Where have all the VJs gone?

Sunday, 26 January 2014 - 8:14am IST | Agency: DNA
The first sightings of music television in India brought in the VJs, a young, zesty group who redefined 'cool' and oddball craziness. With the advent of the 'www' era, they have all but disappeared. Shikha Kumar reminisces with some VJs of yore.

They were the uber cool brood, making us laugh and setting trends for the young and not-so-young as well.  But the era of video jockeys, VJs to all, already seems so yesterday. Remember Sophiya Haque, whose death early last year shocked many in the music world? The sassy Haque, along with Danny McGill, revolutionised the VJ scene in the India of the 1990s, becoming youth icons and inspiring many to look at veejaying as a profession.

A few years later, the tribe was only increasing. There was the madcap Cyrus Broacha, who won fans galore with his crazy antics on MTV Bakra, when he would take innocent bystanders for a ride. While Broacha was the funnyman, there were others like Nikhil Chinapa, who impressed with his vast knowledge of music in MTV Select, introducing people to newer, different genres then unknown in the country. The girl gang comprised Mini Mathur, Maria Goretti, Malaika Arora (yes, she was a VJ before all else) and Shenaz Treasuryvala. It was not just MTV, even Channel V had its own set of oddballs. There was Yudishtir (Yudi), who charmed his way to many a teenage girl’s heart, Gaurav Kapur, the heavily accented Lola Kutty, and Juhi Pande in Launchpad — a show that gave a platform to budding musicians. Hosting music shows and interviewing musicians, travelling across the country or interacting at college campuses, the VJs did it all.

Circa 2014: Turn on a music channel and chances are, you’ll see a reality show or an assortment of Bollywood songs, trailers or advertisements. The VJ is nowhere to be found.

Actor and former VJ, Cyrus Sahukar gets nostalgic when he says, “As a viewer, I miss that time. I was just 18 when I won the MTV VJ Hunt. Back then, the atmosphere was very different. The content was very upbeat and out there,” he says. Like Broacha, Sahukar was the face of a string of funny/spoof shows and is best known for Fully Faltoo, Rendezvous with Semi Girebaal and Piddhu the Great.

He believes that the generation today is far more global, with the heavy penetration of platforms like YouTube. “TV in India has grown too big now. The audience is more scattered. The crazies have gone. The internet is where the crazy stuff happens now.”

Yudhishtir Urs, more popularly known as Yudi, echoes Sahukar when he says that the shift has been a largely cultural one, along with developments in the music industry. “In the late ‘90s, music television was still a novelty and music was something that could be accessed only on TV. It was the place to not just see music videos, but also cool fashion trends that could then be imbibed by the youth,” says the actor.

Aside from being presenters of shows, every VJ brought his or her own quirks. Juhi Pande was one of them. When she burst onto the scene in the early 2000s, her bubbly demeanour was only supplemented by a crazy mohawk hairstyle. And Shenaz Treasuryvala’s Bohemian fashion sense won many admirers and viewers for MTV Most Wanted, a show where viewers sent in creatively crafted letters to the VJ from all corners of the country.

Pande, who was a VJ with Channel V until two years ago, asserts that programming in India has had an overhaul. “I grew up watching Trey, Danny McGill and Sophia Haque and I thought they were the epitome of cool. When I got into veejaying, it was unplanned but it was such a blast that I stuck around for so many years. However, television moves in a certain way and cannot be static. Youth television is what the masses want now,” she says, explaining the deluge of reality shows on music channels.

Chinapa, one of the oldest VJs associated with MTV, quips that he is often called the ‘last of the Vjs’. “The world has become a smaller place. All stores now exist on one street – www.”

When it comes to the generation of content, most VJs miss the spontaneity that the shows allowed. Ideas were generated by accident, on set atmosphere was chaotic and the lack of structured scripts ensured brilliant camaraderie on screen. Besides, there was no pressure of success, according to Sahukar. “There was a certain naivete and non-competitive vibe to the shows. In fact, we found the wig that I wore in Semi Girebaal in one of the storerooms after midnight. Then there was a college kid who was working as an assistant at the channel and we just put a moustache on him and used him for one of the scenes,” he recounts.

Chinapa’s fondest memory is when singer Diana King toured India in the late ‘90s. He was interviewing her at a hotel poolside when an idea struck. “There was a fountain nearby and I asked her to push her head into it and blow bubbles. And the interview went on air like that.”

The most significant change, however, has been the gradual disappearance of VJs who would present music shows. “I personally really miss it. There is an inherent charm and joy in having music presented to you. For example, if I was introducing a new band from Seattle, there would be anecdotes on how the band got together. It’s like imagining Masterchef Australia without Gary, George and Matt,” says Chinapa, who hosted MTV Select for over a decade. “It was just the way you interacted with music. I had phone conversations with people for 11 years but I never got bored.”

While music channels have today evolved to different content and programming formats, VJs believe that music on TV will stay till kingdom come, and might resurface in a different avatar to keep with the times. “India has the world’s largest youth demographic so they have to tailor the content keeping that in mind,” says Yudi.

Well, everyone has to change with the times. But we would love to have the crazies back!


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