By Sagar S Jul. 20, 2019
Wake up every morning and tell yourself that you must put on an “unbelievable” performance. I can already hear the cynicism – and frankly lack of talent – in your voice: “Hey, if every performance is unbelievable, won’t every performance be believable?” Well, not exactly.
As former idiot box fans like me are busy waiting for the next season of Sacred Games so that we can stop watching The Office reruns yet again, something really weird has been happening to Indian TV. By this point we’re all familiar with the various fiction plots that begin with, “What if bahu is actually an insect?” but more recently, a new plague has been released. Producers are calling it the “future of storytelling”. We’re calling it, “Please turn the volume down a bit.” I’m talking, of course, of the millions of children talent shows currently streaming on every entertainment channel at primetime.
In this parallel-rose-tinted-universe, children with the most tragic backstories are pitted against each other so one can be elevated to godlike status and judges are programmed to cry at the slightest mention of the next contestant. Here, a constant hum of canned applause and extremely high-pitched catcalling is all you hear, as a host with a two-foot wall of hair and a woman worn on his arm as an accessory, brushes off every mistake with a “bad day, bad day”. Nothing can go wrong here, provided you’re prepared to, at some point, be eliminated forever… or for another season at least.
Other countries have been making the basic mistake of pitching reality talent shows as generic mind-numbing programming for lazy weekends. Indian TV, on the other hand, has taken the correct approach: Here, the talent show is not a mere daily, but a new form of therapy for families at dinnertime. Singing, dancing, singing, (did I say dancing?), they have it all. In this wholesome world, even the most awkward performers have the potential to be the “best in town”. The audience can’t stop laughing. Everyone gets a second chance. It’s beautiful.
The judges, meanwhile, make or break careers of eight-year-olds faster than you can say “Wonderful expressions today, Smita.” Just one good word from them and our lives as influential members of society – for a few years, at least – is sealed.
Unfortunately, since most of us don’t get raises based on the quality of our choreographed routines, we have to look for other ways to apply this hallowed advice to our own lives. After weeks of being forced to investigate the top 100 kids shows on full volume at home over the last couple of weeks – Dance India Dance, Super Dancer, Little Dancer, Voice India Kids, Lil Masters, and Watch This Kid Do A Backflip! to name a few – here are some notes I’ve compiled on what we can learn.
The first thing you’re going to need is an incredibly tragic backstory, preferably something involving a fatal disease, or a disabled family member. Self-pity apparently makes you both talented and much more likely to be successful. This works especially well if you’re able to give this tragic story a positive spin at the last second. Undersell, then perform your heart out. Can’t meet a deadline? Just tell everyone you were recovering from a bad bout of pneumonia and that your family lost all their money in a tragic accident while your friend plays a small violin in the background. Then send in your assignment in the next half-hour. Guaranteed to work every single time. Or as the judges would say, “You’re an inspiration to a billion Indians watching you right now.”
The next thing you have to do is wake up every morning and tell yourself that you must put on an “unbelievable” performance. I can already hear the cynicism – and frankly lack of talent – in your voice: “Hey, if every performance is unbelievable, won’t every performance be believable?” Well, not exactly. Apparently, when you’re confident enough and your make-up person and stylist has done a decent job, every project you successfully complete is the most incredible thing the world has ever seen. Simply hire someone to handle your “look”, put on a strictly average performance, and let your confidence and the canned applause handle the rest.
In this wholesome world, even the most awkward performers have the potential to be the “best in town”.
If you’ve done this right, you’ll progress to the next level, where you can approach the judges table. In real life, this process is similar to getting a promotion. Make your way slowly to the judge of your life, aka your boss and touch their feet. If the shows are to be believed, this will not be an exceptionally awkward moment, but one that everyone in the background will see unfold in slow-motion. They will applaud. The judges will wipe tears from their eyes. Promotion guaranteed. Give the host a “cutie kissie on the cheek” and you might even get a raise.
Once the prep is done, all you have to do is fight off some fierce competition from dozens of fellow cute and talented children to reach the top of your game. (Still to see a reality show promising to take children to the middle of the game and leave them there for about 20 years with no auditions). This is simple if you combine the powers of look, backstory, and an unlimited source of energy. Every time you don’t feel capable, or work catches up to you, think about all the times the judges gave you a standing ovation. Even the Ukrainian model who speaks only three words of English and was invited on as a judge that one time, “loved… your… dance…!”
But also, don’t be disheartened if no one loves your dance. There’s always next week. And then the week after that. Unless there’s an elimination coming up, in which case, shit. To avoid getting thrown out of your job, keep the above mentioned steps going until you finally burn out or until one of the judges gives you a medal. Either way, don’t forget to cry very publicly for some parting sympathy. As the ancient saying goes, “When life gives you thousands of reality shows, you shut up and dance.”
Sagar has lived in Mumbai for most of his life. You can often find him complaining about potholes and local trains when he isn't out having a mediocre time.