The current Indian Idol season may end soon but the singing and searching is set to continue.
This time, teenagers in colleges across the country will be asked to croon to some very different music—bhajans, kirtans and slokas.
Aastha, the largest religious network in India, plans its own version of Sony TV’s popular Indian Idol. The new show is a part of Aastha’s programming overhaul and strategy to appeal to a younger viewership. It also reflects the growth and customization of reality television, a global phenomenon partly begun by Indian Idol’s precursor, American Idol.
Temporarily christened Religious Indian Idol, Aastha’s programme will launch “a national talent hunt across colleges, cities and states within a few months,” according to Arvind Joshi, Aastha TV’s director of marketing and programming.
Industry watchers say they are not surprised. It is only a natural progression for Aastha to take reality television to religion, said Siddhartha Mukerjee, a media analyst at Television Audience Measurement.
Over the last two years, Indian TV has seen a spate of tweaked reality shows that are versions of shows from American and British reality television: American Idol, The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Big Brother and MTV Roadies.
Idol alone has spawned popular homegrown copycats such as Zee’s Sa Re Ga Ma and Star One’s Nach Baliye.
Others have been even more innovative, such as Cricket Star, a show that unearthed fast-bowling sensation Sukhvir Singh, broadcast on Zee Sports and the state-run Doordarshan. The shows can promote many advertisers or a single sponsor, such as the Airtel Scholar Hunt on NDTV, where students with an “expanded worldview and desire to make the most of their lives” compete for scholarships to study in the UK.
At Aastha, Joshi is still working out details of his Religious Indian Idol but says he has received a positive response from principals of city colleges. He said he is awaiting the reopening of colleges next month so he can approach their boards and principals with a plan for auditions.
As he envisions it so far, colleges will come up with a list of candidates and Aastha will select contestants based on their “enthusiasm, conviction in their beliefs and, of course, their devotion,” Joshi said, adding that he has not yet sought permission from Idol officials to license their name.
Contacted by Mint, a Sony spokesman said that progra-mmes with similar formats to American Idol, which itself was based on the British Pop Idol, will likely have to be licensed.
Sony, for example, obtained licensing for Indian Idol from FremantleMedia, a UK-based production company that has created content for many reality programmes. Fremantle has launched shows such as Pop Idol, The Unteachables, How Clean Is Your House and The Price Is Right. But Idol has seen the most spinoffs, from Idolos Brazil to Deutschland sucht den SuperStar. “So I am quite sure that if the format is similar, they too will have to get licensing,” said Rohit Gupta, head of marketing at Sony Entertainment Television.
Aastha intends to invite “some of the top names in devotional music” as judges, he added. Such names being considered include the renowned bhajan singer Anup Jalota and Indian classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj.
Shows such as Religious Indian Idol reflect a maturing reality television market offering highly specialized offerings, and the market is only priming itself for more such experimentation in the genre, Mukerjee said. “India has not yet touched the tip of the reality TV iceberg,” he said. “Until then, we are still learning from the West.”