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Wanna become a reality TV star?

How difficult is being yourself when millions of people are watching you? Ayesha Banerjee finds out whether you can make a name, gather fame and money out of reality shows.

education Updated: Jul 21, 2010 10:39 IST
Ayesha Banerjee

What is it that takes you to the rainforests of Malaysia and brings you to a moment in which you, after downing a scorpion and a lizard, find yourself staring at a rat, knowing it’s next on your must-have menu?

Guts and a passion to make it big in showbiz. And young Mona Wasu, winner of the reality show, Sony’s Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao, the Indian version of the popular British reality game show I’m a Celebrity…Get Me out of Here, has plenty of both. Bitten by the acting ka keeda (bug) long before she was required to bite into rodents, Wasu has taken the hard and long route to making a name for herself in showbiz... and the reality show has been a means to get there.

Don’t, however, mistake it as the only way to make it big in showbiz, warns actor Ram Kapoor, who has hosted Swayamvar I and II (NDTV Imagine), in which a groom and bride were sought for TV stars Rakhi Sawant and Rahul Mahajan (respectively). “I don’t think a role in a reality show guarantees you instant success. You have to work hard to make it big here, and you have to be pretty sure that this is the career you want to be in. You can have your moment in the limelight but sustaining yourself in this business is tough,” adds Kapoor.

Wasu agrees completely. Success has not been handed to this feisty twenty-something on a platter and she continues to work hard to achieve more. Daugher of writer and zen trainer PS Wasu, she had a “faint idea” in school that she wanted to do theatre. Her father encouraged her, even while her salon-owner mother remained apprehensive. After graduation, Wasu joined Delhi’s National School of Drama (NSD) and then worked with VK Sharma’s Khilona, a theatre group for children. Assignments with Shabnam Hashmi’s Sahmat and the Antara group followed. Big offers plopped in to her lap when she moved to Mumbai, rented paying-guest digs, got a directory with the numbers of photographers, film and TV producers and directors (“most of them wrong”) and started calling them up.

Operation Gold on Star Gold, Miilee on Star Plus, Raadha Ki Betiyan Kuchh Kar Dikhayengi on NDTV Imagine followed. The adventurer in her jumped at the chance to travel to the Malaysian rainforests after Miditech called her for Iss Jungle... To remain in isolation, away from newspapers and TV with a group of people who did not know each other and survive on bare minimum food, with clothes constantly wet from rain, changed Wasu’s perspective on life. She felt vulnerable being constantly in front of a camera. At times, one lets one’s guard down. “That could be terrible knowing so many people and your family were watching you,” she says.

And no, the performers were not coached to play their roles. “When they are interviewing you for the show they try to assess your personality to find out if you have something which can add an interesting angle to the reality story. That’s how fights break out or romances blossom. And they keep creating situations. For example, my co-actor Akash and I were not talking once and they made sure we did an activity chained to each other. We were laughing about it at the end of the day,” she says.

“Remember, this show should not become your entire life,” says Kapoor, acknowledging that at as host he has felt bad eliminating people and has often had to lend a shoulder to people to cry on.

Wasu feels she is a lot less hyper now. “I have become a lot calmer now after the hardships I endured in Malaysia. The jungle has also taught me that people behave in a certain way for certain fears they have. You accept other people for who they are and can’t hate them.”

What's it about?
A reality TV performer plays himself of herself in a television serial. It is usually a contest in which participants have to strategise and keep themselves in the show to win a grand prize. One or more participants are eliminated every week if they are not able to achieve certain scores. Usually, there is also a system by which viewers of these serials vote the performers “out” of the show through SMSs. Sometimes participants create a little bit of drama on the sets, to attract TRPs. Shows like Bigg Boss have become very popular

Clock Work
7 am: Buzzer goes off on the sets. Wake up. It’s my turn to make tea today so I set the kettle to boil
7.30 am: Hand over tea and biscuits to co-participants
8.30 am: Duties for the day are discussed and allocated. An announcement is made via a loudspeaker on the sets that a small contest will be organised in the
evening in which we will be given some tasks. A dress code is given
9 am: Breakfast is served by other team members
9.30 am: Prepare costumes for the contest in the evening
12 noon: Have lunch, rest
5 pm: Wake up. At the contest we have to act out certain roles prescribed to us
9 pm:. One of my best friends is eliminated. I’m too upset to eat

The Payoff
Depends on how popular you are. If you are a celebrity, you get paid for your celeb status. The money that you are paid every week for the show keeps increasing if you manage to stay on and don’t get eliminated. There’s more money in reality shows than other serials. A very popular performer can get around Rs 5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh a week. Other performers can get around Rs 3 lakh to Rs 4 lakh a week. In some reality shows, where you have to share space with reptiles and rodents, the money is considered well worth all your efforts

Skills
.
Confident before the camera
. Good with people and able to work well in a team
. Go-getter and ready for any kind of adventure
. Good communications skills,
. Grounded and not too emotional

How do I get there?
Watch out for ads in papers put out by TV Channels before a reality show and apply if you think you can make the grade. Training in theatre/acting helps. You must be confident before the camera and have the ability to conduct yourself gracefully on the show. You have to have an interesting personality and be game for anything in a show. Being fussy about what you eat and how you dress will not help. Those with a love of adventure and patience to deal with difficult personalities on the sets are likely to be more successful in a reality show

Institutes & urls
.
National School of Drama, Delhi
http://nsd.gov.in/
. Film and Television Institute of India, Pune
http://www.ftiindia.com/
. Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, West Bengal
http://www.visva-bharati.ac.in/

Pros & cons


.

Good money


.

Lots of travel


.

You meet interesting people


.

Instant fame


.

Hard work


.

Irregular hours


.

No guarantee of long-term success

Be prepared for hard work

A reality show is not the surest way to name and fame

The relatively unknown Elesh Parujanwala and Dimpy Ganguly became household names after Swayamwar I and II. Will such reality shows guarantee them a bright future?
I don’t think one can guarantee them more than 10 years in this business. A lot of hard work goes into it than people think. Don’t think that you will become an instant success once you are in the limelight. It’s definitely not going to happen. If you want to be good, then you’d better train. I went to the US to train, but that doesn’t mean everyone can train abroad. There’s the NSD in Delhi and other good places in Mumbai and elsewhere. Training gives you confidence. It’s a very hard, a very harsh life. There is no consistency. You will be at the top one day and at the bottom the next. You have to put in long, hard hours of work, wear the right clothes, remain presentable. All of it constantly keeps playing on your mind. You cannot come out on top if you haven’t done your homework properly.

How essential is the training?
Training prepares you for what is ahead in this career. We were 28 of us when we started training at the Stanislavski Method Acting Academy in Los Angeles, USA, and only 12 of us managed to graduate. It’s an eye-opener. Don’t be in this business for fame and money. You must have a passion for acting and be ready for hardships

How did people get selected for Swayamwar I and II?
A lot of people applied when the Channel doing the show put out ads.
Rakhi and Rahul got involved when the candidates were shortlisted. Rahul’s mother was also involved in the selection, at one point.

Ram Kapoor, actor Interviewed by Ayesha Banerjee