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Drama on-screen, and tension off it

There’s enough happening behind the scenes on the sets of Roadies, in Africa, to keep you on tenterhooks.

tv Updated: Mar 14, 2010 14:07 IST
Nikhil Taneja

Drama, tension, suspense, thrill and a hell of a lot of twists — these elements, which you are so used to seeing on your screen in reality shows, are not just limited to the events on your television. Watching the shoot of MTV Roadies season seven, live in Cairo, Egypt, it’s clear there’s enough drama to keep you on tenterhooks off-screen as well!

In the three days that journalists spent on the Roadies sets in ‘wild’ Africa, the one myth surrounding reality shows that was easily dispelled was that such shows are scripted. If anything, the show lived up to its ‘adventurous’ tag, and stayed unpredictable for most part. Shooting schedules went haywire thanks to angry lions (yes, lions), a crew member was injured when a local threw stones on them, Irrfan Khan sneaked onto the sets oblivious to the contestants, even as the contestants gave in to the most primal of human emotions — lust.

Round-the-clock work
A shooting schedule of up to 20 hours, most of which goes in making sure that the set up is safe, a continuous tab on the off-camera activities of contestants, taking several precautions to shoot within the prescribed laws of the foreign land, and going out of the way to make sure that the local crew stays happy, keeps the production team busy round-the-clock.

“No precautions are enough in a foreign land,” says Ranjit Phatak, project head of Roadies and associate creative director of MTV. “In India, even if some problems come up, you can manage. But abroad, you need to work fast and efficiently, keep good terms with the local crew and make sure that you don’t do anything to offend the locals. Since communication is an issue, what you think works in India, may just be out of bounds abroad.”

The locals of the land can sometimes be extremely supportive, and at other times, unpredictable, depending on where you shoot. In Cairo, a 12-year-old kid, threw a rock from a hill, on the footsteps of which the Roadies crew was shooting. The rock hit a crew member’s eye, and critically injured it.

Local challenges
“It was a freak accident, but in general, the locals of Africa were very sweet,” says Phatak. “In fact, in spite of being so poor, some of the locals offered us food and shelter, because we were friendly wih them, even though they didn’t have enough for themselves.”

Another challenge that the crew faces is dealing with animals. Roadies has, in the past, had tasks involving ostriches, alligators, snakes and many other animals. But since the show went to Africa this time, the crew says they just “had to” use lions for a task.

But when you work with lions — even if they are tame — for a task, you need to brace yourself with the consequences. “The lion task was probably the scariest I’ve ever faced in Roadies,” confesses Rannvijay Singha, the host of the show for six seasons. “On the first day of the shoot in Cairo, the lions went wild because of hunger, and we had to stop the shoot.”

Singha, being an ex-Roadie himself, tries out all the physically challenging tasks on the show, before the contestants perform, to check for its safety. But when he leaped off a wooden bridge to check on the task, even though he had all the safety chords attached, the crew had their hearts in their mouths. “You can’t afford to risk safety on Roadies,” smiles Singha.

And if you thought that the Roadies have a ball on the sets when the crew is shooting, here’s the truth – cameras follow the contestants round-the-clock. They are not allowed any private time except when they sleep, and the crew has been strictly forbidden to interact with them.

In fact, on the shoot, when a contestant, Mohit Malik, tried to banter with one of the producers, Jonas Britto, he was rebuffed and asked to “stay in line”.

In a state of war
“If the contestants become friendly with the crew, then they wouldn’t interact only amongst each other,” says Britto. “That would defeat the purpose of the format. The crew needs to only be a part of the background. That’s how stories develop on the show — the contestants either get attracted to each other or start disliking each other.”

“And even if you talk to one person for five minutes more than the other, he’d say you are biased and the show loses its credibility,” adds Singha. “If they are hurt, you give them medical care, if they are drowning, you save them, but if they are emotional, you don’t go and pat their backs.”

“That’s why shooting for Roadies is like being in a state of war,” laughs Phatak. “There is so much tension during the shoot, we are lucky no one’s got a heart attack yet.”