These days I am an avid watcher of the ZeeBangla TV reality show “Sa re ga ma pa”. In fact I have been watching it regularly for quite some years. It is mounted for a few months every year and as the programme nears its end its quality progressively improves, the singers develop better control on their voices and are able to sing difficult songs with aplomb. Only the best selected after careful auditions survive.
The singers are all amateur young men and women striving to find a place for themselves in the musical firmament of Bengal or perhaps of India. The format of the show is basically competitive; it is kind of a championship where singers found not up to the mark are eliminated. Winners every week are awarded modest prizes and something more substantial at the end after the finale.
The show is anchored by popular handsome Bengali cine actor Jishu Sengupta. He has been doing the anchoring for around six years now. He had appeared in the Hindi film Piku along with Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan and is now going to feature in Manikarnika with Kangana Ranaut. The judges are Santanu Moitra, a noted film music director known for his musical scores, inter alia, in Parineeta and Lage Raho Munnabhaim, Monali Thakur, a brilliant exponent of Rabindra Sangit and now working in Bollywood and Srikanta Acharya, a trained singer of Rabindra Sangit and a tabla player of distinction.
The quality of the programme itself has been improving over the years and the format also gets somewhat modified. This year, for instance, the format has undergone a change for the better. None is eliminated without getting a second chance and hence is kept in what is known as the Danger Zone and is discarded only if he/she fails to make the cut in a face-off with another competitor in the same zone. I believe the changes have been made under the directions of one of the experts/judges, Santanu Moitra, Surely, the music in-charge, if I am not mistaken his name is Biswajit, of ZeeBangla channel has had an important role in reworking th programme
I am sure Zee channel runs the same kind of programmes in other languages too. However, I dare say that this is the least parochial of various linguistic versions of the programme. For instance, of late, all the Indian participants are generally disposed to sing Hindi/Urdu songs and they are none the worse for it. Bengali songs have mostly come from Bangladeshi participants, one of whom even sang a Tagore Song, and that too for the first time in his life, to the acclaim of everyone.
Besides, on several occasions entire programmes have been dedicated to non-Bengali musicmakers like, inter alia, AR Rehman or Asha Bhonsle. What is more, the programme is secular to the hilt. While a Sikh participant from Durgapur sings Shyama Sangit (devotional Bengali songs sung for Goddess Kali) a Hindu boy sang a fantastic qawwali for whom Muslim accompanists were invited. One might also add that on several occasions non-Bengali experts have officiated as judges. The names of Kavita Krishnamurthi, Alka Yagnik and Udit Narain readily come to mind. That all of them are fluent in Bengali is another matter.
The stage management is perhaps the finest in the Indian TV industry. While the singers are out in front of the audience the instrumentalists are away from view and become visible only when the cameras pan towards them. The instruments are of mysriad kind, from a regular piano to synthesizers. Obviously the channel pumps in a lot of money into the show as there are numerous violinists and electric guitar players, flutists and players of saxophone. Some new kind of wind instruments were also recently introduced. They were so new that even some of the judges too had not come across them.
Then there is a plethora of percussion instruments; from tablas in dozens to various kinds of ethnic dhols and Western drums, including bongo drums. If the channel does not have the required kind of musicians it does not flinch from inviting them from outside, presumably, on payment. Recently a martial band was brought on to the stage to play along with a song that was nationalistic in character with heavy drum beats.
Apart from the musical instruments the channel puts a great deal of emphasis on choruses. Virtually every rendition is accompanied by a chorus of impeccable quality. Clearly, a lot of time, effort and money goes into finding appropriate singers to join in on the chorus, training them and then thoroughly rehearsing the number. On one occasion there were a hundred school children who formed the chorus to accompany a number sung by a Bangladeshi singer.
I am no musician; I am a self-confessed layman and yet I find this musical show fascinating so much so that I watch it everytime it is aired right till the end till 11.00 PM, a time that is rather late for an 82-year old. Many of the songs, perhaps, I wouldn’t listen to but for the way these are presented by ZeeBangla. Besides, some of the instrumentalists, like the flutist, a violinist and the Channel’s own two table players genrally give virtuoso performances.
Then, of course, the cameos performed by Jishu every time he appears on the stage that warm the heart. He is humorous and a happy-go-lucky type so much so that he is so popular among the participants, judjes and the audiences. The sponsors of the show, therefore, have no hesitation in opting for him year after year.