Fame-hungry children driving India's reality TV boom

Mon Jun 27, 2011 5:35am EDT
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By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - It is 5 p.m. and Rima Chakravorty has not eaten her lunch. Dressed in a shiny pink and green dress with gauze and sequins, her face heavy with make-up, the 14 year-old sidles up to her father and complains that she is hungry and feeling feverish.

Rima has just finished a grueling shoot for an Indian song-based reality TV 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 TV boom, from singing shows to dancing competitions and even comedy shows for kids, all aired on prime-time TV to eager audiences that are lapping it up.

"Kids' reality shows are one of our most successful formats," says 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 toward reality TV and reflecting social changes in India's booming economy, the popular format provides a break from the regular diet of family melodrama and scheming in-laws that is the staple of Indian daily television.

Rima is one of 18 under-15-year-olds 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 TV.

"I can tell you one thing, once a child wins our show, or gets noticed on it, his life will change forever," says Pankaj Bagrecha, who handles the talent management division of Zee.   Continued...