Mood of Middle India
Unless you’ve spent the last month on the planet Mars, you’ll know what Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain? is. The first episode was telecast on Star Plus on Friday and my guess is that it will be a huge hit.To appear on the show, you have to phone a number — which lakhs of people have done. If you make it to the first stage, you are interviewed by the producers in one of
several cities. Tapes othe best auditions go to Bombay where a long list is compiled. A jury looks at the long list and selects candidates for a shortlist. Some of these people make it on to the show.
When I was asked by Siddhartha Basu and Star TV’s boss Uday Shankar to be part of the jury I agreed not only because both men are old friends (both produced shows I anchored during the 1990s), but because I thought it would give me an opportunity to view a cross-section of middle India — even if it is only on tape.
Before each schedule, the jury, consisting of Siddhartha, ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar, myself and senior executives from Star and Synergy (Siddhartha’s company) meet in a Bombay hotel. We examine over 180 application forms and watch the same number of auditions.
So far, we’ve chosen the contestants for two schedules and I’ve seen close to 400 auditions from all over the country. It’s been exhausting. It’s been fun. But most of all, it has given me an insight into the hopes and aspirations of people from all over the country, from virtually every level of the TV-viewing middle classes. We’ve seen bankers, Infosys programmers and airline pilots. And we’ve seen ticket collectors, dhaba-owners and middle-aged housewives from small towns.
Obviously, this is not a representative sample. But here are some of the things I learnt about the mood of middle India while participating in this process.
Religion: For some reason, the first question on the application form asks contestants to state their religion. I found that all religious minorities (Christians, Sikhs, Muslims etc) gave straightforward answers. But a surprisingly large number of Hindus took exception. On many forms, people wrote things like “humanist” or “agnostic”. It was almost as though they resented being asked.
Not that there was any objection to God himself. The form asked people to describe themselves. One of the most common descriptions was “God-fearing” used in a positive sense. On the other hand, when contestants were asked what they would do with the Rs 5 crore if they won, some said they would give it to charity, but nobody mentioned a religious charity, a temple, a mosque or whatever.
Indian secularism also seems alive and well among the middle class. There were many Muslim applicants and, without exception, all of those whose auditions I saw were unselfconscious and proud of their Muslim identities. Many women in burkhas turned up to sing. So did many men in skullcaps and beards.
They referred to their Islamic identities in their auditions (“Hai Allah!” etc) in a matter-of-fact way and acted as though it made no difference — which, of course, it should not. At a time when there are fears about the communalisation of the middle class, it was encouraging to see Indian secularism in action.
As interesting for me was the column where contestants were asked to list their close friends. Many Hindus listed Muslims and, oddly enough, Muslims tended to list mainly Hindus