuted? Perhaps she was threatened by this young, beautiful voice?
As for the third judge not being able to ‘hear’, one would only wish he had removed his ear plugs, and that comment about the ‘zero’ stage confidence: does he even know how much confidence that girl had, hailing from an underprivileged background, with lack of every conceivable opportunity people like us take for granted, to come up and audition and be judged in front of the entire world? Her fate was sealed by her background and her appearance — her singing ability was probably never an issue. Did these three ever hear Lata Mangeshkar’s songs when she was young? Did they hear her voice quality? Is the entire purpose of these programmes not to discover hidden talent and groom them? Have these people ever seen how the Indians do it? They not only teach the contestants but also polish their singing abilities and give them the confidence to be a singer as well as a performer. As the contestants selected vary in their socio-economic statuses, they are brought to an equal level, to be able to compete without any discrimination or complexes.
Maria Meer got her break with Amanat Ali but hundreds of others have been ridiculed and made fun of. That is not judging. It is nothing but the crass show of an uneducated mind. It has nothing to do with one’s education or accomplishments — it points to the fact that nothing has been learnt if one has not learnt to respect people, if one has not learnt to formulate kind words, if one has assumed a superficial position of superiority, if a person has not been humbled by all that has been bestowed on him or her, if one’s roots have not gone down deep enough to absorb what mother earth has to give, if one is a tree whose shade does not benefit anyone and if one’s tongue is sharp enough to slice people into shreds, they have learnt nothing.
Pakistan no longer has jury trials. A US lawyer shared his tips on jury selection: “When a lawyer screws up jury selection, there is little hope for the rest of the trial. After watching many inauspicious jury selection efforts by prosecutors and criminal defence lawyers, I realised that I might be able to contribute to the state of practitioners’ jury selection art by codifying a few of the things I have learned in 14 years of trying cases and many hours of extracurricular study.” He goes on to give 16 simple rules for better jury selection. Rule number three struck me as pretty appropriate with reference to Pakistan Idol: “simple rule three — the Shrek rule:
They are walking through the forest. Shrek belches.
Shrek: What? It is a compliment. Better out than in, I always say (laughs).
Donkey: Well, it is no way to behave in front of a princess.
Rule three — the Shrek rule, is this: Better out than in. It is related to the ‘hair in the food’ rule. If there is a hair in your food (and you should always assume that there is), better that you should find it, if your jurors have unpleasant or frightening ideas (and they always do), better that they should reveal them in jury selection than conceal them until deliberation.
The television channel in question, in the normal course of events, is one that promotes education and invites people to ‘think’ about issues. The question that arises in my mind is: how then is it possible that the same channel is promoting the exact vices that it has been claiming to stand against? How is crushing the spirits of young, aspiring contestants promoting anything apart from a crude and crass way of bullying and making fun of others? Aggression has been defined as an intentional action aimed at doing harm or causing physical or psychological pain to another person. The Social Learning Theory states: “Aggression can also be produced through the imitation of aggressive models either in face-to-face situations or by viewing violence on film or TV.” So, what is being taught?
Rob Crilly, in his piece published in the Daily Telegraph, states: “In a country where politeness is an art form and saying what you really think is the height of vulgarity, the judges’ ‘Simon Cowell’ moments have brought an angry backlash…Not that the criticism has affected Mr Azmat, who has been baiting his critics on Twitter this week…’Watch me destroy some more idiots on the show and on social media so called politically correct monkeys’…And the producers are unrepentant.” There is a petition on Facebook, which demands a public apology from the judges and asks for “an assurance that such behaviour will not be repeated in future, and if at all a contestant does not fit the criteria, he/she would be given positive criticism, which helps him/her grow.”
Maria Meer is lucky; she is better out than in. Pakistan has been blessed with talented singers of incredible stature who have been judging for Indian shows. One wonders why the current lot was chosen over them when clearly they are better out than in! Did this channel screw up the jury selection and make a case for mistrial?
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