Rahul Mahajan, Debojit Saha, Abhijit Sawant, Sambhavna Seth… these are just a few of the names that seem to have attained a sort of star status on television lately. Many households are cheering them on, voting for them in various reality shows, or simply waiting to see what they think of other participants. These guys are riding high on TV viewers’ wish lists. Surprising, because they aren’t doing saas-bahu roles or acting in any serials for that matter. They are just ‘being themselves’ on screen and yet, they are the newest stars of Indian television.
“That’s true,” says Deepak Dhar, country head, Endemol India, which has made shows like Big Boss. “Just the way we have film stars going from one studio to the other, we have people who move from one reality show to another. And they have become household names in this particular genre. Now viewers look forward to a Debojit Saha singing on screen or Rahul Mahajan’s antics.”
Reality on top
What is it that makes reality shows so popular, that gets people to drop their guard on national television and spill their secrets in public? Is it the money, the glamour or just the chance for those 15 minutes of fame? All this and much more, say most participants.
For Ashutosh, the winner of MTV Roadies and Bigg Boss, money was a big lure. “What did I really have to lose? The shows not only gave me a chance to be on TV, they let me earn money as well. So why would I crib?” he asks.
Though Ashutosh got paid Rs 25,000 per week during Bigg Boss, besides the prize money, and won almost Rs 2.5 lakh from Roadies, he claims to be one of the lowest paid in the business.
“Money is of course a huge pull,” says Dhar. Though he doesn’t go into specifics, he asserts that money has no limit. “It can be as high as you can imagine, depending on the marketability of the participant.”
But some give other reasons for continuing their run on TV. Sambhavna Seth, who received her share of attention after joining the Bigg Boss house and participating in Dancing Queen, says TV opened up more avenues for her.
“I have done over 60 Bhojpuri films, but the kind of response that I got after Bigg Boss was phenomenal,” she explains. “Now people know exactly how I look, emote and all that. Being in the glamour industry, it is important that the correct people know all that about me and reality TV helps to achieve that.”
Rahul Mahajan saw his stint with Bigg Boss as a chance to change people’s perception of him after his alleged drug problems and bitter divorce. And Debojit Saha found a perfect platform in Sa Re Ga Ma Pa to showcase his singing talent.
“I wasn’t looking for fame or money,” explains Rahul, “I have always been in the public eye, for the right or wrong reasons. But there was a certain side of me that was not known. That is the real me, and I wanted people to know about that side.”
Debojit has a different take. “It isn’t easy to find a foot hold in the industry,” he says. “Talent alone does not help you to attain heights. To be recognised is important. Reality TV gave me a chance to showcase my talent and get recognition.”
Reality TV stars are so secure that they refuse to act in regular serials. “Serials are very time-consuming and restrictive. At no point would I want to be associated with something that binds me to a limited role. It’s much better to keep experimenting,” says Sambhavna.
Rahul agrees. “Serials are too fictional for my taste – I can’t do so much drama. Though I really admire people who act in them, I’d rather limit myself to films or reality TV.”
But how long can they keep this up? “Reality TV has almost become an industry in itself and such programmes are popular with viewers,” says Dhar. “Viewers like to see real people and producers are cashing in on it. So such shows are a great opportunity for participants. And if they are good, then they can even make a career out of it.”
Is it worth it?
Even though they may be well paid and famous, isn’t the drama that goes on in shows extremely intrusive?
“Everybody who comes on the show knows exactly what he or she is getting into,” says Sonel who participated in MTV Roadies. “In shows like Roadies and Bigg Boss, participants know there are cameras focused on them 24/7; in other shows they know that there will be judgements and bitchiness, so they are prepared for them. Since that’s the case, what’s there complain about?”
But what about self respect? “Why raise that question at all?” asks Ashutosh who came out a winner after insulting many people and slapping a girl in MTV Roadies.
“I didn’t care a damn. Not that I disrespect anybody. But if I know there is a formula to a game show and I am consciously part of that show, then I should be prepared to face the consequences.”
Winners and losers
Doesn’t the bitterness affect them? “Of course it does,” says Ashutosh. “Reality shows are very real. It is impossible to live for days in a house with strangers and keep up your best behaviour. So all the tamasha, the arguments and the drama are real. It’s like any normal household fight. But because you know there is a code of conduct, you regulate your temper. There were times when I felt like beating up people, but remained calm. That was the only part where I was pretending.”
For Sambhavna, everything was real. “All the manipulations and the machinations were real. I actually became very aggressive,” she recalls. “After a point, I was unable to take the bitterness and really wanted to be out of the Bigg Boss house. Now, as a part of Dancing Queen too, I can see the bitchiness. That happens in all reality TV shows, but you need to handle the stress.”
But doesn’t letting all your emotions hang out on live TV defeat the entire purpose of image building for such stars? Says Debojit, “You win some and you lose some. At least people get to know you. There are chances that you may be misunderstood, but you need to take a risk.”
But Rahul acknowledges, “I was apprehensive in the beginning. People anyway had an impression that I was a bad boy. But in spite of everything, people love me today. In the kids’ comedy show that I am judging, I have parents telling me that they are huge fans. In fact, one day Zeenat Amanji walked up to me, pulled my cheek and said she loved me on the show.”
That reality TV is adventurous and a lot of fun, is proven. That it is a shortcut to fame is also proven, but what does it take to be on a show like these? Just talent? “Definitely not just talent. It needs that extra edginess to do something more than just what you are good at. There should also be the potency to take risks and the guts to push the envelope,” says Dhar. That doesn’t mean that those who say no to reality TV do not have guts. But these people tend to be bigger risk takers.
Psychologist Seema Hingoranny feels one needs to be an extrovert and have the ability to take pressure to be on these shows. “The situations are very tough. Be it a dance competition or living in a house, when you know the world is watching you, life becomes tough. One must be able to handle that,” she says.
But it isn’t as simple as just a mature mind. “On many occasions, these shows become a way for people to prove to themselves and others that they are worth something. It works like an ego boost,” Seema says.