The show is a huge contributor to Zee's coming back in the reckoning
It has helped Zee TV to reach the no. 2 slot in the general entertainment channel ratings stakes. Since joining Zee in 1992, Singh has grown to become a leading in-house director for a range of reality TV programming for the network. Says he, "I learn every day, the trends, techniques, approach is rapidly changing. I adapt with a definite goal in my mind. We had hoped the show would attract viewers of all ages and it definitely has. We make a true effort to get good talent."
"As a youth, I would always be amazed at hearing people sing at school, college and community events. There were just a handful of playback singers that ruled in Bollywood. I always had a desire to give these unknown talented voices a platform where they get a break and do not fade into oblivion. Quite often, good talent remains hidden under the cover of anonymity. It is mediums like television and radio that showcase them to the entire world. Kunal Ganjawala, Avdhoot Gupte, Sanjeevani, Sneha Pant and Shreya Ghoshal are examples of achievers from Sa Re Ga Ma Pa."
How has he survived in this rapidly changing world of Indian television
My aim is very clear. I make this show to give top of the line playback singers a chance to explore and make their careers singing in films. The sustained growth and popularity of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa stands proof of my objective. With even runners up receiving enough fame and popularity to sign record deals on their own, it shows that I set out to determine the best "undiscovered" singer.
USP of the show
Do a good job and present talent in such a way that the contestants benefit. I did not want it to be mere marketing hype. I looked back at the loopholes of 10 years of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and changed the format, introducing gharanas and mentors. I conceived a format where the ultimate benefit should go to the contestant. In this revamp, the goal was that the contestants should have direct access to the composers so that they reach their ultimate destination - singing in films.
That's why we got a whole range and spectrum of composers to groom the contestants and serve as judges. This season of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa saw top music directors Ismail Darbar, Aadesh Srivastav, Himesh Reshammiya and the Jatin-Lalit duo contesting for the top honours through 32 shortlisted contestants to be trained by them as the show goes on. Also, as every network across the world now carries a copy of Antakshari and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, it makes me happy to see that people are willing to take my vision forward.
"Even American Idol came up only in 2002. Leading international format distributors are expressing keen interest in the programme. It is the first time they have heard about this format of top music directors contesting against one another on a reality show."
Controversies/ regionalism factor /Ulfa threats/ drama's/exits with judges this year - how did he cope
Reports that the controversies were pre-decided stunts to get publicity hurt me. I have shown barely 10 per cent of the conflicts in the show. I went through a lot of trauma reading such baseless reports as my years of hard work and credibility were being questioned. There were moments I felt that it was not worth it and I should just end the show. Had I wanted higher TRPs, all I needed was to air the footage that had far more explosive stuff. The central point was the contestants and the fighting at no point was personal.
The episode where the kids walked out and it showed me screaming in response was the one where I felt I had failed. It troubled me that the focus of the show had shifted and I had started questioning whether I could go on. I am proud of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and was depressed that the show was attracting attention for all the wrong reasons. I had to motivate myself saying that these kids depended on me to give them their biggest platform and I could not fail them. After a point, the allegations only made me work harder to get the best show out. The audience poll was part of the initial format, and not included later as alleged. It was designed with an aim to include the masses and reach more audiences.
Reality television is a genre of television programming which presents unscripted dramatic or humorous situations and I do not need to manipulate events on screen by editing. My show has far more substance and does not need any gimmicks to get audiences. The winner was decided by public voting through SMS, telephone, and through the Internet. The whole voting procedure was so transparent as one could check out at every stage which part of India was voting for whom.
Changes brought about in the format since inception
We started with an audience of 60 people. Today, we saw more than 60,000 people rooting for their singers at the finale in Andheri Sports Club. It has been a long journey. The look, feel, concept of the show has all grown more than a 100 times. But, 10 years later, there is still so much amateur talent left to be discovered. And, the most interesting aspect of the show was the slice of India that it offered. Taking the show abroad is only a natural progression.
We had celebrity judges, mentors and the audience voting and have changed the format continuously to bring newness to the show. But the essence to get the best talent has not changed.
'I strongly believe that there was a supernatural force guiding us on the day of the finals'
Highest point of the 2005 Challenge
Undoubtedly, it was the finals. The finale was cutting edge and delivered much more than anticipated. The energy was infectious, everybody pitched in and the results are there for all to see. Shaan was simply amazing. A natural on stage, he anchored the show in a manner that had people asking for more.
We designed every aspect of the finals, spent days deliberating which historical site or location would be the best place to hold the finals. Andheri Sports Club in Mumbai was picked because of the capacity it offered plus the 360 degree environment it gave the audience, helping us capture the mood in the stadium. I strongly believe that there was a supernatural force guiding us on the day of the finals.
I am amazed that the finals took place as smoothly as it did because 48 hours prior to it, I was convincing Ismail Durbar and Himesh Reshammiya that these songs have to be recorded in the studio. Reshammiya refused as he felt Vinit sang better in a live performance. On the other hand, I had Durbar refusing to let Debojit perform live. They both threatened to quit and I was at my wits end convincing them to continue. Everything was in place, the buzz for the final was at its height and I did not know if the final would even take place. It took me two days to convince them that playback singing is what Sa Re Ga Ma Pa was all about. Those specially composed songs showcasing the best talents of each singer had to be recorded in a studio. It was very tough and I felt I had lost the show after coming so far. I imagined being made a laughing stock in the industry. That's why I say that a force unknown to me took over on the final day and my efforts did not go wasted.
The finals retained its competitive spirit. Its streamlined, fascinating coverage had a distinctive look. It came across as fast paced and entertained many on television. Days after, I am still receiving calls of congratulations.
Lowest point of the 2005 Challenge
It was when Jatin-Lalit said that the musicians deliberately played badly when his singers sang. The team of musicians have been a major part of the show for years and to see them crying over the allegation was truly the lowest point for me in this Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005. I was ready to change the format, remove the mentors when the musicians begged to be allowed to leave the show. It is only when I said that the show would not continue without them, that they relented.
Singh sees the rush for stars as a healthy development on the game shows and talks of his experience of handling stars
I did not get celebrities to impress audiences. My focus was on getting people who know about music, like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Subhash Ghai, Priyanka Chopra and Tabu. The experience when superstar Salman Khan came as a guest to the show will always be etched in memory. He requested the contestants to sing after the show was wrapped up. So, with no audience and camera, Salman stayed over two hours just listening to the contestants sing. He was so lost in the world of music and I hope to get him back on the show. It is such a response that keeps me going.
For this show, I got negative feedback from many that the initial rounds dragged on for too long and should be cut short. My reasoning was that I was not just making a show, I was grooming the participants to realise their strengths and weaknesses and to cut it short would mean giving them less time to recognize their true potential. But, I will keep this in mind as I do the next series and work on making it more crisp, yet getting the desired results.
How has Shaan fared in hosting the show
The show has seen Sonu Nigam, Aman Ali Bangash and Ayan Ali Bangash and now Shaan as hosts. Pop-star Shaan had a large fan following even before he anchored Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. He is the soul of the show. His honesty as he sees talent unravel before his eyes woos the audiences. The fact that he believes in music and has a fine sense of music only adds to the show. He has carried the show on his shoulders very well with his wit, presence of mind and charming smile. He is well liked by all age groups.
Who did he think would win the 2005 Challenge: I thought Hemachandra had the perfect voice to win the contest. Himani, Nihira and Rajiv are also good singers. Nihira has lent her voice to the hit song Dhadak Dhadak from the movie Bunty Aur Babli. Himani has recorded a song with her mentor Aadesh Shrivastav. And, Himesh has made Vineet sing for him in Kalpana Lajmi's Chingari. Vinit and Debojit, have become household names. But, all credit to Durbar in the manner he focused on Debojit after Nihira was voted out. He worked very hard on Debojit.
What is the objective with the new show with ousted contestants Sa Re Ga Ma Pa: Ek Main Aur Ek Tu slated to launch on 16 March: We are bringing back favourite contestants from Sa Re Ga Ma Pa: Challenge 2005. The new format of the show this time will involve the contestants singing in pairs. No one has shown a jodi. The chemistry between two singers has not been explored. Singing solo is very different from singing as a duet. This show has a wild card entry couple who were previous winners. It will run for 14 weeks. Every week will see an elimination of a couple. The winners will get a contract with record label T-Series and a cash prize.
'Sawaal Dus Crore Ka was a hasty decision going wrong'
I have seen failure too. Sawaal Dus Crore Ka was a hasty decision going wrong. Similarly, I believe that the concept in Baazi Kiski hosted by Ashutosh Rana was good. I hope to bring it back. I have new formats in mind. I had spoken to AR Rahman a while back and I would love to do a series with him, one that reaches a wide audience. The year ahead is challenging and I hope to do better work.
Threat from Sony's music based reality shows
Not a moment goes by that I don't feel the threat by similar formats on other channels. I watch out for competition and do not take the success of the show for granted.
On rumours that he is being offered big bucks to switch to other channels
Yes, it is true. I am reminded by well wishers that it is time to move on. But, my thoughts go back to my initial days when I faced a lot of ridicule when I had first conceptualized Antakshari and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. I joined Zee when it was still in its infancy in the industry. These were the days before GRPs and TRPs. Everybody laughed at the concept and had written me off. I had given up hope. But, Zee chairman Subhash Chandra said he believed in me and that I had his support to make my vision a reality. I go back to that moment whenever I get any new opportunity. If ever I would leave, it would be a mutual decision. Besides, Zee feels like family. The Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005 had all members of Zee collectively working to make it a success. The entire team in Zee network, right from the senior management, sales, marketing to the peons in our office worked hard for the finals of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa.
A hard day's work that paid off: Singh seen here with Zee TV marketing head Tarun Mehra during the Challenge 2005 final event preparations
All the 10 semi-finalists were made to sign a two-year contract with Zee, which bars them from accepting to perform for any other company
There is a reason to it. After giving them this platform, it is essential to see that they are not exploited and reduced to doing mere shows. We only bar them from making albums or perform at shows in this period. They are free to playback. With so many talent hunts, it is very easy to get lost in the maze of stardom. The whole purpose of the show will be lost if we fail to make them successful playback singers.
For a man who has taken 'TV to the next higher level', Gajendra Singh comes across as modest, emotional and one who does not take his success lightly. He has maintained obsessive quality control and did not fall into the trap of making the show merely for garnering TRPs. That he has succeeded in his efforts is vindicated from the offers pouring in for the contestants on his show.