There they are — huddled together, taking pictures before lunch time, the electrician and the housemaid’s son, the rich businessmen’s children, the failed Bollywood struggler’s grandson, the girl from the Naxalite heartland, and the boutique owner’s chest-baring son.
Eighteen young men and women from across India are living together in three Mumbai homes, most travelling for the first time away from their families, the final 18 out of some one lakh applicants on the Zee TV show Dance India Dance. They live only for dance — and one who even tried to kill himself for it, with rat poison, when his parents tried to come between him and his passion.
They come from Jaipur and Guwahati, Gujarat and Bangalore, Mumbai’s Juhu and Kerala’s Kochi. Reality TV is a snapshot of the real India — with a reach of some 110 million TV-viewing households. Reality programmes are among the most watched on television, a reflection of the now-within-reach aspirations of the new India — where people like us try to become people like them.
“They come from all over, and these youngsters never had a place to show their talent,” said Mithun Chakraborty, India’s original dancing star and the top judge on the show. “So many times I have been eliminated in life. Hopefully, they won’t be.”
It is a snapshot also of the 43 million first-time voters who will join India’s electorate this summer, some getting excited about politics, some disinterested, but many less sceptical.
“I used to be least bothered about politics,” said Salman, 23, a boutique owner’s son from Bangalore.
“Then I saw the ‘Jago India’ ad (encouraging the youth to vote).”
“When I went home I had my voter ID card made. I’m determined to vote this time,” said ladies’ man Salman, a mechanical engineering graduate who grew up in Saudi Arabia where his father was working. “What’s the point of calling yourself a citizen if you don’t vote?”
The reality TV theatre is only set to expand, with over 110 Indian million more families yet to acquire TV sets. Many of the reality show achievers come from those very families.
Mangesh Paul Mondal, 21, who went crazy about dancing at eight after watching Prabhu Deva on his grandmother’s TV, has just returned from the election office. “Finally I am going to get my voter ID card. I am going to vote this time,” said Mondal, who lives in one room in Mumbai’s Juhu with his cook father and housemaid mother.
And in faraway Ranchi, the talkative 18-year-old Alisha Singh fought with her father and stopped eating (though she confesses to some secret nibbles on the side) when he wouldn’t allow her to try her luck at the dance show. When she returns, she looks forward to a whole new life. “My father wants me to join politics,” said Singh, whose family had to abandon their village home because it was in a Naxalite area. “If I do, I’ll get a lot of votes. You see, I'm the most popular person in Ranchi after Mahendra Singh Dhoni.”