Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 5 Issue 124 | December 15, 2006 |

   Cover Story
   View from the    Bottom
   Straight Talk
   Special Feature
   Food for Thought
   Dhaka Diary
   Book Review
   New Flicks

   SWM Home


Pop Idol

Andrew Morris

Performing before the judges and audience. Photo Andrew Morris

Five, four, three, two, one and …action! Dry ice billows, the lights turn pink and orange, the sound of guitars and drums cascades out of the stacks of amplifiers, and the winsome singer, centre stage, launches into an assured vocal performance. The audience around me listen intently, and we all look over occasionally towards the three judges, whose hands rise and fall in time, as they clutch their headphones to their ears, nod appreciatively and smile to each other.

Do not adjust your sets: this is indeed Pop Idol, Bangladesh style, and we are at the Dhaka film studios. It is late in the cool evening, and we have driven past buildings as shadowy and empty as disused aircraft hangars. I've only ever seen these studios from the road outside, where crowds gather every day, also desperate for a glimpse of a celeb. But inside these magical walls, the scene is far from glitzy. Never mind sparkling Bollywood, this doesn't even seem worthy of Dollywood, its Dhaka equivalent. Despite my hopes, there are no film stars hanging out. No sudden troupe of actors bursting into song and dancing across a Swiss meadow, not even a sari-clad beauty being rained on, as in all the best films. The place is dark and deserted, apart from the dimly lit outline of Studio no. 2. As we make our way through an unprepossessing doorway and down a malodorous, dingy corridor, my spirits begin, slowly, to sink.

But never judge a studio by its cover, as a wise uncle once said to me. We enter the main hall and a world of sound and colour suddenly explodes. The stage is dressed up in best Vegas style: huge light bulbs as bright as fireworks, and all around, the paraphernalia of show-time: towers and tracks for cameras, cables and busy people bristling with headphones, mikes and clipboards. Every now and again a light sweeps over us and we sit up suddenly, hoping for our five seconds of fame.

Five finalists of close-up one. Star File Photo

'Are you a reporter?' an important man asks, spotting my pen and notebook. He has trendy glasses. “Ahem, yes” I answer half-truthfully, hoping that by now a single article in Star Weekend Magazine is enough to confer that august title on me, despite my lack of Press badge, or even a reporter's raincoat and hat. He whisks me off into the audience and sits me down. His openness is more impressive than his English. “Welcome to this production of Klojappon” he says to me, beaming. Alarmed, I carefully transcribe this new word. Aware that 'Biggapon' means advert, my brain is already scrambling for a related meaning. Perhaps klojappon is the word for 'fame'? I am about to ask when he points helpfully to the show's logo looming large above the stage. All is revealed: it reads “Close Up One”.

The programme is in its second year, and hugely popular. The sequence is familiar: contestants take their turn on stage, the viewing TV audience vote by SMS from their mobiles, and their decision, along with that of the judges, determines who will become this year's megastar. Last year's winner was the son of a rickshaw-driver, now a national heartthrob. This year's entrants seem knowingly glamorous already, from far more auspicious backgrounds.

But there are some intriguing twists to this Deshi version of the tried and trusted format. Pop Idol back in the UK is just one of a raft of 'reality TV' programmes whose agenda is only partly to showcase talent, or give an insight into psychology. The real rationale behind the shows in which people are either locked in a building and drone endlessly on about their neuroses, or swap lives, wives or houses, or try to express their showbiz dreams in filmed auditions, is to exercise our new-found western delight in watching people whose lives are even more miserable than ours making complete buffoons of themselves. And if, in a competitive programme like this, we can rely upon one or more of the judges to deliver a scathing and humiliating verdict, so much the better.

But here the thrust seems much more positive. The music is genuinely of a high standard, and I am impressed with the way all the judges are keen to encourage as well as offer gentle comment on how a particular line needed more oomph, or a chorus fell a bit flat. These judges are all famous musicians in their own right, and have the looks to prove it: one of the men has longish hair and the other sports a Zappa-style moustache, while the sole female judge has a rich, glossy beauty.

Meanwhile the would-be stars on stage, for all their preening confidence, are impeccably mannered during the post-performance feedback, their nervousness allayed by the soothing tones of the comments. “Yes Sir, Thank you Madam” they murmur in response. At the end of the show they line up to touch the feet of the judges as a mark of respect. Difficult to imagine that back in London…

The esteemed panel of judges of close-up one. Photo Andrew Morris

The audience I am sitting amongst, on the other hand, is fairly lifeless. Perhaps they have found their way to the wrong studio and were expecting a cookery programme instead. Despite the razzmatazz set with its blazing primary colours, we are clearly in need one of those studio cheerleaders to hold up a sign saying “You may smile now”. The applause at the end of each song sounds as light as an April shower. A musician friend explains later that Dhaka audiences are notoriously stingy with their clapping. Forget about encores - if you can succeed here, and coax even a modest response out of the audience, you can make it anywhere.

Up on the stage the singers, dressed up in their finery, provide a pretty passable imitation of rock stars. They strut, strike poses, thrust their arms into the air. But above all, they belt out these tunes with huge aplomb and talent to match. They are all impossibly good-looking: the girls with chiselled cheekbones and expertly applied make-up, the epicene boys with carefully prinked hair, red bandannas, carefully casual jeans.

During the interval I wander down the corridor and push curiously at a half-open door. I am met by a dazzling set of smiles and welcomed in. This bare little space is the dressing room. In a faded evocation of past glory there are light bulbs round all the mirrors, but only one of them works. No matter, the atmosphere is electric enough: this is where all the contestants are waiting anxiously. One of the huge advantages of being a foreigner here is you have a passport to go wherever you like, and if you happen to speak Bangla too, you have an all-purpose visa to boot. These starlets seem as flattered by my interest (I'm still carrying my magic notebook of course) as I am by theirs. They try out their language skills: they all speak fluent MTVish, greeting me with “Hello, man” and telling me, like, how “cool” things are. All, I'm relieved to hear, pronounce 'Close Up One' with great accuracy. They have come from all over the country, and dream of one day becoming real stars, playing concerts to adoring fans. One of them garnered over 200,000 votes from viewers in the last round, and is quietly confident of proceeding as one of the final three contestants

One by one they are called back into the studio to perform their chosen piece. Sound checks, polished performance, judges' reponse. Then each of them does a coy piece to camera asking you to text their name to a special number, if you liked their song. Your correspondent can't reveal which ones he will vote for, but rest assured that come the time, he too will pluck out his phone and key in a name or two to mark his appreciation of the best of these considerable talents.

This is one election at least which will go smoothly. I can predict with some confidence that, whatever happens elsewhere in our ever-changing city, whoever wins this contest will have richly deserved their crown.



Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2006