Icons of cool, encyclopaedias on everything music and trendsetters of fashion. VJs were all these to us, till the tribe started slowly becoming extinct in the country. Harpreet Khokhar explores if there’s hope for the VJ to return to our screens
They were the epitome of cool, emulated by millions of teenagers across the country. Cyrus Broacha, Malaika Arora, Cyrus Sahukar, Nikhil Chinapa, Ruby Bhatia, Rahul Khanna. With the proliferation of western culture in the country, music channels were born to entertain the growing number of youth. By the early 1990s, every pop album had to be accompanied with a music video to make it to the charts, whether it was Indian pop-singers or international artistes. With the overwhelming number of music videos produced, came the TV host who would have an equal knowledge of music. The Indian VJ – a metamorphosed DJ, perceived to have the right mix of attitude, wit, style and substance and celebrity in her own right – was born.
But like all things, the concept came with a deadline and a decade and a half later, reality shows and back-to back music took over and the traditional role of VJs got diluted to being more of a host and presenter. Today, you can count barely a few notable VJs on your fingers, the breed appears as good as dead. But is it?
Says Saurav Kanwar, former vice president, content and communication, Channel V, “The VJ space has taken a dip mainly because they could not bring up the ratings of the show. The channel officials realised that ratings were high for back to back music which is one of the reasons many music channels have done away with VJs. In the 90s, when we had the best bunch of VJs around, they were often regarded as better than the content that they played. But unfortunately, we did not see many such outstanding VJs post 2000. Since they did not add any value to the show, they were done away with and were replaced by some channels in form of animated characters. Though a few channels like MTV still have VJs, their role in the traditional way is diluted.”
While some agree that there is a lull in the VJ space, others in the industry believe that it is just another way of adapting to the ever changing audience’s taste. Also the fact that most prominent music channels who took the charge in the early days, reduced the music content and christened themselves ‘youth channels’, led to the drop in the number of VJs.
Vaibhav Vishal, an independent media professional who has spent ten long years at MTV as associate vice president creative and content and also as director, program development in the channel explains, “It isn’t as if the VJ space is entirely vacant today. Only, the VJs have ceased to be ‘video jockeys’ in the conventional sense of the word/s, and have, instead, become anchors and hosts. MTV still has quite a few popular VJs on their payroll, who host various shows for them. The VJs as video jockeys presenting songs were phased out because back-to-back music was better received by the audiences than songs/ videos interspersed with links. Last, but not the least, the music channel stopped playing music, which, obviously, meant loss of jobs for the traditional VJs!”
Nandini Dias, COO, Lodestar Universal, believes that channels are experimenting with several formats to get the audience. She explains, “Initially, the VJ as a concept was new and cool for the audience. But slowly, the channels wanted to break out of the rut and innovate. They brought new shows which required VJs’ in a different avatar. Also, most music channels are now branded as youth channels. While a few do play music, the others are almost off music now.”
She adds, ““For some channels, dropping the VJs is a plain business proposition. While they already have to shell out a large amount of money to procure music, they don’t want to add a VJ and a whole team that needs to be set up. If they don’t add value to the show, their presence can’t be justified.”