Friday, April 21, 2006

Hello, hello, please come

Permission to reprint this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times
Audiences are wooed assiduously to participate in the numerous shows on television

Shevlin Sebastian
Mumbai

The moment Amitabh Bachchan steps onto the Kaun Banega Crorepati 2 set, at Filmcity, on a Wednesday afternoon, the audience bursts into sustained applause. And what an audience it is: they range from giggly teenagers to excited middle-aged men and women to stoic elderly folk. For most, this is the first time they are seeing Bachchan in the flesh.
Like the effervescent airhostess, Shivani Bandekar, who says, “I have only come to see Amitabh Bachchan.” Or the smiling banker Kishore P., who says, “A friend in Star Plus gave me a pass.” Or Dilip Kumar Jadhav, who has come all the way from Jharkhand: “My brother is a cook on the sets and gave me a pass. It is an easy quiz. Till Rs 3.2 lakh, you should have no problem.” Or the calm TCS software engineer T.S. Prasanna, who says, “The set is really good.”
But KBC2 is an exception, when it comes to audience participation. “Three years ago, people were dying to participate in any show,” says Nisha Kothari, a freelance coordinator who arranges audiences for shows. “That has changed because there are so many shows now and lots of people have gone for them. The novelty value has worn off. People have become choosy.”
Says Bindu Harmishah, another coordinator: “Earlier, those coming as studio audience were curious to see artistes at close quarters. Now, they want to be paid.”
So channels, nowadays, to woo audiences, provide transport and snacks and pay the audience if the shooting is for several hours. “If the studio gives us money, we pay around Rs 500 a day but they have to work a minimum of eight hours,” says Harmishah. “Most of the time, the demand is for younger people.”
For Nach Baliye, the show needs a lot of clapping and screaming, which young people do with √©lan. Says Pinky Thakkar, (21), an audience participant in Nach Baliye, “Even though the hours are long, we don’t feel tired at all. I go for the fun of it.”
So how does one become a member of the audience? One way is to get in touch with the channel and express your interest. Then they will pass your name to their coordinators. Or you can send an e-mail. Says Smita Sharma, a coordinator at a business channel: “When people respond to our shows, we build up a database. We call them and ask whether they are interested in taking part.” She gets in touch two days in advance and if there is a group of people coming from a particular place, transport is provided.
Harmishah goes to the various clubs in the city and puts up advertisements. “When people show an interest, we interview them and do a final selection,” she says. She has several categories of audiences: a dancing audience, a smart audience, an intelligent audience and an audience, which can speak in English.
Coming back to KBC2, Karun Prabhakaran, director, operations, Synergy Communications, which is producing the show for Star Plus, explains the audience break-up: “During the weekends, we have a good mix of MNC executives, college students, NGOs and similar organisations. During the weekdays, we have a lot of members from housing societies, women’s organisations, airforce groups, pensioners, widows and students from mass communication institutes.” Memo to other channels: get clones of Bachchan as presenter, if you want strong audience participation. I can understand how you can feel low.

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