“You can do it,” said the old man. He had a strained voice from all the crying. He sounded like he meant it.
But I knew the truth!
I never cared when they laughed at me. I never cared when they pointed at me, stared at me or whispered bad things about me. I always found a way to not let their judgemental looks affect me. And when many acted cruel and cold towards me because of my poverty, I shrugged it off.
But when they comforted me, teared up for me and hugged me, I got offended. And I almost lost my cool.
Because I knew it was all a lie.
That’s odd. Isn’t that what I always wanted? Someone to care about me? Someone to support my actions, show faith in me, even pity me in a loving way inspite of my poor background? And didn’t I repeat to myself, when I was younger, that someday someone would care about me… And that they would make all my problems go away?
I stood in the center of it all, looking up their faces. They were staring back, some with comforting looks, others teary-eyed and pitiful. The light over my head shone so bright. It hurt my eyes, but I was adamant. I wanted to look back into their eyes. To see it all. To realize something I never thought I would have to face.
And despite everything, despite the burning inside my heart, despite my inner instincts and feelings, I smiled back.
AUDIENCE MEMBER #216
He was happy. Euphoric, even. One of his innermost dreams had been realized.
As he steadied his hand on the mouse, he re-read the email once again. It bore the crisp words:
‘You have been selected as an audience member for our show Rely Maro presents Music Gaana Superstar on the 2nd of Feb. You id number is 216. Please grace us with your presence at 10 in the morning at…’ followed by the address.
Mr 216 yelped in pleasure, fist-pumped the air, and danced around his apartment in his boxer shorts. He could hardly believe the email. He was going on his favourite music competition show!
The day arrived. Mr 216 woke up very early, as he wanted to be ready for the occasion. He texted his family on his WhatsApp group, telling them he was getting ready to go.
He reached the place specified in the email, completed the formalities, and finally plopped himself down in the hugely comfortable chair.
He craned his neck around, trying to breathe in the whole thing. The judges sat in the middle, right in front of the stage. Big blue spotlights flashed on them. They were currently surrounded by their make up artists and crew. The director of the show seemed to be giving them some instructions. The female judge seemed to be focused more on the mirror in front of her than the words of the director. The older male judge, a sharp man in his 60s, was checking his mic, but he seemed to be the only one listening. The third judge, another popular singer and a young man, was pretending to listen, but was more focused on waving at his fans in the audience. Mr 216, a fan himself, tried to catch his attention but the third judge was looking the other way.
Mr 216 felt elated. He was seeing celebrities up close. And he was going to be listening to music. To real life music. And perhaps also be on TV.
It took 2 more hours to set everything up, an hour after that to hand out clear instructions (a screen above the audience would display emotions and the audience had to emote them. For example, it the screen flashed ‘Sighs’, the audience had to dramatically, well, sigh. Then there were other cues like ‘Laugh’, ‘Silence’, ‘Commercial’ and ‘Applause’.)
The show began another hour after that as everyone took positions. The contestants were sitting on their benches, the judges were ready, the host – a beautiful anchor in a one piece – took the stage, and so it began.
The experience was something different. Mr 216 decided that it was better to watch the music show on TV than in real life, because the real life TV show shooting was harrowing. The judges took their time in beginning their practiced speeches, the singers would make mistakes which would have to be repeated, the anchor would sometimes fumble with her punchlines, which would result in reshoots as well…
And then came the music. Since he was sitting in the fifth row, Mr 216 could not really see the singers well. There were big screens behind the singers that showed the faces of the singers, but that, Mr 216 thought, could’ve easily been accomplished at home.
He sighed. He was halfway through the now boring music show, when the next singer climbed the stage.
She was an unusual contestant. Being a thin, slightly stooping woman who looked a lot older than the rest of the contestants, she still managed to walk with grace and stand with poise. Her face was sallow and sunken, her hair halfway between gray and black. Her spectacles were thick and round. Her smile revealed crooked teeth but it was a sweet smile nevertheless. On her face was hope and elation. Something told Mr 216 that this day was the happiest day of the woman’s life.
She smiled broadly as the audience clapped hard. The anchor hugged the woman and looked at the judges, and the camera.
“So after that marvelous break, we are back with a bang. Our next contestant is the aged, but beautiful singer from the small village of-” (Mr 216 didn’t catch the name as it was long and complicated) “- Shalu auntie….”
The audience cheered and clapped more fervently. Whistles, hoots and cheers filled the air, but it seemed voluminous, especially for such a small audience. This is when Mr 216 knew how fake the noises were.
Mr 216 waited for Shalu to sing, and Shalu seemed to be waiting for same, but the anchor continued “Shalu auntie is here today to sing in front of you for the first time ever, but not before going through hell. Yes, Shalu auntie has experienced a lot many ups and downs in her life to reach this point. Shalu auntie, we feel so strongly about your history. And welcome you to our stage!”
More claps. The audience cheered on. The anchor smiled gracefully, her face radiant on cue. Shalu looked at her, and smiled some more.
“Let’s take a look…” said the anchor, and the screen behind her transitioned from weird wavy patterns of colour to a montage of Shalu’s tough past.
Mr 216 watched as the narrator of the montage explained “Shalini Parikh was born 48 years back in a small village in Maharashtra. Born to a father of 3 girls and 2 boys, she was raised by her parents in a poor household. Her father worked as a rickshaw driver while her mother taught at the local school, earning only enough to feed half her children.
“So when Shalu, now 4 and underfed, was about to turn 5, her parents welcomed another son into their home. And as a result of this, Shalu found herself in an even poorer circumstance. At the age of 9, her father died of a heart attack and her mother had to now bear the burden of 7 children on a meagre teacher’s salary. Meanwhile, Shalu had begun taking care of her siblings, whilst also showing an interest in singing.
“Finally, tragedy struck at the Parikh household when her mother, now unable to bear the troubles of 7 children, killed herself, taking 2 of the eldest daughters with her. Shalu, now only left with 4 siblings, struggled all her life to make ends meet. Never married, Shalu left her passion for music behind as she fought against destiny to live… To survive. And today, we have given her a chance to regain her love for her passion…”
Mr 216 yawned. He actually yawned, as the montage ended. He had heard such sob stories a lot of times before. He didn’t care about them, because he knew that every reality show, and a music show at that, showed atleast one sad dramatic story to gain viewers. It sickened him.
But he had to applaud. Because that’s what the screen said. So he tried to finger in eyes into tearing up, dawned the most somber face he could muster, and clapped in false sorrow. The audience accompanied him. Even the judged were now crying openly, although artificially. And that too only because the camera was on them. Shalu shed a tear too, looking sad. She wiped it off. Even the anchor hugged her.
“You can do it,” said one of the judges in a fake brittle voice and Shalu smiled and nodded at them. The female judge got up, approached Shalu, spoke some words of kindness and hugged her too. She returned back to her seat just as the anchor left the stage. And Shalu began to sing.
I finished the song, but I didn’t care anymore. Their faces has changed my perspective. I didn’t care about the prize money. I knew I wouldn’t win it anyways. Because reality was staring at my face.
When I had been selected to be a participant in this singing competition, I had thought it was my skill. I had believed it was my daily routing of stringent practicing singing that had won me this chance. But I knew better now. It had been my past, my colourful, pitiful past, that had grabbed their attention.
I screamed into the mic. My smile had vanished. I looked directly at the judges.
“So that’s why you chose me, isn’t it. Because of my father. Because of my mother. Because of my dead sisters. Because of my 4 siblings in this audience. Because you think it will garner sympathy. And that’s what will drive votes. Drive viewership.
“I had come here to sing for someone appreciates music. Who wants to give my music a try! But instead, I have come here for my story. For sympathy. I don’t want it. I don’t need it. Go to hell.”
I saw myself throwing the mic at the judges and walking off. Even though my hip was still weak, in my mind I could do anything.
But it wasn’t true. It was just something staged in my mind. Something I wanted to do, but definitely did not have the guts to. I felt sick in my stomach, because I knew I would have to comply. This was not a live show. And if I had said those things, I would be thrown out, the amount promised to me would be forgotten and everything would be over. I couldn’t let that happen.
And so, I did the most logical thing I could think of.
AUDIENCE MEMBER #216
Shalu finished singing, and was met with applause almost at once. Even Mr 216 had to admit that for an old frail lady like this one, Shalu was gifted.
And so, when the judges had given passed their judgements, praised Shalu’s voice, she smiled brightly. But this time, something was different. Her seemingly warm smile did not meet her cold eyes. It was wrong. It felt misplaced, the smile.
Mr 216 shook his head.
I left the stage and the moment I did, I was handed the money and thrown out. I didn’t understand at first. Why was this happening to me? I had gotten great votes from the judges. Everyone had liked my performance, and yet, I was being forced out.
I yelled at them, but they didn’t care. They explained how this was a one time thing, and how the viewership had declined once they had eliminated Miss Roxanne Dhillon last week.
My short reel life was all they needed.
This story is something I thought of while actually watching its real counterpart. At the moment of writing this, I am slightly sleep deprived because of which this may not be the best version of this story. I also do not claim to be an expert at knowing how these shows work behind the scenes. So excuse the inaccuracies there. Other than that, enjoy!
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