‘Indian Idol’ and regional dynamics

BY sanjay| IN Media Practice | 23/04/2006
Hyderabad recorded its disappointment on the pages of the Hindu and Deccan Chronicle when Karuna lost the crown.




B P Sanjay



Academics are wont to discuss participation in media studies from various perspectives. A substantial amount of work has been done in this direction. An obvious but perhaps unintended consequence of invoking participation as a key variable pertains to media audiences. Polling on all matters, serious and sundry is an inbuilt strategy for different media, for invoking the so-called power of the ordinary reader, listener or the viewer.


Audience-centered perspectives based on semiotics celebrate the autonomous power of the audience/reader in deconstructing the text and thereby negate the awesome so-called homogenizing capacity of the media.  The situation of power dynamics that guides such literature has another dimension in Indian television-audience polls and creation of a media icon. The followers of the ‘Indian Idol’ programme on a popular entertainment channel understand their power going by the trends that are visible. The channel management is explicit in its intention: the show will be "packed with all the elements of reality, scale, emotion and the journey itself, that will make the Indian audiences connect with it leading to extreme interactivity involvement and mass frenzy." SET vice president Tarun Katial is clear that the show will take viewer engagement and interactivity to new heights and catapult the finalists to "ultimate stardom." 



The tandem revenue-streaming model that has been adopted clearly foregrounds a cell phone operator as a major sponsor and it is an obvious guess that their revenues are guaranteed. Related to this is the process of soliciting support by the contestants, which has now engaged mainstream print media attention. The inter media content dependence syndrome particularly in the entertainment sector is well known. However, this year’s Indian Idol contest has brought to the fore another dimension-regional bias.



Karunya the Hyderabad boy is talked about nowadays and television social groups are articulating how they should support this boy and send as many sms messages as they can. Democracy in the sms regime allows for multiple messages, no fear of the indelible ink here. There is also the unstated fear that the boy may lose out due to the large proportion of votes his competitor, Sandeep Acharya might get by the sheer following he has in the North.  The issue is so important that the city pullouts of at least two English dailies have decided to comment.  Decccan Chronicle in a piece, "Vote for me" explores the confidence of Karunya and through the piece there is a reference that not only Hyderabad but also entire south India has been supportive. His appeal that he bows his head and appeals to everyone to vote is carried verbatim.  The Hindu in a piece by Sangeetha Devi explores the regional bias in voting patterns. On a campaign trail in the city Karunya is conscious of the importance of votes from the South.



What happens in the finals and what follows is not germane. What is of relevance is the commercial dynamics of citizen participation. For the channel it is an index of their following and also a quick check on their viewership. For the telecom operator it is the revenue and for the viewers it is the delusory sense of power. With number of cell phones increasing by leaps and bounds surpassing landline population and more and more media companies wanting to exploit this hand held device new forms of content streaming with a clear eye on the pocket of the consumer is evident. The ingenuity by which the aspirations of lower and middle strata society is exploited may defy certain elite perceptions of television industry but these programmes are truly engaging not only the leisure time of the viewers but also their social discourse.  Be it the Kashmir boy of the ‘Fame Gurukul’ show or the Mumbai following that decided last year’s Indian Idol media discourse at the viewers’ level is engaging. Scholarship will bring to bear many other factors and construct theories while the media will be content to watch its TRPs and the telecom operator its revenue.   


When the show ended amidst frenzy,  Karunya lost and the voting details were not known. However, the "city" recorded its disappointment. The Hindu featured the story on its city page with a three line heading, "City squirms in disbelief as Karunya fails to clinch the Indian Idol 2 title Mayor announces plan to open an academy with the lad." Deccan Chronicle bottomlined the story, "Karunya loses the ‘Indian Idol’ crown." It added, "…the dice seemed to be loaded against him. Sony Entertainment Television for example advertised the contest in North India---Acharya is from Bikaner, Rajastan--but had ignored the South."


The show goes on and Indian talents have another variable to contend with: the art of soliciting votes. A call for entrepreneurs to tandem their strategy with grooming, music and dance schools.



Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More