SMS Idol?

Prashant Tamang, a constable in the West Bengal Police, was on Sunday night declared the winner of talent hunt show Indian Idol after he pipped his rival Amit Paul. The fact that both Tamang and Paul were from Darjeeling and Shillong respectively only added to the euphoria witnessed across the northeast in the run up to the contest. What has however taken the spin out of all the hoopla is undoubtedly the criticism over the manner in which the freewheeling ‘public voting’ system has undermined the spirit of fair play and just competition. After all it needs to be remembered that the Indian Idol is watched by millions of TV viewers all over the country. And the question therefore arises, whether such extravaganza are about judging of singing talents or bowing down to popular sentiment and the dictates of majoritism—the decision in the case of the Indian Idol was swayed by over seven crore votes sent by people from all over the country. 

It is not surprising at all to learn that in this age of blatant consumerism and profiting interactive talent hunts are considered the biggest money spinners in the television entertainment industry and the popularity of shows like Indian Idol – running into its third season is an indication of just that. As per authentic records, an average of 1.5 billion SMSes is generated nationally every week. The marriage of reality TV shows and mobile telephony is therefore only natural. It is also reported that on one of the days during the Indian Idol contest, over three million SMSes were sent from across India and key overseas locations. The gross revenue terms for mobile operators therefore will run into millions of cash.  

While such prime time television shows make good sense to rake in the moolah, the recent trend of selecting winners through SMSes is certainly not the best way to go about things because a good singer could be left out in the process while a less-gifted one may emerge victorious. It also means that one’s artistic talent is being tested less now. Worst still, there are four-five judges but their decision is not taken into account. Only SMSes are considered, which clearly is an extreme form of selecting a winner although others may argue that the public is empowered to play the judge by simply keying in a code on his or her mobile phone. But the question is whether this is anywhere near fairness and quite to contrary, it becomes another form of mob behavior while encouraging herd sentiment among the voting public.

The moot point then is should SMS based voting be the deciding factor because for one, the public may not understand the nuances that are expected to be taken into consideration especially while making a decision on the qualitative aspect. While no one is against talent hunts, the onslaught of ‘public voting’ leaves a question mark as to whether real talent is being acknowledged. The opinion of judges therefore cannot be ignored and their expert viewpoint must be made inclusive in the overall process while choosing the winner. This will give a semblance of sensibility and order in the otherwise mad rush of euphoria and surcharged emotions witnessed among the public.  Once this is done, many of the discrepancies observed during public voting can be mitigated and fair-play can be ensured at least to some extent.