Just when you thought that India had been saved from a dancing, singing godman, a brand new channel—Star Bharat—has dashed our hopes. 28 August marked the launch of the new spiritual channel, Star Bharat, which was headlined by a singing reality show called Om Shanti Om.
Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Till you realise that the star of the show is none other than the star of India’s spiritual universe, Baba Ramdev. Promos of the show have been floating all over the Star network. Ramdev, togged out in his saffron robes, baring his hirsute-albeit-toned belly, strumming a guitar. Reminiscent of Elvis and Ricky Nelson rolled into one. Entertainment and spirituality doesn’t get better than this.
He is the troubadour for our souls. Showing us that bhakti is best sung in A-minor.
I know the comparison is odious, but the convicted rapist Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, in his early days as teen idol-cum-guruji, had said in many an interview that if the youth would rather watch a film than go to a satsang, then he would make films into satsang by producing, acting, directing, singing in films with spiritual messages. Ramdev has taken this ethos forward.
Because here he is, on Star Bharat’s Om Shanti Om playing father figure and sitting on a plush vinyl upholstered arm chair overseeing the proceedings. Much like Navjot Singh Sidhu used to do in Comedy Nights With Kapil.
I watched the first episode, which was also the first show to be aired on Star Bharat. The episode began with actor Ranveer Singh with a Farrah Fawcett haircut, dancing like he has crickets in his pants. It was a wild, “Maata chad gayee" kind of dance, which really made me worry for Singh’s sanity and blood pressure. But the people seemed to love it. Singh then evocatively said that his “dil abhi bhi local hai". And that this was, “India’s, duniya’s, first singing spiritual reality show".
He then introduced the 14 participants—from Jammu, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand (Roorkee, Nainital), Bihar (Patna, Muzaffarpur), West Bengal (Kolkata), Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh (Manali), Assam, Gujarat (Ahmedabad) and Delhi. And said they will give our cultural heritage, “ek naya (new) power".
Then Singh exited. And in the midst of thunder and lightning (really, I kid you not), the host Aparshakti Khurana made an appearance. And that’s when the showstopper was revealed.
Aparshakti announced, “Poore vishwa ke sabse bada guru hai, yeh hum sab ke liye lade hai, please welcome yog rishi param pujya Swami Ramdevji" (He is the biggest guru in the universe, he has fought for us, please welcome Yog Rishi the honourable and revered Swami Ramdev).
Ramdev then entered with a beatific smile, to be showered with marigold petals by dancers and to have his feet touched by Aparshakti. Ramdev proceeded to give us a lecture on sanskar, spirituality, buying Patanjali products (okay, that I made up), singing, and other pearls of wisdom. He then shouted, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai" and “Vande Mataram"—as you must on every show and every day and every moment of your life. Because god is watching you, or at least Ramdev is.
To give the devil his due, I do get the appeal of this show. And I do think it’s a winning idea. There is no spiritual singing show in India. And there are a whole bunch of talented singers who sing during the Pujas, Ganesh Chaturthi, Mata Ki Chowkis and so on. And reality TV works like a charm in India when it comes to grabbing eyeballs. They’ve tried to make the show as “with it" as other song reality shows. There are 3 gurukuls which will be headed by “cool" people, who have through “kala" (talent) and “sangeet" (music) influenced the youth. These are Ramdev’s words, not mine. The spiritually alive judges are Kanika Kapoor (Gurukul Tashan) who was dressed like an Amar Chitra Katha apsara and danced and sang with other women dressed like apsaras, while the good Babaji beamed and applauded from his Pleather throne. The other two gurukuls are headed by music producer and singer Shekhar (Gurukul Lagan) and Sonakshi Sinha (Gurukul Jashn), actress and daughter of Bharatiya Janata Party politician Shatrughan Sinha.
All three judges said that they’re “grateful to Star Bharat and Swamiji for inviting" them. They also said, “Guruji jaisa koi nahin hai" (there is no one like Guruji) and then sang “tujh me rab dikhta hai" (god can be seen in you) to Ramdev without realizing that they had set new standards to sycophancy.
Popular singers Badshah and Sukhwinder sang as well. The songs were from Ajay Devgn’s magnum opus, Shivaay —which is a study in how not to make cinema.
I see nothing wrong in making spiritual music “cool". After all, we sing gospel music quite happily and it does have some of the finest singers in the international music world. But there’s something spine-chilling about watching a spiritual leader being feted and praised and showered with flowers and deified in today’s day and age. The utter lack of humility or attempt at normalcy was difficult to miss. Hats off to Ramdev though, for showing us that he can definitely think out of the Patanjali box.
You can watch Om Shanti Om on Star Bharat. All you have to do is get into a yoga pose and shout Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai at your shut TV set. It will instantly switch on and automatically tune into the Star Bharat channel. Enjoy.