Sur Kshetra is best described as a mixture of the hit talent show The Voice and the most bitter of football derbies.
Since the programme's beginning in September, the competitors from both India and Pakistan - coached by a pop superstar from their respective country - went through a winding selection process until the numbers were whittled down to one finalist from India and one from Pakistan. Both were then sent to Dubai, weighed down with their respective nation's hopes and dreams.
The winner was promised a motorbike and a plethora of other prizes, including a tablet, from sponsors. However, the real spoils are the bragging rights the winning country will get to wield over the other throughout the following year.
The road to Dubai
Thursday's finale at the Dubai World Trade Centre was the culmination of a two-month journey and more than two dozen episodes. Pakistan's Atif Aslam and India's Himesh Reshammiya were tasked with assembling a squad of six singers from each country, who would then undergo a series of performing exercises before each country finally battled it out on stage.
The singing battles had competitors tackle a wide variety of genres, including qawwali, shadi, folk, rock and an especially teary episode in which contestants dedicated ballads to their mothers. Each episode ended with coaches booting off their team's weakest link. Based on a special judging panel, a country would be judged winner of each episode, with a weekly trophy up for grabs. The two finalists from each country travelled to Dubai for Thursday's finale.
Coached by the ultra-smooth crooner Aslam, Pakistan's final duo were Nabil Ali and Muzalim Husain, who were chosen as finalists courtesy of their vocal strengths.
Lahore's Ali is known for buttery vocals, making him similar to Aslam, a performer in his element when it comes to ballads and folk songs. Husain, hailing from Rawulpindi, has more classic influences, delivering great performances during qualifiers of songs by AR Rahman and Mohammed Rafi. Aslam's youth meant that his coaching style throughout the series relied mainly on motivation, with his charges viewing him as a brother rather than a mentor. However, Aslam can display a slight passive-aggressive streak when his team fails to deliver or his nemesis Reshammiya manages to provoke him.
A side cut within the mould of its coach, Reshammiya, who is no stranger to mentoring. The successful singer and director helmed a winning team in the all-Indian TV competition Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge on Zee TV, as well as being the team captain of the Hamesh Warriors on the Star Plus show Music Ka Maha Muqqabla. His Sur Kshetra finalists are Delhi's Yashraj Kapil and Dilijan from Jalandhar. The latter really fired midway through the season with show-stopping performances of Jagit Singh's Chithi Na Koi Sandesh. Kapil has been consistent throughout the performance with sold renditions of songs by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and achieving full marks in the rock music episode. Reshammiya is an energetic coach and quick to administer a tongue-lashing when unhappy. He demands total respect from his team and does not shy away from making unpopular decisions.
A combined century of experience sits on the judging panel. Pakistan's Abida Perveen is viewed, alongside the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, as one of the best ghazal singers of the modern era. India's Asha Bhosle's 60-year career saw her become one of the most popular Hindi playback singers during Bollywood's golden age. In case each judge decides to vote for the participant from their respective country, Bangladesh's Runa Laila is there to break the deadlock. A renowned playback singer, Laila is known for her classic hit Dama Dam Mast Qalandar.
What to expect
The final format consists of both singers from each country facing off against each other before one person emerges to represent their nation in the final round. The last stage will have each Indian and Pakistani singer delivering a medley of hits from different styles before the judges pick a winner. For the finale, the judging panel will be supported by guest jurists including Pakistan's Ghulam Ali and India's Suresh Wadkar and Ismail Darbar. Highlights also include solo performances by Aslam and Reshammiya. Look out for Reshammiya's 24-song medley, which has him racing around the Sheikh Saeed Hall singing to crowds and a baby.
The Sur Kshetra finale will be on Colours on Saturday at 10pm