TIME ZONES: Four Hours in Mumbai With a Teenage Extra

In the Widening World of Reality TV, Being a 'Crowd' Is No Easy Job

A series of occasional stories and pictures looking at life in foreign countries through the prism of time.

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By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

MUMBAI

Eighteen-year-old Mital Limbad stretches lazily in bed in her tiny, one-room tenement. It is 8:30 a.m., and she has been home for only a few hours, having spent the previous night at a long and tiring TV shoot.

As her family goes about the morning chores, her cellphone rings. Limbad answers it, listens and hangs up.

"I need to be at the Cinevista studio in two hours," she says.

"What show will you be on this time?" asks her mother, Jyoti, 39.

" 'K for Kishore,' " she answers, referring to a popular TV talent show. Her mother and her younger sister and brother cheer.

"I am a 'crowd,' " explains Limbad, who dropped out of school after the 10th grade. She spreads toothpaste on a brush and goes to the kitchen, which has a tap with running water in one corner. "People like me form the crowd in reality TV shows, like song-and-dance talent hunts. We earn our living this way."

She has attended hundreds of tapings in the past seven months, earning a little over $5 per show. She makes at least $150 a month and hands it to her father, who makes roughly that much as a tailor.

The boom in audience-based private television shows in India in the past decade has spawned previously unheard-of careers for poor, unemployed young people with limited education. Limbad notes, though, that being a member of a TV show audience isn't just a matter of clapping and cheering.

"I have to work long hours going from one shoot to the next," she says after she emerges from her five-minute bucket bath wearing a pink shirt and blue jeans with floral embroidery on the thighs.

"We cannot wear Indian clothes to the show, only jeans and shirts," she explains. Her mother squats on the floor watching Limbad hastily comb her curly hair.

"She misses the last train at 1:40 a.m. sometimes and sleeps on the train platform with her friends. She takes the first train home at 4 a.m.," her mother says. "Eat something. Don't go out on an empty stomach."


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