The Voice India: HR, Mika Singh, Sunidhi Chauhan


In the American version, the competition begins with the aspirants doing a blind audition for a panel of celebrity coaches. The coaches have the backs of swivel chairs to the singers and listen to the voices. If they like what they hear, they hit a buzzer and swing their chairs around. If more than one judge likes a singer, the coaches have to try and convince the singer to join their team. Once each coach has put together a team, the teams and singers go head to head. It’s like The Taste, but with music instead of food. And much like The Taste – which is judged by Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Marcus Samuelsson – The Voice is as much about the judges as it is about the contestants.

The Voice stands out for being one of those rare shows in which the people judging you are actually qualified to do so and really are big names in their chosen industry. In the current season of The Voice in America, the coaches are Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, country singer Blake Shelton, singer Christina Aguilera and singer and music producer Pharrell. Previously, Shakira, Usher and Gwen Stefani have all done turns as coaches. It’s the fact that Slot Mahjong the judges are currently big players in the music industry, their banter and their own singing that makes The Voice great fun to watch.

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So, who are the counterparts on the Indian version of the show? Brace yourselves, India, for Mika Singh, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shaan and HR, or the artiste formerly known as Himesh Reshammiya. He now goes by the short form of Human Resource.

Leaving that aside, there’s no denying that these judges are more than related to music –no authors or actors were called on to judge singing talent – and have earned their chops. As HR himself said later in the show (and repeatedly), he organises some of the most successful music shows out of India and decides singers for many films. Singh has his own unique brand of singing – and is friends with the Meet Brothers, which is a talent in itself. Chauhan and Shaan sing beautifully, and have been doing so for decades. What will be interesting to watch is how they mentor their team members.

Adding to these qualifications is the requisite amount of oddness in the judges’ appearance and behaviour, which is essential for good televsion. The Indian version of The Voice began with the show’s host, Karan Tacker (who tries his hardest not to make tacky jokes like this one), explaining the format and emphasising that this is a show that is all about a person’s voice. This was followed by each judge making their entry onto the stage with so much showmanship and so little singing that you had to wonder if the producers had read or heard a word of Tacker’s script.

So we saw Chauhan channelling Madonna and doing a cabaret number. Singh did some strange dance moves. Shaan performed a bubble-gum romantic routine. Finally, HR, who may have been given the mantle of ring-leader, was lowered on to the stage while hanging onto what seemed to be a chain. While the others still sang while making their entrances, HR couldn’t be bothered with any of that nonsense. After all, he’s got a revelation that’s way bigger than the miracle than his musical prowess: HR now looks like a malnourished, leprechaun version of Yash Birla. Complete with a pouf.

For the rest of the show, we would repeatedly be treated to shots of HR’s waxed and oiled cleavage (keeping alive the Yash Birla oeuvre) and shaved armpits. It suddenly became a godsend that the judges’ backs are turned to the contestants. Those hapless singers may have been rendered speechless at the sight of HR’s gleaming chest and muscley tattooed arms.

The singers though, are excellent. They sang beautifully and were from across the country. There were professional singers, classical singers, singers who were as young as 16 but had mature and nuanced voices way beyond their years; singers from Kashmir (poor chap got rejected) and Trivandrum and Ludhiana and Assam. There was a 16-year-old who has been singing in jagrans since she was 2 and half years old. And it was nice when Mika told her that his NGO which works with 1500 girls would pay for her education and expenses, even though she chose HR as her mentor.

What I really appreciate about this show, after seeing shows like Indian Idol and the bastardised version of Masterchef in India, is that the focus is actually on the talent. It isn’t about their looks or demeanour or clothes. There are no dramatic backstories of angst, depression or hardship. No dying mother, penury or thwarted dreams. All we are told is their musical background.

Will just great singing be enough to hold the attention of an audience which seems to love naach-gaanarona-dhona, drama, show-sha? Well, if not, there’s always HR’s chest and Chauhan’s high voltage reactions to hypnotise them.

Much like in the American original, it’s fun to see the judges banter even in this Indian version. Some of it looks scripted and a lot of the time, they seem to go a bit overboard. Chauhan often comes across as having channelled Jiminy Cricket’s excitement levels. I never thought I’d say this, but Singh seems to be the most natural and unaffected of the lot. Shaan is just sweet and nice, and almost lost in this haze of high energy.

Watch this show. If you like music, it might just be the place to listen to some unadulterated singing. As HR says, The Voice India will be “wowtastic”.


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