Jagathy vs. Ranjini – What’s missing in the debate

There has been so much fuss about veteran Malayalam actor Jagathy Sreekumar’s mockery of reality show anchor Ranjini Haridas on the grand finale stage of Munch Star Singer. The majority of the people who cheered Jagathy were Malayalee men, with a few exceptions from some ‘progressive quarters’, but both the “for” and “against” arguments have missed some valid points that Jagathy had raised. But let me clearly state that I don’t fully condone Jagathy’s ‘show’. There are a few things that I did not like about the way he spoke. But I totally agree with the core point of his speech, on which I will comment later in this post.

One thing I liked about the beginning of his speech was that Jagathy had congratulated the judges of the show for all the right reasons. He mentioned that compared to the judges of other reality shows, the judges of Munch Star Singer (singers Venugopal and Sujatha) were patient to correct the kids, without making fun of them to entertain the audience/viewers. Here, we know which show and to whom he was referring to. I haven’t seen any other popular celebrities speaking up against this on TV or in public except Yesudas (who once made a mockery of, whom I would call, “the Sangathy man”). But that is obvious, no Malayalee celebrity would want to offend one of the most popular TV channels in Malayalam. They would be risking some prime time TV appearance by this. So I think it takes some courage on  Jagathy’s part to say this.

Then the mockery happened. What I didn’t like about that part was that Jagathy could have conveyed what he wanted to say in a better manner, without insulting the anchor who was standing next to him on stage. It is probably the Malayali male ego and jealousy of women who speak English, I guess. And it could be the same reason that the video of Jagathy’s speech is spreading across YouTube. Part of his speech was also taking a chunk of allowed time to elaborate on what would get him some claps. He also didn’t have to unnecessarily drag actor Jayaram into the issue. He could have spoken for himself.

But the main point that he raised in his speech is valid. Jagathy said that the anchors do not have the right to pass judgement on the singing/performance of the participants (and I assume that he did not mean to avoid encouraging/supportive comments). He said that is a bad practice and anchors should do just their job, of presenting the show well, rather than passing judgement. Evidently, he aimed at Ranjini Haridas and he is right at that too. This is what some of the opposing voices against Jagathy, feminists and ‘progressive people’ alike, fail to see.

Ranjini Haridas is as bad an example for an anchor. She has made unwarranted comments on the participants and their talent. In some cases, this has reached an abusive level. Read this post from Insight Young Voices.

The following is from a 2008 segment of the show. The compere, Ranjini Haridas is admonishing the ill-fated singer Somadas who had just delivered a supposedly miserable performance in the classical music round:

“The judges have been telling you to start learning classical music for the past 4-5 stages, but have you? You know that in this show we are not looking for a particular type of singing. One has to sing classical songs, songs with feel, there must be range, perfect pitching, will Somu fit in this would be a question in spectators’ minds. you must realize that you have reached this far not because of them [pointing to judges] but them [pointing to spectators]. It’s their SMS that has pulled you through from stage to stage. But this competition should be won by the best singer.”

Let’s check out another segment of the same show. This is from an elimination round in 2007. Of the two singers in the fateful danger zone, Thushar is a classically trained singer and the other, Sannidhanandan is not. One of the judges Usha Uthup comments, “This is the most extreme spectrum. On the one side Thushar and on the other extreme Sanni“ music and popularity.

The compere Ranjini adds: “Sanni has always survived the danger zones because of them, the spectators. Thushar is a strong singer and Sanni is a strong performer.” At the end of the show the compere addresses the spectators and says: “let music be the winner. You must vote for those who are competent.” And in a master stroke she makes Sannidhanandan reiterate that appeal. (Needless to say, both Somadas and Sannidhanandan never became star singers.)

After all these insulting and abusive remarks, Ranjini Haridas can’t get away with it just because she is a woman and gets support from the feminists. Note that in her reply to Jagathy Sreekumar, she hasn’t admitted her fault. She said as a professional she handled her job well that day without replying in the same coin or running away. That is an admirable professional quality of course, but what about the professionalism when anchoring a popular show like Idea Star Singer?