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A reflection of the soul in the mirror of reality

· Indian television channel, Amrita, debuts reality show of Christian choirs ·

In the beginning was the text, in its literary, artistic, theatrical and cinematographic variations: branching out as far as possible, but confined by a fluid and unpredictable background of extra-textual reality. From the beginning, however, the frame has never been a limitation, but an essential part of the microcosm it contained. It allows the possibility of framing close-ups; and further, like every vital membrane, it is extremely permeable, lending itself to a potentially infinite play between “inside” and “outside.” Who doesn’t remember Fellini’s film, La Nave Va , where he shows the fiction of the sea and the reality of the set or Laurence Sterne’s Tristam Shandy with its amusing mix of drawings, citations and presumed autobiographical passages? There is an osmosis between content and form, from which new nourishment is drawn, encompassing reflection and exegesis.

The frame of the television screen and the interactive potential of this medium – not to mention the virtual sphere supported by the Web – amplify the field in an exponential way, without exhausting it. A prime example was offered by a fictional series which ended this week, in which a television manager, played by Giuliana De Sio, looked at herself in the mirror and asked, “Am I real?” The model could be La Condition Humaine by Magritte. Just as the famous painting at the window shows exactly what it hides, the dialectic between reality and “reality” reveals itself vital in more than one way. Certain paroxysms of this type of television are unleashing a perplexed feedback even in the chat rooms, where many are denouncing the dangers of manipulation and sensationalism of emotions and of pain. On the other hand, as a versatile instrument of communication, reality shows illuminate unexplored, anti-heroic, daily or little-seen realities.

A singular example has been furnished recently by Amrita, one of the numerous television stations of Kerala, a state on the South-western strip of the Indian peninsula where Malayalam is spoken, a language of the Dravidic family (similar to Tamil) diffuse in southern India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Due to its position on the coast, and therefore as a center for commercial trade with the West, Kerala is the ancient seat of coexistence of the Jewish, Islamic and Christian communities (the latter goes back to St. Thomas, whose cult is still very much alive there). Its capital, Trivandrum, which Gandhi called “the evergreen city,” is a cultural and scientific center of the highest level.

It is from this capital that a reality show, featuring Christian choral groups, was inaugurated during Holy Week, with the participation of Archbishop Baselios Mar Cleemis. The first episode was aired on Easter night. The programs of Amrita TV already include dance contests, recitals and live music; now, however, the popular genre of reality shows mixes with the religious and musical soul of India and speaks to the profound roots of both in Indian society. It is significant that a show that elsewhere would be labeled, “talent,” like Fame and A Chorus Line is instead called, “reality.” Amrita explains, “choir music has always been an integral part of worship; the capacity of music to elevate the spirit and create a sense of the divine has been recognized since Biblical times.”

Called, Deva Geethan – “Deva” a term associated with the “divine,” and “Geetham” with the genre of song, the new program showcases in colorful and evocative scenography, ten of the most important church choirs, chosen in a nation-wide contest. A nucleus of four or five vocalists sing in Malayalam or English, occasionally supported by a reduced orchestra of string and percussion instruments. The range is vast: not just musical texts, dance and religious and liturgical moments such as Christmas, Easter, Psalms and scriptural passages, but also sound-tracks and rituals of local tradition, for example the “offering dance,” of deep mystical inspiration.

A jury of singers and musicians, as well as men of the Church, interact live with the contestants during the show, which is broadcast Monday through Friday on Amrita TV.

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