Monday, January 21, 2008

From India, With Love

While I was in India, I realized I had a unique opportunity. Not to learn about my heritage or to see the sights in a wonderful, ancient land. Not even to spend time with family I hardly ever see. Puh-lease. Been there, done that.

This time, while I was in India, I watched television.

My favorite show, hands down, was Sa Re Ga Ma Pa L'il Champs. This is a children's singing competition ("Sa Re Ga Ma Pa" being the first five notes in the scale - like "Do Re Me Fa So" - and also the title an adult's singing competition that ran from 1995-2005). Now, I am not a fan of American Idol or the forty-seven billion American shows of its ilk. But L'il Champs combines the cuteness of children ages 7-14 with ah-mazing Indian music and some really heartwarming teamwork. That's right - even though they are in competition, the kids of L'il Champs often provide back-up for each other, if their song calls for it. And isn't that more fun than watching Simon Cowell make grown men and women cry?

"But Sri," you might say. "I do not speak Indian."

After I finish berating you for not knowing that there is no such language I will calmly explain that you don't need to understand Hindi (or any of the hundreds of other Indian languages) to enjoy L'il Champs. I know about four words in Tamil and Kannada, all relating to food, and I love this show. Here is the basic format, so you can follow along:

1. Theme song, sung by the contestants and filmed on-location in their various hometowns. Adorable.

2. Sometimes they will start off with a group song, with all the remaining contestants singing and dancing around. Last week's episode featured the title song from an upcoming Bollywood film, Sunday. For those not in the know, Bollywood is another name for Bombay and the center of the Indian movie industry. Bombay + Hollywood = Bollywood. Ironically, we now call Bombay "Mumbai." It's all very confusing, and entirely irrelevant.

3. Introduction of the judges. There are two regular Mentors, famous singers who grade the kid's performances. I haven't seen anyone get anything below a B+, possibly because the contestant would be so shamed that he or she would try to commit ritualistic suicide. Indian kids are hardcore like that. The Mentors give the contestants constructive criticism, which must be hard to take on national television. Hang in there, L'il Champs! There are also guest judges, like Bollywood film stars, whose sole purpose is to praise the kids and drop random phrases in English (possibly to make them seem more worldly?).

4. One at a time, the children sing a short song, usually from a Bollywood film. In India the music industry is basically divided into Bollywood film songs and classical/folk music. At least, that is my understanding. Anyway, after receiving their critiques and grades, the contestants give instructions on how to vote for them. Repeat this until you're out of L'il Champs.

5. There's also a host, but you don't need to worry too much about him. Even when I can follow along with the banter, I find hosts pretty useless.

You can watch full episodes here, and the latest episode is here. And of course let me not forget the official website .

Go. Watch. Vote for Vasu.

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