For a few days ahead, there will be a lot of writings on Prashant Tamang’s victory of the “Indian Idol” title. People will not be tired of talking about the Nepali cap he wore as soon as he was declared the Idol. Yes, he had it on above typical Indian attire. But this duality was subsumed into the euphoria of the victory; the cap flashed more as people were intent to see his tearful eyes and elated face. Nepalis of Nepal celebrated his achievement as their own. Nepalis of India took it as an event for communal aggrandizement and identity consolidation. And, here we have read extensive intellectualization of Prashant’s victory as the metaphor for national unity and a lesson for the bickering politicians.

Prashant’s winning has been celebrated as one Nepali’s success to boost Nepali identity by beating Indian contestants. So, cheers to the Nepalese that Sony had its networks in Nepal and their Nepaliness was awakened for a while. Cheers also to Sony and its sponsors that they could reach this land of veterans. There was nationalism in the fact that Prashant bore a Nepali look and surname, spoke Nepali and wore Dhaka Topi in the show. After that nationalism has come incessantly in public and private discourses. Nonetheless, there is justification that Nepalese helped Darjeeling to gain an Idol of their own. It is a kind of slight repaying for what Darjeeling has given to Nepal – poets, writers, artists, artistes and educators.

This time national sentiment was tricky. It led to spontaneous prioritization of Prashant’s idolization despite other more serious issues to deal with in the country. While a chunk of Nepali population was raining SMS money for this chosen Indian Idol contestant, Kpilvastu was burning. Funds were raised in lakhs and spent through Indian cell phones while hundreds of homeless people were searching their homes in rubbles and our poor government was offering to distribute relief in a few thousands. But, again, cheers to the talent hunt that it awakened nationalism in us and gave us our Idol. It proved that our youths have the power to mobilize and be mobilized for good. No point to grumble about it.

Sony has left Prashant among his people as a hero. Or, at least, he has been heroized as the promoter of the spirit of attachment and belonging. Probably this is one of the rare moments Nepalis/Nepalese have experienced in the emergence of a new hero. Also, for Indian viewers of Sony there is nothing to lose by gaining Prashant Tamang as their idol though there have been grumbles about the loss of Amit Paul. Formally, Prashant is as much an Indian as Amit is. For now it is only the difference of caste and origin, or probably the displeasure of having somebody “less Indian” than they expected.

Was it so important for Indian viewers that so and so should become an Idol? Aren’t there already half a dozen shows aired through the same Sony and other networks like Star and Zee, which are extracting SMS money into the accounts of Entertainment tycoons, telecom networks and sponsors? These shows have the same style of determining talent –through SMS votes. One can see some disgruntled Hastis feigning black faces for the ousting of this or that champ, complaining that the public do not know the talent. And the story does not discontinue. Why would it? Reality shows are money; so are SMS votes and the Hastis’ hours. The question therefore is: how much, in real sense, can we rationalize our euphoria for such idolization?

Nepal would not have been stirred by Indian Idol if someone like Prashant were not there. Perhaps, the show would have been less sensational without him. As Star Plus and Zee had equally or even more interesting talent hunts targeting the same Indian audience, Indian Idol was not necessarily unique. Sony-people might have sensed the value of keeping Prashant besides his potential to grow up to be a real talent. They must thank Prashant and Nepalis for a part of the 7 crores unprecedented SMS votes! Prashant’s presence was necessary for the show’s success in inviting wider participation, creating sudden surge of fandom and collecting more votes. The message of opportunity for a down-to-earth participant and application of democratic practices are only the positive by-products of business strategies. Anyone who knows the nature of private TV shows knows it.

For some ‘rational’ people, talent hunts are just games and dramas. Others are critical of the usual hunting down of real talents by SMS votes. But a really large number of people are sensationalized into visible contests and conflicts away from the show-stages. For example, while the Chief Minister of Meghalaya was declaring Amit “ambassador for peace and communal harmony,” there were reports about his people torturing the non-supporters of Amit. So were the reports about campaigns to force people to vote Prashant in his own area. And, it was when these two Idols were pledging eternal friendship through the show. Besides these paradoxes, there was more a necessity of relief than of euphoria in fandom, fund raising and SMS expenses.

Entertainment industries are unbeatable in the mission of creating virtual realities. The idols, the by-products of such realites, may go into oblivion with the passage of time as other such reality shows emerge with new strategies and Idols. The sensation of idolization subsides as time passes. For Prashant and the like of him, the real challenge is in the store of the real world. Indian Idol has given him fame, and with fame responsibilities. He is now to justify the title, pay for the support he got. Probably, he would have to value Nepaliness even more meaningfully now onwards. Best wishes for him.

But let us be rational. The supposed unification of Nepalis by Prashant is an offshoot of a reality show and not a reality in the sense of being expressed substantially. If we stick to its being hundred percent, let us preserve it for the days ahead when we will have to prove that we really work for great causes. The real unity had taken place in the Aprils of 1990 and 2006. Nepal waits for such unity again.

[The Kathmandu Post 29 September 2007]

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By hkafle

I am a University teacher, with passion for literature and music.

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