x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Youngsters with dreams of fame help power India's reality TV boom

Riding a western-led shift towards reality television and reflecting changes in India's booming economy, shows like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li'l Champs provide a break from the melodrama that is the staple of Indian television.

Rima Chakravorty, 14, waits for her cue before the start of her performance during the taping of the musical reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Lil Champs inside a studio in Mumbai. Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
Rima Chakravorty, 14, waits for her cue before the start of her performance during the taping of the musical reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Lil Champs inside a studio in Mumbai. Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

MUMBAI // It is 5pm and Rima Chakravorty has not eaten her lunch. Dressed in a pink and green dress with gauze and sequins, her face heavy with make-up, the 14-year-old girl sidles up to her father and complains that she is hungry and feeling feverish.

Rima has just finished a gruelling shoot for an Indian song-based reality television show, and will soon change her outfit to sing again in front of a panel of judges and a studio audience during filming that will last for five to six hours.

Urged on by her father, Rima is one of the many child stars fuelling India's reality television boom, from singing shows to dancing competitions and even comedy shows, all aired on prime-time slots to eager audiences that are lapping it up. "Kids' reality shows are one of our most successful formats," said Ashish Golwalkar, of Zee TV, one of India's top channels.

"In middle-class India, kids are the ones driving most family decisions, and they are the ones ensuring that the whole family comes together and watches these shows."

Riding a western-led shift towards reality television and reflecting changes in India's booming economy, the popular format provides a break from the melodrama that is the staple of Indian television.

Rima is one of 18 youngsters under 15 years old in the fourth season of Zee's Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li'l Champs show. With two contestants eliminated each week, the winner gets a contract with Zee, and will perform at concerts with promotion on national television. "I can tell you one thing, once a child wins our show, or gets noticed on it, his life will change forever," said Pankaj Bagrecha, who handles the talent management division of Zee.

For Rima, who hails from Behrampur, a small town in West Bengal, this is an opportunity for fame and fortune. Her father, Anup Chakravorty, has left his sweet shop in the town to support his daughter during the three months of filming in Mumbai, almost 2,000 kilometres away.

"I don't have a choice, I have to do this for my child. This is her last chance at this show, because in September she will cross the age limit," said Mr Chakravorty, who has asked Rina's teachers for permission to miss out on this school year. "It's better she concentrates on singing."