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My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.

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Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Category Archives: Indian Idol

From Delhi to Siliguri

WTF news of the day:

A radio jockey’s remarks against Indian Idol Prashant Tamang triggered clashes between his fans and local residents in Siliguri on Friday.

The trouble erupted when a 2000-strong procession of fans was marching to the Sub Divisional Officer’s office to submit a memorandum to protest against the derogatory comments by a FM radio jockey in Delhi against Tamang, said the police.

Tamang’s fans blocked an ambulance which was on its way to the Siliguri Zilla Hospital on Hospital Road. When the local residents protested against this, Tamang’s fans started vandalising shops in the area.

So some RJ saying something in Delhi triggers off something that threatens the life of a hospital-bound patient in Siliguri and leads to the damage of property of many other Siliguri residents, all unrelated to the Delhi RJ. Stunning—and oh so commonplace in India. Ah, mobs.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 September, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol | India | News | WTF

On Mini Mathur

Reader Shradha Revankar writes in regarding Indian Idol:

Amit Paul is easily my favorite but if there was one person I could vote for it would be Mini Mathur. I have never seen any anchor on Indian television with so much panache as Mini. She speaks best only next to Javed Akhtar. She was the only one to speak in Deepali’s defence when Anu made unnecessarily rude comments about romances and crushes. She even makes the ‘acts’ they are supposed to do watchable. My only complaint is that she totally outshines Hussain but then given the kind of clothes he has been wearing in the show, I don’t really mind. Here is a lady who does her job well, yet the Mandiras of the world get more attention. You should write about her.

Indeed I should. Mini’s actually been my colleague twice in my career. When I joined HTA Delhi as a trainee copywriter in 1994, Mini had just joined in client servicing. If I remember correctly, the first brief she gave was the first brief I received. Years later, when I worked in MTV, she applied to be a VJ. Whatever TV work she had done till then was unimpressive: I remember telling my boss, who thankfully over-ruled me, that Mini was too squeaky and over-enthusiastic.

Needless to say, she has come a long way since, and is a fantastic anchor. She’s comfortable in her own skin, never puts on an act for the camera, and show enormous empathy for the Indian Idol contestants, who are all basically just young kids in a stressful situation. Also, Mini’s TV persona is an extension of what she is in real life—at least what I remember of her from many years ago—and it’s apparent that even when she is anchoring a show, what you see is what you get. We don’t see much of that on television, even in reality shows, and I think it’s tremendous.

That first brief, by the way, was for the back-panel copy of a Chito Chat packet. Even I’ve come a long way, no?

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol | Personal

101% at the Indian Idol

The WTF line of the day came a few hours ago from Anu Malik, Indian Idol judge, to Parleen Singh Gill, a contestant:

It was definitely 100, but not 101% performance.

I do not understand this. What is wrong with the world? Does Anu Malik not read my blog? Has he not read this post of mine? Pah!

Anyway, while Malik was expressing his disapproval of Parleen’s performance, the other judges liked it and so did I. I’d said before that if he starts singing competently, he can win the thing—he’s got everything else an Indian idol needs, from looks to stage presence to charisma to likability. Maybe he’s picking himself up at just the right time.

But the man to beat is Amit Paul. Amit was superb again today, and there’s no one else in the competition who looks remotely as good. The others ranged from competent to mediocre today. But with nine people left—one gets voted out in a few hours—there’s still a long way to go. If he’s coasting and his fans get complacent, he could be a surprise loser. I hope not.

In the elimination episode, I think Puja Chatterjee or Meiyang Chang could be in trouble. Prashant Tamang and Abhishek Kumar also seem unlikely to last long. Very uninspiring, they all have been, despite much early promise.

The real entertainment in the show comes from Anu Malik’s fights with Alisha Chinai. Anu certainly puts 101% into it, and Alisha fights back like a cornered kitty. Much fun.

You can read all my Indian Idol posts here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol | WTF

Gender bias on Indian Idol?

It’s interesting how some people are always on the lookout for biases. On yesterday’s Indian Idol, where one contestant was being voted out, the anchors and the judges and the hapless contestants went on and on about the gender bias at Indian Idol. The three people voted out in the last three episodes were all girls, and the three people in the danger zone last night were also all girls. Charu Semwal duly got voted out and there are now three girls and six boys left. Javed Akhtar went on a tirade about how the entire nation should be ashamed of itself, and how all of India should learn from this.

In my post a few weeks ago, “How To Predict The Next Indian Idol,” my seventh and last point was about how the winner of Indian Idol, where no female has ever reached the last three, will inevitably be male. But the reasons I postulated had all to do with voting patterns. At the level of the individual voter, is it fair to allege a gender bias?

There is no objective scale by which all these contestants can definitively be ranked. It all comes down to preferences. To imply a gender bias on the basis of individual preferences is, in my opinion, a bit of a stretch. For example, nine of the last ten books I’ve bought have been written by men. Does that imply a gender bias? The book I’m currently reading is by a woman—is that evidence of a gender bias? I get attracted to slender girls more than chubby girls, brown-skinned girls more than caucasians, and prefer pasta made in cheese-based sauces to pasta with a tomato base. Will these preferences be condemned as ‘biases’, which the Equality Police will punish me for?

It’s unfortunate that the girls are getting knocked out, and I’d love to see a woman in the last three. Deepali, especially, has been outstanding in the last couple of weeks, and has lifted her game dramatically. If I had to choose an overall winner, though, I’d pick Amit Paul. He happens to be a man. So am I sexist?

Anyway, on to the actual contest now.


Posted by Amit Varma on 22 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol

Indian Idol as soap opera

Last night’s Indian Idol was bizarre, and had so much more drama apart from the singing. There was Abhishek Kumar announcing on stage that he was an adopted child, followed by both his sets of parents coming on stage, and much bathos after that. There were various other contestants crying or almost crying when they got torn apart by the judges. And there was a surprising amount of animosity between the judges, with Anu Malik and Javed Akhtar sniping and berating Udit Narayan and Alisha Chinai.

After a performance where Udit held contrasting views to Javed and Anu, Javed turned on him and snapped. ““How can you call yourself a singer? I’m worried for you?” And then he went on and on about how “Anu Malik has a sharper ear than any of us” and “If there was the slightest fault in her singing, Anu would have caught it.” The ‘her’ in question was Smita Adhikari, Javed’s favourite.

Anu and Alisha also got ruder and ruder towards each other, and when Alisha criticised Jolly Das, who Anu had praised, Anu snapped at her, “Alisha, abhi tum kheencho mat.” Alisha was otherwise over-gushy through the show, and there was the worry that she might start slobbering at any moment. Udit looked like he might fall asleep at any time, but was graceful when attacked and humiliated by Javed and Anu.


Posted by Amit Varma on 30 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol

Javed Akhtar on voting

Much as I have criticized Javed Akhtar in the past—though only in the context of Indian Idol—he got it right on the show today when he said words to the effect of (I translate from memory):

Of course the voters can be wrong. Often they vote for the wrong political party. What’s so unusual about them voting for the wrong singer, then?

Akhtar was responding to Alisha Chinai’s silly argument that because the voters gave Suhit Gosain a final chance in Indian Idol, he can’t be that bad a singer. He was dead right when he said that Suhit’s voice was always flat. Indeed, I’d add that if they gave Suhit a flat for every time he was flat, he’d own Mumbai. Or at least Gurgaon, where the boy is from.


Posted by Amit Varma on 16 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol


If you shake me really well, you’ll get an omelette, so much egg there is on my face. A couple of days ago I said that Bhavin Dhanak would be in the top three of Indian Idol, and now he’s out of the show. In my defence, I did add that he’d have the lottery of the next two rounds to go through—and he’s fallen in the second of them. With three people voted out in each of these episodes, the fifth factor that I mentioned here posed a danger to the good singers: The complacency of fans. It accounted for Bhavin a couple of hours ago and, in my opinion, for Aisha Sayed a couple of days ago. Sonorous sadness sails.

Udit Narayan is a giant. His expressions when singers are singing, the prosaic praise he bestows upon them in his poetic voice, the rapturous smile that often fills his face: they’re all immensely joyous, and I’m sure girls and children would even find it superfreakingcute. I say this because I find a strong need to seize that adjective away from Alisha Chinai, who I’d praised thus a post ago. Her enthusiastic support of Suhit Gosain, who survives in the show, is befuddling: The boy can’t sing! Those who have watched the last two years will know what I mean when I say that Gosain is the Amit Tandon of this season. Like Tandon, his looks and supposed cuteness have gotten him further than he should have come, but he’ll find himself in trouble around the final six or seven. (See factor three here.)

At this stage, my favourites for the last four are Meiyang Chang, Emon Chatterjee, Charu Semwal and Parleen Singh Gill. But if something goes wrong, please give me tomatoes for variety, not eggs!

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol

Meiyang Chang, blogger

I think it is immensely cool for an Indian Idol contestant to have a blog. Indeed, make that blogs. Here’s Meiyang Chang’s Blogger page, which lists all his blogs:  The Buddha Soliloques is his regular blog, with travel posts and stuff, Fool’s Imagery contains his photographs, and The Amyegin Outburst has cartoons drawn by him.

Chang comes across on the show as much more intelligent and balanced than the rest of the contestants, and that comes through in his blogs as well. I predicted in my last Indian Idol post that he will reach the final three, and last night’s performance gave me no reason to rethink that. Among other things, his voice has a timbre that sets him apart from the others, and he sings with a certain sukoon, as it were, that most of the other singers just don’t have.

The boys were outstanding in last evening’s episode, and seem to be getting better with every performance. I take back what I said earlier about this year’s contestants not being as good as those in the last two: The boys, at least, are every bit as impressive as their predecessors in the last two seasons, even if there is no one quite as stunning as Karunya was last season.

Speaking of stunning, I never thought I’d think something like this, leave alone open myself to ridicule by expressing it publicly—but isn’t Alisha Chinai just superfreakingcute? The years have sat really well on her…

(More Indian Idol posts here.)

Update: Oops, apologies, forgot to indicate that I got the link to Chang’s Blogger page via email from reader VatsaL.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol | Blogging

Bhavin Dhanak. Meiyang Chang.

I’m sticking my neck out: the two guys named in the headline of this post will reach the final three of this year’s Indian Idol. The third will either be Emon Chatterjee—good singer but a bit kiddish—or Parleen Singh Gill, who I see as a dark horse. There will be no girls in the final three, as much because of the bias against girls in the last two seasons that I spoke about here, as because none of the girls this time seem to be a complete package. All the boys I named are likable, and sing well, and that’s the ticket.

However, they have the lottery of the next two rounds to get through first. Last night, three out of 12 girls were eliminated, and this evening three boys will get a ticket home. I think there’s a fair bit of luck involved at this stage, as the supporters of a good singer might feel complacent, and criticism of a bad singer might just propel that person’s supporters to vote furiously. I’m assuming that’s why the excellent Aisha Sayed got eliminated, and the much-criticised and mediocre Vartika Shukla stayed in the contest. If Indian Idol had the voting mechanism of Bigg Boss, and viewers had to vote to throw people out instead of to keep them in, the results would be different.


Posted by Amit Varma on 06 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol

The kids have taken over

If I’d waited for the piano rounds of this season’s Indian Idol to start, I might never had written this Rave Out. As I mentioned here, there are just too many kids in there. Twelve girls took part in yesterday’s round, and a third of them made me feel that I was watching some children’s singing competition. Most disconcerting.

A few quick thoughts:


Posted by Amit Varma on 05 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol

And the boys perform on Indian Idol

After my post on how to predict the next Indian Idol, I suppose it is incumbent on me to give my impressions of the first piano round for the boys (as I did for the girls here). That way, you can all come back to this post a few weeks later and laugh your guts out at how badly I got it wrong. Ho ho ho, you can go. So, so, so?

My first impression is that the standard of singing is a bit lower than the last two seasons. Also, there is no one quite as outstanding as NC Karunya was last season. But there were enough good singers to keep me watching, though one full performance is too little to go by. The next week should be fun.

The first parameter I had stated was likability: “The winner is likely to be not the best singer, but a good singer with a pleasing personality,” I had written. In that regard, Bhavin Dhanak and Meiyang Chang score. Bhavin’s got good stage presence, and he sang well—he seems a complete package. Chang, who is of Chinese origin, was excellent, and both his persona and his voice seem more mature than his fellow contestants. I wonder if there will be any bias against his Chinese origin and looks—if not, he should go at least as far as the last three.

Among the others, Parleen Singh Gill has the likability, but I’m not sure about his voice. Emon Chaterjee’s got a great voice, but may come across as just a kid. Suhit Gosain has the best stage presence and the most enthu, but his voice, alas, doesn’t seem up to it.

And the judges, well well well. As I pointed out in a comment here, Javed Akhtar could spout philosophy about a shoelace. You could collect all his aphorisms from this show and put it in a self-help book, and mothers would use it to put their children to sleep. When is Anu Malik coming back? Nice is nice, but I want nasty!

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol

How to predict the next Indian Idol

This piece of mine has been published in today’s Lounge, the Saturday edition of Mint.

We’re the world’s largest democracy, but let’s face it, politics is boring. Who to vote for? Why can’t we vote by SMS instead of having to trot to a voting booth? Why don’t our politicians perform? Pah!

That’s why Indian Idol is such a perfect show for us. It gives us the power, it gives us the ease, and it even gives us something to choose from. We’ve given up on governance – let’s vote on entertainment.

And wouldn’t it also be nice is if you could forecast the winner long before the rest of the country knew who it was? Oh, how your friends would admire you then! You would be the Indian Idol Pundit!

Well, Lounge is here to help you pick the Indian Idol winner this year. Large quantities of telephone polling are not required. Public choice theory need not be studied. All wisdom will now be revealed in seven points in the next few paragraphs. Read carefully.

One: The winner will be the boy next door.

Indian Idol is not a singing competition but a likability contest. The winner is likely to be not the best singer, but a good singer with a pleasing personality. In the first season, Rahul Saxena, Rahul Vaidya, Amit Sana, Aditi Paul and Prajakta Shukre were all better singers than the eventual winner, Abhijeet Sawant. In the second season, NC Karunya was streets ahead of Sandeep Acharya. And yet, Abhijeet and Sandeep, besides being competent singers, also had boy-next-door charm. The girls found them cute – the boys didn’t feel threatened by them. Killer combo.

Two: The winner will be an early favourite.

Keep a close eye on who wins the early piano rounds. Both Abhijeet and Sandeep won their piano round in their season of Indian Idol. Most viewers tend to decide early on who they like. The rest of the season, they ignore that person’s failings – unless they are too glaring – and find reasons to reinforce their choice.

This is also why Ravinder Ravi, who won a piano round with a powerful performance in the first season, survived until the final five despite a series of monstrously besura performances: those who had chosen him as their winner overlooked his failings, and kept finding reasons to validate their early choice. This brings us to our next point…

Three: Don’t worry about the besuras

It really is no fun unless a lousy singer goes really far in the competition, despite the jury’s criticism. This happened to Ravinder Ravi in Season One, and it happened recently to Sanjaya Malakar in American Idol. Both times, immense worries were expressed that they would win. But that could never happen.

No matter how much support they get, and for whatever reasons, bad singers will always have more people against them than for. Now, when there are seven or eight contestants left, those votes against are diffused among many people. When there are four or five left, the supporters of good singers who are eliminated switch allegiance to good singers still in the show. It then becomes harder for the besuras to survive. This also works against polarising personalities who are otherwise good singers, such as the arrogant Rahul Vaidya in Season One: the ‘against’ votes count for more as the field narrows down.

But criticism can also help the besura singers, as the next point illustrates.


Posted by Amit Varma on 02 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol | Essays and Op-Eds

The Indian Idol piano rounds begin

As my Rave Out would have made apparent, I’m a fan of Indian Idol, especially from the piano round stage onwards. Today was the first piano round, involving 14 girls, and I was somewhat disappointed. Three reasons for this:

1] Though they called it a piano round, it no longer had just a piano as accompaniment, but a full orchestra. This is disappointing. Singing with just a piano as accompaniment is more challenging for the singers, and the combination of piano and human voice is one that I rather like.

2] Anu Malik was absent due to illness, and the other judges, all brought in for this season, did not balance criticism and praise. A few of the performances were quite underwhelming, but Javed Akhtar, Udit Narayan and Alisha China were uniform in their praise. It made their presence redundant. Halfway through the show, they began to make an effort to point out mistakes, as if they had been told as much by the producers.

Malik, who now calls himself Annu Malek, plays the Simon Cowell role, but even his fellow judges of the last two seasons, Sonu Nigam and Farah Khan, didn’t shy away from criticism. They paid attention to nuance, pointed out minor technical errors, set the bar quite high, and that made their praise all the more valuable. It wasn’t cheap.

Perhaps these new judges were swayed by the youngness of the girls who sang today. And that brings me to my next point:


Posted by Amit Varma on 02 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Indian Idol

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