Rich kids slum it out in new Indian reality show

Wed Nov 18, 2009 7:24am EST
 
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By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - Trading their Blackberries for scrubbing brushes and their mansions for huts, a group of wealthy youth are gluing Indians to their TV screens in a country struggling to bridge the gap between poverty and prosperity.

Sunny Sara, 28, a nightclub owner in Mumbai, was one of the participants in a new and popular reality TV show called "The Big Switch" which involves rich contestants residing in a slum for one month to help slum dwellers.

"There was no running water, no air conditioning, none of the amenities I was used to. I missed my Blackberry and my bikes," Sara said. "It was a life-changing experience."

More than a third of India's population survives on less than one dollar a day, according to a 2007 United Nations report, while the number of dollar millionaires rose almost 23 percent in the same year, the fastest pace in the world.

The show went on air late last month, almost a year after Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire" showed the world what it was like to be poor in Mumbai, where more than half its 18 million residents live in slums or on the streets.

"Most of India's television audience is in the middle class," said Zarina Mehta of UTV Bindass, which airs The Big Switch.

"When you bring in people from the richest strata and put them with the poorest of the poor, it makes for great television," Mehta added.

"Our show is also about hope and the fact that you can work your way out of that poverty."   Continued...