Sheeba Akhtar has been part of the reality show scene for the last decade. No, she was never a contestant, but a hope for many. She’s a casting agent who brings in the ‘right mix’ of contestants for reality shows across the board.
Believe it or not, there is a rear entry to the reality shows. When there are auditions on for a singing, modelling, acting or dancing reality show, there could be someone who could actually CAST you.
How does casting happen when one often sees long queues of aspirants outside audition venues? Akhtar informs that often they are fake. Those standing are junior artistes paid for the job.
“When I have to show that a contestant came, auditioned and got selected, we create a queue outside a venue, make the pre-chosen contestant stand in it, sweat it out and then get selected. So, it all looks real,” she says. The real auditions, in these cases, are not conducted by channels, she informs. They are conducted by casting agencies.
So, the process is: the channel approaches the agency which calls about 40 per cent talented candidates, 20 per cent non-talented, 20 percent dim-witted and 20 percent people with stories... who ensure high ratings.
“People from different backgrounds are considered to maintain the feel of a nationwide contestant base,” Akhtar informs. After the auditions, she says, the tapes are usually sent to the channels who pick contestants on the basis of who can bring in votes, drama and some talent. However, Akhtar admits there are contestants in every show who are discovered by the channel.
For instance, a dumb-sounding guy with a story became a must, after a painter babu became famous on Indian Idol season one. She says that after that show, there is no reality show that has not had a contestant like that. He was a different person on camera and off it.
Sometimes, candidates are dropped because they don’t have a sorry story, so stories get created. She says that some contestants choose to be seen hanging around outside coffee shops to show a sad story of how they’ve struggled in the city for a living.
Some of them go overboard and shoot their stories in villages, hire some people who’ll cheer and show that they have had a hand to mouth life. These are stories, she says, that are picked. Later, these contestants survive longer than the more deserving ones.
And what are the qualifications needed for shows like Splitsvilla, Roadies and Dadagiri then? According to Akhtar, one needs to be the dheet variety, someone who doesn’t give in to any amount of humiliation. And strangely, the girls are more forthcoming than boys.
All it takes
So, what is it she thinks it takes? According to Akhtar, people who can’t afford to spend at least Rs 5 lakh a year, shouldn’t even think of coming to the city. That is the average expenditure to keep the struggle going.
“One doesn’t really need to be talented. If you look happy and show your potential at the outset, you’ll be rejected. Learn to take humiliation to some extent, practice the art of crying as often as possible. If you can flirt with the production guys and keep them hooked on to you, then you have an assured run till the last episodes,” she asserts.
Akhtar informs that Gajendra Singh and company, the ones behind Sa Re Ga Ma Pa once, are the ones to be wary of. She says that one of her registered strugglers, Komal, went up to Singh five years ago and told him that she wanted to audition.
His team gave her a list of 150 songs and costumes to be bought. Despite being financially unstable, she organised a music system, clothes and the songs. When she went for the audition, Akhtar says, the girl got rejected because, “Unko mazaa nahin aaya.”
She says she’s also been tipped that Singh has opened a school where children are assured of success.