Shailesh Kapoor: Are Reality Show Judges too Eager to Please?

03 Jul,2015


By Shailesh Kapoor


The season of reality shows has well and truly taken off. It’s a typical phenomenon every year after the IPL concludes, but there seems that much extra on-air this year. Star Plus has Nach Baliye, and there will soon be Dance+. Colors had India’s Got Talent and there will soon be Jhalak Reloaded. One variant of DID on Zee has given way to a new season of the main DID show. Indian Idol Junior on Sony and The Voice on &TV complete the GEC reality list. So, if you have been tracking the category, eight reality shows have been in the mix, either on-air or in promotional stages. Not to talk about half a dozen others on youth channels.


All the eight mentioned above have a format that needs a jury. So, we are talking of more than 20 different judges across these shows. Now, that’s an industry in itself. Choreographers, film directors and actors typically dominate the list.


Watching a typical episode of one of these reality shows will make you feel there’s immense pressure on this lot of 20 to ‘perform’. It’s like a mini-competition on the sidelines of the larger channel battles. Everyone is out there to make an impact, without an understanding of the respect and awe that should accompany a jury chair.


It’s cue-a-gimmick judging, where interspersed between performances (all eight are talent shows, though two of them are about celebrity contestants), a judge would take off on a journey that’s ridiculously disconnected with the show. Reading shaayri is the latest favorite. What Anu Malik and Navjot Sidhu started has now become everyone’s domain.


Then there’s this sudden urge to hug contestants on stage that about a dozen judges should be medically treated for. It takes about 30 seconds of footage and barring rare exceptions, you don’t feel a speck of emotion watching it.


The new favorite that’s emerging can be called ‘Let’s pull each other’s leg’. Admittedly, it’s a lot more entertaining than the shaayri and the hugs. But when it happens every seven minutes, you begin to wonder whether you should call it a talent show.


Reality shows have been a core area of our work over the last seven years. There are three essential ingredients of what a good jury member should have, irrespective of the format of the talent show.

  1. Should be an expert in the field.
  2. Should encourage and motivate participants.
  3. Should come across as humble and rooted.


The first one may seem obvious on the face of it, but go through the list of 20 and you would know there are at least five crosses on it. But it’s the second and the third where the real gap would lie. Fans of MasterChef Australia would know what these three points mean. The jury of that show embodies them. And yet, there is no trace of gimmick and showmanship on the screen. It’s a natural, free-flowing format that delivers emotions and entertainment within itself. Nothing needs to be ‘cued’.


The original Dance India Dance jury (Geet Kapur, Terence Lewis & Remo D’Souza) met this brief very well. They had no star value at that time, and yet, would count in my book as the most successful jury combination in the two-decade history of reality television in India.


The India’s Got Talent jury for the last two seasons (Kirron Kher, Karan Johar & Malaika Arora Khan) top the current set of juries. There was a lot of free flow in the judging process, especially aided by Kher’s disarming persona, and the gimmicks, while they were present, rarely interfered with the format.


But at a larger category level, it’s time for producers and channels to question their penchant of ‘over-writing’ reality shows. Let the ‘reality’ prevail, and we may have better content!


And a note to the hosts: When you ask for state capitals to test a contestant’s knowledge, it is not called an IQ Test.


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