Page last updated at 12:45 GMT, Monday, 25 August 2008 13:45 UK

India kids queue up for reality shows

By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai

Children participate in a television dance show
Children's contests on television have become hugely popular

Chinmay Deshmukh is an 11-year-old boy who juggles his day between school and cricket, theatre and music lessons.

His days are busy by any standards, but they have been even more crowded in the past couple of months as he was trying his luck in a music talent show on television.

Along with nearly 2,000 children, he queued up at the audition venue for a popular singing competition SaReGaMaPa in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay).

"Chinmay is very shy and this exposure was good for him," said his mother, Dr Vrushali Deshmukh.

Chinmay was eliminated in the third round, but he continues his formal training in music and will try his luck in the programme's next season.

"I was nervous when the competition was going on and everyone sang very well. Later, my classmates told me that they had seen me on TV. I was very happy," he says.

Chinmay is not alone. Thousand of Indian children are queuing up these days to participate in these shows.

Hugely popular

In the last few years, reality TV shows have become very popular in India with music and dance competitions sometimes securing better viewership than prime time soaps.

And children's competitions on television have also become hugely popular.

One of the first music contests, SaReGaMa, started over 10 years ago and now it has championships for adults and children. Today, there are five music and dance shows in Hindi and many more in regional languages like Bengali, Malayalam and Marathi on Indian television.

Children participate in a television dance show
Some say the contests are no good for children

For the dancers, there are shows like Boogie Woogie and Chak de Bachche and there are also shows where families - including children - are pitted against each other like Waar Parivaar and Rock and Roll Family.

The popularity of these shows can be gauged by the fact that millions of applications are received for these shows.

After going through several elimination rounds, the finalists are judged by celebrity judges from India's hugely popular film industry Bollywood, and well-known singers, musicians and dancers.

An element of drama has also been added to the shows by bringing the audience into the mix - they can vote through mobile text messages.

Judges, like the ones on American idol, now openly support or criticise contestants. This, some say, spices up the programme by bringing planned frictions to the sets.

"Every time I see these contests, I feel you don't have to see any more soaps. To get the viewership, the programmers are resorting to melodrama," says trade analyst Taran Adarsh. But, he asks, "how are the children benefiting from these shows?"

Abhijit Pohankar, a musician, who refused to be a judge on one such show, says the participants do not benefit.

"Even if you win, which happens to one in many hundreds of contestants, you are forgotten after a while. Reality shows are now a stale commodity. All the shows are the same and have participants singing or dancing to old film songs," he says.


However, singing old Bollywood numbers has got some contestants plum playback singing assignments in films. Their success stories are enough motivation for more children to push themselves to do well.

And this pushing is having its side-effects.

A young girl participating in a dance show on a show in Calcutta city collapsed after she lost out. Her parents alleged that it was due to on-air reprimanding. The show organisers rubbished the charge, saying the parents should know the limits of their children and should not have sent a weak child.

Chinmay Deshmukh
Chinmay's days are overcrowded with activities

Within days, the controversy faded away and the show did well. The girl is still recuperating.

However, producers maintain that their competitions do not hamper children.

Ravi Behl, producer and presenter of the longest running dance show "Boogie Woogie", says sometimes the problem comes from over-enthusiastic parents.

"Some parents are so ambitious that they need to be counselled. We have to tell them to let the children be. Sometimes parents push the children to wear certain clothes, practice some gyrating adult moves. At such times we ask them to change their dance."

Mr Behl says on the sets every care is taken to ensure the child's comfort.

"We have never planned for drama on our show. Everything is smooth if you follow one simple rule - treat the children like your own. We have vanity vans for children and their parents. Shoots are not easy so you have to make it comfortable for them," he says.

Parents vouch for the gruelling shooting schedule.

Says Chinmay's mother Dr Vrushali Deshmukh, "It took us nearly two hours from our home to reach the competition venue. The schedule went on from 7am till late night. It was the same the next day."

'Nothing wrong'

Experts say there is a reason why children-centric programmes are pushed on television - the advertisers want to grab their attention as they have a considerable say in what their parents purchase.

"The audience segment of four to 14 years is becoming important. Children are a major influence on consumer behaviour. Segments like sports, music and pure children's channels have a viewership base which manufacturers of consumer durables, auto industries, food industry would like to tap," says Atul Phadnis, who heads a media research company.

Mumbai's leading psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty says he sees nothing wrong in children participating in contest shows but families should be clear about their child's development.

"The new age children on the stage are not anxious and speak for themselves. It is important to view childhood from the prism of 'today'. And then your entire perspective changes. It is a different ball game with different rules," he says.

"As long as parents and children know that these competitions are just a part of life and not life itself, children will be able to handle the pressures," he says.

Ask Chinmay and he tells you that he is ready to go on a singing show again to try his luck.

"If I get a chance, I will go on a show again," he says.

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