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SONG AND DANCE

The rest of India will dance to Bengal’s tune soon. The Bengali dance show Dance Bangla Dance, hosted by actor Mithun Chakraborty from a sofa, one foot pointing at the camera, is the inspiration behind Dance India Dance, a national contest that kicked off on Friday.

Dance Bangla Dance is the No. 1 TRP show in Calcutta. I am Mahaguru there. Wahan se thought aaya inko aisa dance show karne ka,” Mithun declared in Mumbai as Zee TV launched Dance India Dance.

“Aritro has become a household name,” said Zee Entertainment Enterprises COO Nitin Vaidya. Aritro, the chubby, precocious anchor of the show who studies in Class IV, matches Mithun repartee by repartee with one-liners that one thought would come naturally only to adults.

And when Aritro goes “Apnara dekhchhen Channel 10” in a promo, he has Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan for company!

Bengal may not have much to show — Sourav has retired, the Nano has been driven out, the winter didn’t last — but Calcutta and its neighbourhoods, in many ways, are the capital of talent shows.

This part of the world not only sends up the largest number of performers who excel at the shows, but also generates a hysteria about them that is perhaps unparalleled elsewhere.

Television channels acknowledge this. “The kind of support that Calcutta comes up with is seldom seen in other places. All the live shows ahead of any reality show finale have been sold out in Calcutta,” says a STAR Plus spokesperson.

Head count

The shows have given birth to a pantheon of young household gods. Not only Bengali girl Shreya Ghoshal, who won it in the Nineties, or Aneek and Emon, who made it big two years ago. The head count of top performers and winners from Bengal in the latest talent shows is impressive.

Out of the six finalists of the current Indian Idol show, five are from the east. Ravi Shukla of Howrah won the latest STAR Voice of India. Soumen Nandi from Sodepur was second runner-up in the just-concluded Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2009. Calcutta girls Rooprekha Banerjee and Ujjayini Mukherjee heated things up on Jo Jeeta Wohi Superstar. The Roy family of Naihati danced and acted their way to the Rock-n-Roll Family crown in mid 2008. Phoolbagan boy Naman Shaw is a favourite on Nach Baliye. The list goes on (see below).

Most of these contestants have fan clubs, online and otherwise, dedicated to them. “I have a fan club with 100-plus members on Orkut, mostly comprising Calcuttans,” says Anwesha Datta Gupta, who was the runner-up on Chhote Ustaad in 2008.

What’s going on? Is Bengal really so talented musically? Some think it is. It has a reputation to live up to.

“People of Bengal are intense and intellectually driven, outspoken and frank. All elements of the Bengali persona found expression through music and dance talent hunts,” says Zee COO Vaidya.

Since there are not too many other cultural platforms where all the “elements of the Bengali persona” can now find expression — theatre, good popular cinema, classical music or even abritti (recitation) — the television talent show it is. It is one of the few remaining places where Bengali talent can be demonstrated.

“Dance and song are now not looked down upon as they were earlier, with many parents aspiring for a career in these fields for their children. These shows are largely aspirational and the money and the fame that they promise have the middle class hooked,” says Prasanta Ray, sociologist. The thrill of reality television has resulted in a loyal audience, he adds.

But that would be everywhere. The viewer in Bengal, in addition, brings regional pride and a sense of entitlement. “We watch regional shows like Dance Bangla Dance and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. We understand music well, kothay shur katlo, kokhon wrong judgement holo, onyo gaan korle bhalo hoto kina, we analyse everything,” says 58-year-old Naktala resident Dhirendranath Majumdar.

The involvement is intense.

“We were extremely upset with the judgement on an Indian Idol episode. We quit watching the show,” says homemaker Mira Mitra, who with husband Tuhin has been watching television contests for four years now. The couple have had serious arguments — not speaking to each other for days — over these.

Reena Nath, 16, refuses to budge from her “lucky chair” when elimination day dawns for Calcutta boy Naman Shaw on Nach Baliye. Call centre executive Prerna Surana, 22, doesn’t wear anything new on Saturdays fearing it might harm her favourite Idol contestant, Rajdeep Chatterjee. Mira Mitra keeps a notepad and pen ready — she keeps the scores of every participant in every single episode of every musical talent show on air!

Says Emon: “It’s been more than a year since Idol, but even today people remember which song I sang in which episode and what clothes I was wearing. It’s unbelievable.”

The big bang

The fireworks really started in 2007, with Aneek and Emon. Aneek Dhar from Lake Gardens lifted the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa trophy at the same time even as Khardah’s Emon Chatterjee, another 17-year-old, was making music on the third edition of Indian Idol. Emon ended up the second runner-up. The return of the two boys was like Sourav coming back after the Dhaka century, another feather in the Bengali cap!

“With Aneek, most Calcuttans, grandparents to grandchildren, made it a point to be in front of the television set. It became a sort of movement, a movement which said ‘Bangali chhele, amader chhele’,” says techie Saikat Moitra.

Such was the frenzy that Moitra, not an avid reality show viewer, confesses to having sent off “as many as 120 SMS votes” at one go in support of Aneek. “I had to, after all it was the question of a Calcutta boy making it big.”

Many households have never been the same since. Walk into an average Bengali home, cutting across classes, in the evening on weekends, and you will find it glued to music blaring non-stop from the television. At 7pm on Sony, Boogie Woogie. At 8pm on STAR Plus, Nach Baliye 4. At 9pm on Sony, Indian Idol 4. At 9pm on Zee Bangla, Dance Bangla Dance. At 9.30pm on Zee Bangla Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Lil Champs. At 9.30pm on Zee TV, Dance India Dance.

The Bengali viewer is under more pressure because unlike in many other regions, where national shows are most popular, in Bengal, the Bengali talent shows are high TRP earners. Dance Bangla Dance gets a score of 6+.

Dance Bangla Dance and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa (the Bengali show) are the TRP drivers for our channel. The audience participation is huge. Our contestants are celebrities in their own right and every week there is a long list of applications to be a part of the studio audience,” says Rajib Chatterjee, senior vice-president and business head, Zee Bangla.

Looks like there will be no let-up in talent shows, participants and viewers in the near future in and around Calcutta.

Meanwhile, with five of the six finalists on Indian Idol from the east, Sony is toying with the idea of hosting the finals in Calcutta.

And Aritro is tired of his cheeks being pinched by strangers.

“It happened all the time on the Metro or on buses. Aritro used to get very upset,” says his mother Anuradha, who now takes a taxi to the Tollygunge studios. The boy joined a new school in Sodepur last April and his mother put in a request to the principal that her son be treated like any other student.

“While standing in the queue to deposit his school fees, I heard other guardians discussing how their sons insisted on enrolling here as they had heard Aritro would be here. Of course, I did not introduce myself,” she said.

city champs

Aneek Dhar was Sa Re Ga Ma Pa champion in 2007 (in picture right with Akshay Kumar)
Emon Chatterjee came third in Indian Idol 3 in 2007
Rooprekha Banerjee won Fame Gurukul in 2005
Ujjayini Mukherjee won Ek Main Aur Ek Tu in 2006
Sanchita Bhattacharya of Howrah won Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li'l Champs in 2006
Calcutta cop Prashant Tamang won Indian Idol 3 in 2007, raking in close to 4 crore votes in the finals
Sharanya Deb (Tathoi, co-host of Dance Bangla Dance) was Amazing Entertainer in Pogo Amazing Kids Awards in 2008
Anwesha Datta Gupta of Golf Green was runner-up on Chhote Ustaad in 2008
The Roys of Naihati won the Rock-n-Roll Family crown in 2008.
Naman Shaw is a finalist on Nach Baliye 4

life is beautiful for musical winners

Emon Chatterjee, second runner-up, Indian Idol 3
The Khardah boy is a celebrity, even a year-and-a-half after Indian Idol 3. The 18-year-old does numerous live shows in a month and shuttles between Calcutta and Mumbai. In Khardah, he lives in a two-storeyed house with his parents. Emon is the toast of local political parties, one poster proclaiming: “Emon-er safolye amra gorbito”. He loves zipping around on his bike in the para. These days, of course, he prefers driving around his spanking new Santro.

Anwesha Datta Gupta, Chhote Ustaad, first runner-up
A small but tastefully done-up flat in Golf Green’s Phase II is home to Anwesha Datta Gupta and her family. The 15-year-old, who won over Lata Mangeshkar and Amitabh Bachchan with her melodious voice, shuttles between Mumbai and Calcutta. Having sung for films like Golmaal Returns and Rituparno Ghosh’s Khela, the student of Lycee School is raring to go for more.

Ravi Shukla, STAR Voice of India 2 champion
Through the narrow lanes of Howrah the imposing Liluah Cinema in residential Shantinagar looms into view. Just behind is flat No. 5 of building No. 1 — home to Star Voice of India 2 winner Ravi Shukla. Everything about the house screams ordinary, but its occupant is special. A token cheque and a large car key — both of which came with the Voice of India title — are on display. The pride is evident in the eyes of his parents. “We are a simple family whose son has reached extraordinary heights,” smiles RS Shukla, his father.

Sanchita Bhattacharya, Li’l Champs winner
She stays in Mumbai for the better part of the year as Zee features the teenager in one
show after another. Her father Dhrubo has taken VRS from his Howrah Municipality job to be with her.

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