The real story

A tour of the sets of a reality TV show proves to be more fascinating than the eventual telecast.

On a nippy December morning, this writer along with photojournalist colleague Umesh Goswami visited the sets of reality show Bigg Boss 4 in the hill station of Lonavala, 100-odd kilometres off Mumbai.

The objective: Tour the sets - which include the Bigg Boss 4 "house", a live studio and the backstage areas - and come back with a story on what goes into the making of a grandiose television show that thrives on unscripted drama.

The house is an imposing 12,000 sq. ft. structure, in which 14 "housemates" compete to avoid being evicted. It took Shyam Bhatia, a Mumbai-based architect, close to eight months to build this temporary residence at a cost of Rs 2 crore. The house, in which the housemates have to spend 85 days together with 40 cameras tracking them round the clock, has no TV connection, no phones, no Internet connection - not even a clock, or a pen or paper.

From left to right: Host Salman Khan with Bollywood stars Akshaye Khanna and Anil Kapoor inside the live studio of Bigg Boss 4
From left to right: Host Salman Khan with Bollywood stars Akshaye Khanna and Anil Kapoor inside the live studio of Bigg Boss 4
Adjacent to the house is a 1,400 sq. ft. chalet that is home to Bollywood star Salman Khan, host of the show; Khan stays there every weekend when he visits to shoot. The entire set, which also includes the area where a live audience sits, and technical control rooms, is situated in an industrial shed spread over an area of two acres. For close to three months, some 200 crew members have been working on three shifts of eight hours daily.

Of the 200, 50 are staffers from Endemol, the Netherlands-headquartered TV production company that created the original format; the rest have been hired for three months on a project basis for Bigg Boss 4. The nerve centre of the set is the Master Control Room, which has a panel of over 20 monitors that displays what every camera in the house captures. Two story editors alternate on four-hour shifts round the clock with their eyes glued to the monitors; their job is to weave stories around daily happenings inside the house. At any given point in time, a story editor follows two stories.

 Behind the scenes of Bigg Boss 4

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It cost Rs 150 crore to put together 96 episodes of Bigg Boss 4.
There could be more than two conversations happening but it is the decision of the story editors to follow what he or she thinks viewers will find captivating. There are two daily producers on the show who work in shifts.

The daily producer, who has the overall vision for the day's episode, works from eight a.m. in the morning and is on duty till the next day when the show is up-linked and telecast. The daily producer is updated by each story editor on their respective stories and then it is his job to assimilate these stories and create a daily episode.

From eight a.m. till midnight, the daily producer has the task of going through 50 different stories, selecting the best ones, and crunching them into a 50-minute episode. The edited episode is sent to Deepak Dhar, Country Head of Endemol India, and Ashvini Yardi, Head of Programming for Colors. Only after their approval does an episode go on air.

"It is the channel's call to edit or mute the video of housemates using abusive language," says Aritra Mukherjee, Creative Director of the show. A team of six has the job of researching various tasks that can be given to the housemates. Tasks are generally thrown in when the story editor finds that not much is happening amongst the housemates.

Other than the 40 cameras that track housemates within the house there is a "camera gully," a dark hallway that encircles the house and all its rooms. The hallway has oneway mirrors, which serve as windows for a dozen cameras operated by cameramen who work round the clock (on shifts) to capture the happenings inside the house.

 Reality bytes

12,000 sq. ft.
The house that is the set for Bigg Boss 4

2 acres
The land on which the sets of Bigg Boss 4 have been built

Rs 2 crore
The cost of building the temporary house

64 cameras
To capture the happenings in the house

200 crew members
Working on an eight-hour shift for three months

Rs 200 daily allowance
Paid to audience members transported to the sets

Rs 150 crore
Cost of producing 96 episodes of Bigg Boss 4
Outside the house, on the premises, is the set where host Khan addresses the audience and housemates. The set is fully airconditioned and the housemates appear on a huge plasma screen to interact with Khan. And if you are wondering where the audience comes from, well, they are not quite residents of Lonavala.

The contract for bringing in an audience is outsourced to a Mumbai-based audience agency. Some 100 persons are bussed from Mumbai for an entire day; they are offered breakfast, lunch, evening tea and snacks and dinner in case the shoots get delayed.

Besides, they are paid Rs 200 each for their day's efforts. Seen in the context of the big picture, such payouts are indeed small change. After all, according to those familiar with the show's budget, the cost of producing Bigg Boss 4 - inclusive of payments to Khan, who has been contracted for 28 of the 96 episodes - works out to roughly Rs 150 crore.

By the time you read this Bigg Boss 4 would be just about winding down - the last episode will be telecast on January 8 - but folks at Colors and Endemol would have already begun planning their next reality sortie. Says Dhar: "With the demand for reality shows having increased in the last few years, each show is a unique profitable space."

But would Colors be able to recover the huge costs involved? Media planners point out that for Colors, leadership and viewership might be more important than profitability.

Says Manas Mishra, Executive Vice President and Country Head, Mudra Connext, the media agency of Mudra Group. "For a show of this scale, the (immediate) return on investment does not really matter. It's the brand value of the show that matters, as that paves the way for advertisers to come on board for the other shows on the channel." Over to Bigg Boss 5.