Indian Idol OR How Not to Treat Your Studio Audience

A year ago today I was in India. I was interning for a film and media program. I also had frizzy hair and was, in comparison, very tall.

As part of our internship my co-intern, Aiess, and I had to observe how television was made, and contrast scripted versus live programs.

Enter: Indian Idol.

The day I was on set for Indian Idol was quite possibly the longest day in my short existence. I was in my second week of Civil War Dysentery* and was forced awake at the unholy hour of 9 a.m. after a night of…well, disgusting things, in order that I might go to Fimistan and see a live recording.

If you’ve ever had dysentery–and I don’t mean Delhi Belly or Montezuma’s Curse or any of that punk-ass silliness–you can commiserate with me. Being woken up from the only hour of sleep I had managed to get was rude. Being woken up and deposited on a film lot sans air conditioning and accessible bathrooms was a torture more keen than any other I can devise in my little head.

We did get to take a car, oddly. A beautiful, air-conditioned Tata something-or-other. The down side? Filmistan was exactly two blocks from our house. Rip off!

car

(Ok, so I was super amped about the car…)

We got to Filmistan, checked in, looked at a scene being constructed for Ra.One, and were taken to the Indian Idol set.  We waited, and waited, and waited in the sun. We were told to come back for phase two of shooting. We hopped in the Tata Something and rolled home.

Insert two bazillion hours of waiting.

Before we were “cleared” to head back to the set and commence “phase two” it was past 6 p.m. Or 5 p.m. The point is, the sun was setting. We were shuffled into a TINY sound stage with TINY bleachers set-up for a TINY audience. There was a rather large stage, with fancy lights and smoke whirling around and sound people running around doing sound things and light people doing light things.

I have a feeling Aiess, Mukesh and I weren’t supposed to be IN the audience, that we were supposed to be on the side-lines observing and seeing different facets of the shooting process BUT the audience organizer got one look at my pale skin and vapid expression and said “gori!” with more excitement than I’ve ever heard injected into a word. Next thing I know I’m smack in the middle of the bleachers, the audience filling in around our trio and constantly being moved by the audience orgainzer to the best “strategic location”.

Mukesh just laughed. And laughed. This was actually all his fault. He caught me watching Indian Idol in the house one day and singing along to it**. He devised this plan based on my “interests”. I think.

I was dysentarious, remember.

ANYWAY after about 2 hours of being shuffled around it was time to start filming.

I think Indian Idol is hocked as a “live” show. Let me tell you something, my sweetums, there ain’t nothing live about this ish.

Each singer sang their song at least 3-4 times, and they got do-overs if they missed their intro!

MADNESS!

“This isn’t fair!” my opera-trained brain kept shouting at internally.

I ceased to care about my ethics when the guest judges were introduced.

Hello, Shahid Kapoor, my great, great, great, and most guilty weakness.

He swaggerd onto the stage and I turned into the most dithery of idiot girls. I blushed, for goodness’ sake! He shook my hand when he “greeted” the auidence! HE LOOKED AT ME!

anuhid

Anushka Sharma was there too. Whatever. She’s actually quite tall.

Shahid and Anushka were there to promote Badmaash Company. And to “judge”. All they really did was tell people how cute they thought their performance was.

Oh, and Shahid doodled. A LOT. If you’ve ever seen the guy’s tweets you’ll understand this but he’s totally like his tweets. Kind of… lost. Really, really, really nice; not terribly engaged upstairs. He was just there to look pretty and to act kind of awkward when the host asked him to dance on stage. Apparently, our boy Kapoor is a little shy.

I WANTED TO SEE HIM DANCE! AND HE DIDN’T! I stopped blushing.

At some point or another they went back to singing and judging.

I do remember being impressed with the judges commentary. Now, I know my Hindi is SO FINE (it is not) but I felt compared to the American Idol judges they actually knew what they were talking about. Comments were about technique, technique and more technique. More importantly, they told how to FIX problems. Each contestant got a great coaching session for about 10-15 minutes from the judges. Obviously only 2-3 minutes of that ever aired but it really did impress me.

Anushka and Shahid gave comments too, usually to the effect of “You’re so sweet!” or “Your determination really inspires me!” or better yet, “Follow your dreams.”

Meanwhile, in the audience, things were starting to got a little Second French Revolution. We had been sequestered for over 6 hours at this point and under NO circumstances were we able to leave. We needed water, kids needed to pee, parents needed food or they were going to go batshit…etc. “No.” “No.” “No.” was the constant response to all of our pleadings.

If you’ve ever watched Indian Idol and thought he audience sounded a little…well, miserable, now you know why. There are about 100 people sitting there and they’re all extremely pissed off.

8 hours into the experience and the judges were released to go “debate”. Naturally, if you had been watching all the production people closely enough you could see that the decision was already made and that there would be no debate. Only dinner.

THE JUDGES GOT DINNER.

During this 2 hour hiatus you might think that we were able to roam about, get our own dinner, streach our legs, feed some kids… NOPE.

We were stuck. Forever. Time was halted and I was going to die on the Indian Idol soundstage. Filmistan. Mumbai. India.

While there was singing and judging going on I was at least distracted enough to not care about what time it was, but for those two hours of inaction I was ready to stab. Anyone.

To add insult to injury there was a bhangra group that would occasionally start drumming and shouting. They were also seated directly behind Aiess, Mukesh and myself.

Not only were we stuck, upset, thirsty and tired, but we were deaf now too.

When the action on stage restarted the audience was pacified enough to get involved again. There was only the “you’re in”/”you’re out” part left. How long could that take? Twenty, thrity minutes tops? Let’s do this.

stageawards

It took 4 hours.

Four. Chaar. Cuatro.

Oh it was awful!

Finally it finished. We all breathed a sigh or relief! We danced, cheered, frolicked! It was time to leave! To go home! To use the bathroom! To eat!

Except it wasn’t.

First all the “high profile” guests had to leave. The singers, the hosts, the judges, Anushi and Shahid. Then they had to clean the stage. Then turn off the lights. Then pack things up. Then feed the crew. Then let the crew leave.

2 hours later, things got ugly. Mob mentallity totally took over. I started screaming at people in Hindi! I got FANTASTIC looks from people! I pulled my hair, I went absolutely insane.

I don’t loose my cool, I am patient, calm, collected.

Not then. I wanted to get home, go to bed, and eat a chapati. (Yes, in that order).

Realize that since we had ENTERED THE SOUND STAGE it had been 16 hours and counting.

Like, let us leave already?

I think, a year later and looking back, that we were all getting punked so hard. They were monitoring us for some psychological and sociological study. Right now in some freshman college lecture I’m being viewed on screen and the students are like “what is her deal?”

Sigh.

We walked home. It was glorious. I’ve never felt more happy to be standing in my entire life. I was moving, breathing the “fresh” air of Mumbai! I was free!

A week or so later our episode aired. I tried to watch it but it was too horrific. I wasn’t ready to relive it. The pain! The pain was unendurable!

I got texts and facebook messages from friends who did watch it. They all said this: “Wah! You are on Indian Idol!”

Of course I was. Like you can keep a camera of MY beautiful face! HAHA!

Did I mention the best part? It was totally Aiess’ 21st Birthday.

What a ROCKING birthday!

Today, a year later, she’s 22 and I think we’ve both healed enough to talk about our trauma… at least, I am.

*If you follow my film blog, my Twitter or have ever spoken to me in real life, you know my dysentery is the first thing I try to tell you about myself. I’m superbly proud of it and now know why the South quit the war.

**I know more lyrics to the songs on Indian Idol than on American Idol. My doctor is having me tested for something.

Band Baaja Baaraat, 2010

Directed by: Maneesh Sharma


I cannot praise this film enough. I’ll spare you the sap and the laudatory gushing that I usually provide and stick to the facts: this is the most refreshing romanic comedy I’ve seen in a long while.

It was honest, it was real, it was cute, it gave me plenty of melt and it had heaps of heart.

Anushka Sharma is probably in my Top 5 for current actresses. She’s so bubbly, so full of life and her face is so open and charming that you’re just sucked right into her art capacity for storytelling. The fact that she actually can act speaks volumes and sets her apart from other current leading ladies.

I’m not going to name names but we all know the handful of girls I’m talking about.

Ranveer Singh, the new boy, was totally charming. For some reason I was especially fixated on his teeth, but he also has the “it” factor that could very well propel him towards becoming a great star. He’s coy, lovable, does a good puppy-dog face and has a sense of self depreciating humor that is really quite endearing.

The filmography and photography was rough around the edges but for a first time director I’m more than willing to look beyond small little nitpicks. Overall my only persistent annoyance was the way the actors would be shot having a face-to-face conversation. Speaking directly into the camera rather than each other; breaking the fourth wall and creating an awkward break in illusion. Asides and clever nods to the knowledge of an audience are some of my favorite tricks but only when used smartly and with a direct purpose. In BBB it just felt like we, the audience, were involved in the characters’ conversation, and since there was no reason for us to be there we shouldn’t have been.

Maneesh Sharma gets a huge thumbs up from me on his presentation of the sex scene. (And if you didn’t know there was one, well, there you go…) It wasn’t tacky, it wasn’t thrown in for shock value and it did not become a fiasco. Yes, the physical relationship between the characters caused problems but the actual display of them having sex didn’t.  The build-up and treatment of all of the lovey-dovey parts was really commendable. There was tension, there was excitement, and the audience was well rewarded for their emotional investment.

While the songs themselves were rather lackluster, lacking just the teeniest bit of umph to make them truly good; the picturizations were superb. Special mention must go to the song shot in monochromatic costumes, scenery and flowers. I literally felt my breath catch in my lungs. Fantastic. Superb. The other songs were productions such as I haven’t seen in a while. They teeterd on the edge between “showstoper” and “superfluous” without going over the edge and instead were visual delights.

While the story was not new in the context of its genre it was presented in a delightfully fresh way. There was an honesty and a strong sense of “we’re not going to bullsh*t you” that had me feeling at many times that they had plucked situations, emotions and dialogue from my own romantic experiences. At times, as most romatic comedies are prone to doing, it borders on cheese and extremes that are not altogether realistic but these small moments are easily overlooked in the grand scheme of the narrative.

At the end of this film you’ll be chipper, you’ll probably have a grin on your face and you’ll be full of bubbles. It may not be a classic in the making, but it is leaps and bounds ahead of some of its peers.