| A still from the Indian Idol episode
July 20: “Hum bolega to bologe ke bolta hai…” sang Prashant Tamang, and the hills erupted once again.
But it wasn’t in applause for the local boy who has made it to the last 10 of Sony’s Indian Idol contest.
The Gorkha community from Darjeeling to Sikkim — which has been voting en masse for Tamang and even holding rallies in his support — was furious the Calcutta police constable was made to dress up as a chowkidar for the song telecast last night.
“This has humiliated the entire Gorkha community. Does the channel want to send a message that Gorkhas are only meant to be chowkidars'” asked Tenzing Khambachay, commissioner of a Darjeeling municipality ward, voicing a grouse the community has long held.
Hill residents hoisted black flags at Darjeeling Chowrasta when Calcutta police orchestra — where Tamang is the lead singer — performed to drum up support for their colleague. Protest posters surfaced across the hills and residents wore black armbands through the day.
“Such crass stereotyping of our community must be challenged and countered,” said Tshering Topgyal, a Kalimpong resident who had organised a vote-for-Prashant rally a few weeks ago.
Tamang was enacting Pran’s role in the 1974 film Kasauti, where Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini play the sahib and memsahib to whom he sings. Two other Indian Idol contestants played Amitabh and Hema in the spoof.
The row over Gorkha typecasting comes soon after a Delhi police booklet for Northeast students was found to reinforce stereotypes.
“How many times do we have to prove ourselves'” asked Darjeeling MLA Pranay Rai. It was because of incidents like these that the hill people had to struggle for their identity — a reference to the Gorkhaland agitation — he said.
The hills have been following with pride the progress of the first local boy in the contest, and voting away furiously. In Indian Idol, which is in its third edition, the fate of contestants depends on the number of audience votes they can poll after each round.
Last month, hill residents had turned violent when SMSes they had sent didn’t reach Sony.
Tamang needn’t worry that the text messages will dry up after the chowkidar act, which sources close to him said he had been unwilling to do.
“It is now time for the hill people to cast as many votes as possible,” said Khambachay, who wondered why Tamang could not have been asked to play the policeman he is.
Stray voices of protest against the youth did rise. “Under no circumstances should he have agreed to do last night’s episode. We have been voting for him because we believed he was one of us. He has let us down,” said Jyoti Karki, a community leader in Kalimpong, who wants him to walk out of the show.
But others appealed to the hills to vote for Tamang with greater vigour. A meeting in Gangtok passed a resolution to continue supporting him.
“Many people have felt angry and hurt with Prashant because of the way he was dressed for the episode. We appeal to them all to continue to vote for him because he was compelled to do so by the channel. We will take up the issue with Sony, said Kishore Moktan, the convener of the Sikkim Journalists’ Forum.
MLA Rai wanted an unconditional apology from the channel.
But a Sony spokesperson in Mumbai said: “It wasn’t our intention to hurt anyone’s sentiments. He was dressed to suit the song. Some weeks back, another contestant, Abhishek, had dressed as a Tamilian to suit the song he was singing. We see nothing wrong in it.”