Do we have a Bollywood Star in Oz?

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PRIYANKA TATER on the new SBS reality TV show

Bollywood sells…but what is disturbing is to see people buying it out of ignorance!

Conducting an interview with Hancock director Peter Berg way back in 2008, I distinctly remember a conversation off-camera, where he referred to Mallika Sherawat as an Indian ‘Superstar’. (Now for those of you not familiar with Indian cinema or may I take the liberty of calling it ‘Bollywood’, Mallika Sherawat’s claim to fame is her love for minimalistic clothing, raunchy grooves in item numbers and that lately acquired fake American accent! And for those of you who already know, I needn’t waste any more space). My jaw dropped and it took a good ten seconds to sink in, while I wondered if he was really referring to the sultry seductress or was it Aishwarya Rai Bachchan he meant. But then, that is probably what was sold to him by her and her agent.

Cut to 2012, I find myself attending the launch of Bollywood Star a four-part series made for SBS by WTFN Entertainment (Bondi Vet, Keeping up with the Joneses).  With the Opera House as the backdrop, my senses soak in everything Indian. Right from the chaat on the menu, saree clad beauties (contestants), foreheads shimmering with bindis, the male participants reminding me of the quintessential ‘Raj’, Bollywood indeed is the flavour of the afternoon. Amidst flashing shutterbugs and the photo sessions, I try to steal some of the contestants and judges from the photo-shoots for a quick chat. Needless to say each one present is bubbling with excitement. After all, it’s a first-of-its-kind show on Australian TV.

Sydney-based film-maker Anupam Sharma is one of the judges on the show. “People like me who have been in the media in this country for years, have been screaming and dreaming about a show on Indians in Australia, a show which showcases their dreams and aspirations.”

With the making of Bollywood Star that dream has finally been realized.

Keeping with the name, the launch kicks off with a ‘Bollywood’ song and dance routine. A troupe of dancers perform to some of the popular filmy hits Dhoom Tana (Om Shanti Om) and Choli ke Peeche (Khalnayak), followed by a video message from Mumbai filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and a small clip of  the show. SBS Managing director Michael Ebeid offers some insight into the show stating, “Bollywood Star is not just a talent show, it is a fusion of the highly popular talent format and observation documentary, with SBS setting the benchmark for new contemporary TV. It is a talent quest with a difference: we’re doing it SBS style.”  He adds, “This show is a real contrast to some of serious content that we show on SBS”.

Alright, with all the hype, hoopla and promising talk at the event I settle down to watch the very first episode of Bollywood Star given for preview, with great expectations!

For someone who has earned her bread and butter off ‘Bollywood’ as an entertainment journalist in India, I can’t help but cringe as one of the judges on the show claims, “If you don’t have the look, you are nobody in Bollywood”. By that logic, your list of Bollywood successes would have to exclude the likes of Irrfan Khan, Nana Patekar, Ajay Devgn – why, even ‘superstars’ Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan – who don’t quite boast of the conventional good looks. Hindi cinema has long come of age. It is no longer about just dancing around the trees, big budgets, Aphrodites and Adonis’ on screen. Can someone please sell the truth…?

While the auditions and the very lure of B-town managed to pull in scores of aspirants from all spheres of life and all backgrounds, it was interesting to watch them deliver their heavily accented dialogues in English for a role in a Bollywood film.  Though, as the episode unfolded, something felt amiss. Perhaps the judges too could have been better prepared? They seemed starved of chutzpah somehow, at times dull, at times downright boring, and often lacking in co-ordination…   Some tips from a Seal, Delta or Joel could help. As for the contestants, our desi judges were desperately trying to pick the best amongst the worst. That said, some sprinkle of talent did pop up. But it took a Teigan from the Gold Coast to make the two male judges yearn to cast her in their next movie. I cringe yet again. Upping the ante might do some good.

And why was Vinny given so much footage? Was it because she had a broken ankle or was she too pretty to ignore! After all wasn’t someone harping about the importance of looks just minutes ago?!

The very first episode of Bollywood Star came across as average and with superficial packaging. The arduous attempt to make it look like fun was in vain as boredom crept in. But there’s more to come and I would be happy to eat my own words if the following episodes can get past the mediocrity and the stereotypes.

While episode one has 24 Bollywood hopefuls, the second part in the series will have these 24 perform a scene from their lives and a self-choreographed dance in front of family and friends. The number of contestants then trickles down to 12, who get to dance in a public flash mob choreographed and assessed by Bollywood Star judge Dipti Patil.  This number is filtered to the final six who are flown to Mumbai for a taste of the real thing.  A week of training from some of the best in the business, and then a further edit to four contestants for the final episode that has them exposed to the Dharavi slums.

(It’s beyond my reasoning as to why it always takes slums of India to sell it on western shores, but hey, we might yet have a Slumdog Millionaire here!)

Finally filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt selects the winner to appear in his next movie.  Well, if it takes a ‘Bollywood Star’ from Australia to awaken the sleeping star in Mahesh Bhatt, so be it. As long as he can get over the shadows of some of his thrillers hinting at eroticism, and churn out yet another Arth or Saraansh, I ain’t complaining.

As for the winner, watch this space for an update on his/her stardom!

Bollywood Superstar premieres 7.30pm Saturday 2 June 2012 on SBS ONE

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