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Reality TV stars earning BIG bucks

Last updated on: December 30, 2005 12:49 IST

Limelight. Those who love it, want it and will do anything for it. They'll stand in long queues and fight with families (in some cases) only to find themselves facing the arclights, getting makeovers, becoming instant stars and raking in the moolah.

And at the end of the day, some of them will say a silent prayer, thanking their stars, cellphones, the SMS culture and the Great Indian Reality Show that has catapulted them to fame.

Ask Amit Sana, Indian Idol's first runner-up, and he'll tell you only too excitedly. "When I watch Season II of Indian Idol, I feel proud to have already lived my dream." He should know, he was chucked out of Channel V's Popstars Hunt in the very first round but got off to a flying start on Indian Idol.


Making real money

  • Abhijeet Sawant: Indian Idol: charges Rs 5 lakh per show. Has moved to Mumbai's Vile Parle area in a five-bedroom flat.
  • Sunil Pal: Great Indian Laughter Challenge champion: A former tea vendor, he now charges around Rs 100,000 per show.
  • Vinit: Zee Challenge 2005: Hopes to charge at least Rs 200,000 for shows for starters and Rs 15,000-25,000 for playback singing. Has already sung for three films.
  • Himani: Zee Challenge 2005: Sang a thumri in Kalpana Lajmi's Chingaari. Is getting live show offers.
  • Amit Tandon: Indian Idol contestant; is a TV actor. Monthly income: Close to Rs 400,000 to Rs 500,000.
  • Amit Sana: Ist runner up, Indian Idol; Doesn't like to quote a figure but is in the Rs 200,000 to Rs 500,000 bracket, per show. Drives a Hyundai Accent, is signing playback singing contracts for films.
  • Harish Moyale: Indian Idol contestant; Bought a Maruti Swift for his wife, holds singing workshops.
  • Anand Narshiman: Winner of ESPN's Harsha Kee Khoj.


"It's fierce," he cautions, speaking of the competition due to the rising number of reality talent hunt shows where a few lucky participants get to show off their talent to try and make it big in the Rs 22,200 crore (Rs 222 billion) Indian entertainment industry.

"Earlier the struggle was so different," says Anu Malik, "it took us years to establish ourselves." Sonu Nigam too had famously said on one of the Indian Idol episodes, "I wish I could participate too." He right, for in the business of entertainment where marketing plays such a crucial role, Sawant's best-selling album Aapka Abhijeet sold a whopping 5 million copies.

The album was pitted against Nigam's Chanda Kee Doli at the recent MTV Immies and won hands down in the best album category. "The reach of Indian Idol was unbelievable," says Sana, readying for another album, a New Year's eve show in Bhubaneswar, and "forging contacts with music directors over coffee".

Sawant must be thanking the reality TV genre too that within months has changed his personality, fortunes, address and bank balance. For Mumbai's Mahim area resident who performed at shows with his uncle for barely Rs 2,500-4,000, Sawant now comes attached with a hefty price tag of Rs 500,000. He's moved into a five-bedroom flat in posh Vile Parle and is an icon of sorts for millions of Indians. Episodes of him in the pre-Indian Idol days, like singing in front of Shankar Mahadevan on a street, are almost legendary.

What makes the lure of reality television so irresistible? "It makes young people like me famous at such an early age," explains Rooprekha Banerjee. The programme Fame Gurukul that attracted lakhs of contestants drew to a nail-biting finish where Kashmir's Qazi Tauqeer and Bengal's Banerjee were declared winners.

Banerjee has moved to Mumbai permanently with her parents and is busy doing live shows and promoting programmes on Sony TV. "Qazi and I were even offered a film together," says Rex D'Souza who was declared the runner-up on the same show. "I've refused but I'm sure he (Qazi) will take it. I will concentrate on my singing," he adds.

In Mumbai's Zee Studios, 17-year-old Vinit is doing just that: concentrating on his singing in the hope of winning Zee's Challenge 2005. He's also getting offers for playback singing and has already sung for three films under musician Himesh Reshammiya's guidance.

His colleagues Himani and Rajiv (who was eliminated recently) have also sung for Kalpana Lajmi's film Chingari. "Some of the eliminated participants are already getting live show offers and are charging nearly Rs 50,000-60,000," says Gajendra Singh, one of the pioneers who introduced the concept of talent hunt shows in India.

He's confident that contestants who've managed to stay on the show will fetch "not less than Rs 150,000-200,000 at least".

It is rumoured that nearly Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million) is being spent on the making of each episode of Challenge 2005 and 40 lakh (4 million) votes are pouring in per week on the show.

"Our focus is really on the quality of singing," says Singh, who feels the USP of the show has been convincing top-notch music directors like Himesh Reshamiya, Aadesh Shrivastava and Ismail Darbar to train the participants.

"We have a gruelling schedule with nearly eight hours of daily riyaaz besides shootings, recordings and performing in different parts of the city," says Vinit. But he's not complaining.

"After all, a two album contract and a flat in Mumbai along with freebies like colour TVs, iPods, mobile phones and designer clothes thrown in for good measure make for a lucrative package.

While the winner takes it all, there are very few losers on the reality shows. Take Raju Shrivastava of the Great Indian Laughter Challenge that was aired on Star One, for instance. He may not be wearing the laughter crown on his head but film offers are already pouring in for his humour-laced antics. Zee TV has roped him for a special year-end show on the channel.

Amit Tandon's career graph also looks fetching. A Balaji production house favourite, Tandon's buffed image made him a favourite contestant on Indian Idol. Now, he's all set to die in one Balaji serial only to get resurrected in another with a "rockstar hero role.

A role on Balaji's Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi is on the cards," he says, crossing his fingers. He says he's happy with his current earnings of Rs 450,000. That's a figure a majority of stars of reality TV shows will quote for live shows, 20 per cent of which goes to television channels that promote them. The second rung of stars charge anywhere between Rs 40,000-100,000 and some even hold singing and acting workshops.

But not everyone believes in the success of reality TV. For some, it's no more than a marketing gimmick to attract TRP ratings and generate revenue through SMSes and phone calls that cost nearly Rs 6 and Rs 2.50 respectively, from which 40 per cent goes to channels and the rest goes to the service providers (in this case, Airtel and Hutch).

"As long as we're seen on television, we're successful," says Rex. He could be right. After all, what happened to the star cast of Cinestars Ki Khoj, the hyped talent hunt show from Zee? Singh defends, "They're shooting for a film that is being produced by filmmaker Subhash Ghai." Ajay Vidyasagar, senior VP, (marketing & communication), Star India warns: "You can't overkill the concept because these programmes are short-lived. The channel can't always bank on reality TV," he says.

But for now the flavour of reality TV is going strong.

Inputs from Aabhas Sharma

Abhilasha Ojha in New Delhi
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