Rural India makes it big – via reality TV

New Delhi : Blurring the lines between reel and real, Sushil Kumar lived a billion dreams when he went from being a computer operator earning Rs.6,000 a month to a millionaire many times over by winning Rs.5 crore on “Kaun Banega Crorepati”. The fairytale ‘slumdog millionaire’ come to life on that new harbinger of change – reality television.

The 27-year-old from Motihari in Bihar, who went from oblivion to fame and wealth in a matter of 13 questions on the fifth season of the quiz show, is the latest in the many talents from far flung corners of the country who have come to the national centrestage thanks to reality shows.

When the show was going on air, KBC host, superstar Amitabh Bachchan, had said he wanted to reach out to people in the interiors so that viewers could get to see some of the best brains from small towns.

After Sushil Kumar’s spectacular win, aired Wednesday night, Big B said: “This is what the common man is all about. This is what KBC is all about – given an opportunity, the common man has the strength, the ability and the acumen to prove to the world that he is the best and second to none.”

Last month, The Suresh & Vernon Group won “India’s Got Talent 3”. The group of 30 youngsters from Mumbai suburbs like Vasai, Virar and Nala Sopara were from lower middle class backgrounds and danced their way to the TRPs.

Another rags to riches story was of the Prince Dance Troupe from the backlanes of Berhampur, Orissa. The unlikely stars, including daily wage labourers and two polio-stricken children, won an earlier season of “India’s Got Talent” and even got to perform at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.

The trend began in the late 1990s with shows such as “Meri Awaz Suno” on Doordarshan and Zee TV’s “Hero Honda Sa Re Ga Ma”. Singers like Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghosal first showcased their talent on these shows before going on to make it big in Bollywood, the ultimate dream of every artist.

Thanks to their success stories, reality shows became a rage in small towns. More aspirational than just an entertainment show.

Many talents found their spot in the sun – Sony’s “Indian Idol” turned Abhijeet Sawant into a celebrity post his win while the second season winner Sandeep Acharya from Bikaner in Rajasthan too became well-known. There was also Prashant Tamang from Darjeeling, Amit Paul from Shillong, Emon Chatterjee from Kolkata and Antara Mitra from Maslandapur in West Bengal.

Debojit Saha, a struggling singer from Silchar, Assam, got a new lease of life after winning Zee’s “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa”, as did Raja Hassan, Tochi Raina and Harshit Saxena.

With time, reality shows have become bigger and better with “X-Factor”, “Dance India Dance” and “MasterChef India” vying for TRPs along with the staple prime time soaps.

Not just reality TV producers, filmmakers are also walking the dusty hinterland paths in search of talent.

“It’s a huge country and there is huge talent out there. We need to make it accessible to people who don’t have access to come to Mumbai. I feel there is so much talent in the rest of the country which needs to explored. We want to try and do it through my film ‘Chauranga’,” Onir, the maker of films like “My Brother Nikhil”, said.

Exploring the country’s interiors for stories and talent is the need of the hour for Bollywood, agreed filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee.

“I think there’s so much within India, in the interiors of India. There is a large pool of talent in the country and so many local stories waiting to be told,” the man behind acclaimed movies like “Khosla Ka Ghosla” said.

But yes, it is a treacherous path.

“I think reality shows give you this opportunity and platform. It can give you that initial visibility towards success in the industry, but at the end of the day what sustains you is sheer talent,” Bollywood singer Sunidhi said.

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