The International Writers Magazine
:We're all idols now

Indian Idol
Shubha Menon

If you’ve watching the unfolding of this programme on Sony, you will get my drift. Everybody wants to make it to the limelight. Every week, Sony brings us the hopes and expectations of Gen Next.

Some are obviously talented. Some are just supremely confident. Some wear their heart on their sleeve.
Judging them are three names that have ‘made it’, Sonu Nigam, Anu Malik and Farah Khan. While Sonu Nigam and Anu Malik judge singing and musical ability, Farah checks out the saleability quotient of the contestants. Which one of the thousands of aspirants has it in him or her to be a mass icon?
The person will no doubt be a singer of some talent, I suppose.
The rest will depend on packaging.
Being in advertising, I understand the value of packaging. Today, it is no longer important to have the talent. You have to be able to strut your stuff. You have to be able to correctly merchandise yourself.
In fact, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the content. Just get the packaging right.
I see it day after day in the advertising agency where I work. Quiet ads finish last. Unfortunately, so do quiet people. Those who shout the loudest, are heard. Those who demand increments, get them. Those who say they are ‘hot’ are thought to be so. The days of the backroom boys are over. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you haven’t packaged yourself right, forget it.

Packaging, profiling, and networking – these are the buzzwords. Without them, you are a babe in the woods, lost without a trace.
Marketing is a must-have skill. No excuses, you have to develop it if you don’t have it, it’s make or buy. If you don’t promote yourself, who will?
Those who drink late into the night with the boss, will get the promotion.
Those who laugh loudest at the boss’s jokes will be in favour.
Those who make friends and influence people in other organisations will get the interview call.
Talent? Not mandatory.

Modesty is for the imbeciles. Highly expendable.
Mallika Sherawat uncovers all and becomes cover girl.
Publicity rules. Fortunes are spent on promoting a film, a product, a singer, an actress. Money is spent like kal ho na ho.
Arindam Chaudhri, marketing whiz, packages Rok sakey Toh Rok lo and guarantees its success. He has the winning formula.
Politicians hire image-makers and control votes. The image becomes more real than the reality.
The model of your car could drive opinion. And your mobile phone had better start a conversation.
Aishwarya Rai schools her smiles. Her publicist frowns if she sneezes without approval.
So our cricketers learn to shed their small town ways and become stars. Painters host wine and cheese parties. The recluse author becomes a forgotten story. Talent becomes a page 3 item number.

There was the father who declared on national TV that he was proud of his daughter’s kaanta laga publicity stunts, because if that is what it takes to make it, so be it. He would not hamper his daughter’s ambitions with middle class morality.
So when a mother tells her child to ‘project’ herself in school, to make herself heard, to push herself, she is not being crass, she is being realistic. She tells her child to work sincerely, but she also nudge him towards taking flowers for principal ma’am. She tells him not to sing his own praises but she coaxes him to make the right impression, on the right people. She despairs that her child is too good to be successful. She hates the idea of her child getting overshadowed by showpiece kids. She worries that her not-so-shining kid is getting an inferiority complex. And she strives to make him more worldly.

So should we all commercialise our children so that they don’t get labeled as under-achievers?
Where do innocence, talent, discovery, and sincerity – values that we would like to cherish – fit in?
While I ponder over all these, I am reminded about this schoolteacher that I happen to know. She teaches music in a Delhi school. Her talent is towering. Her knowledge of music is humbling. Yet nobody knows of her. She is the one who should be judging The Indian Idol. But she lives in obscurity.
When I visited her some time ago, I immediately went into exploit mode. I offered to work with her, get her lucrative assignments, introduce her to the right people in media, in short, market her. I itched to make a product out of her.
She told me she didn’t have her voice on tape. Her music collection was also on spools. She wouldn’t loan it or make MP3s out of it. She did not want more money, or appreciation. Her guru’s blessings meant the world to her. Her singing was an art, to be worshipped, not used. Her music gave her a reason for being and she enjoyed teaching the children at school. That was enough. She did not want more. I was looking at The Indian Ideal.
But she looked upon me as something unsavory, while here I was, fancying myself as the saviour.
Following the music teacher’s act is tough, very tough. But I think that maybe I’ll give it a try. Or else, I can always get drunk with the boss.

©Shubha Menon

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