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Stress On The Set
Text by Alpana Chowdhury
Published: Volume 15, Issue 1, January, 2007

Writers, cameramen, actors, everybody connected with the extremely competitive world of television, have to pay a heavy price to rule the idiot box for they often end up as victims of a clockless work pattern, observes Alpana Chowdhury as she chats with some top flag bearers of the small screen

For 14 months I lived with the coffee machine," laughs Dinesh Raheja. And he's not joking! Part of the team of writers who wrote the screenplay of around 150 initial episodes of Kasamh Se, Raheja got habituated to working after sunset hours till midnight and beyond. "You have no option when you are working on a daily soap that is sensitive to TRP ratings," he explains. That means one has to chop and change according to viewer feedback or unavoidable crises on the sets. Writing and canning a bank of episodes in order to regulate working hours is therefore difficult, if not impossible. But Raheja loved the daily rush of adrenalin. That he put on 10 kilos in the bargain is another thing. "Apart from developing bad food habits, there were other health hazards. My regular activities like yoga, walking, swimming…all went for a toss."

Raheja is not the exceptional case. What he says is the refrain you hear, repeatedly, from those who provide us our daily dose of entertainment. Writers, cameramen, actors, everybody connected with the extremely competitive world of television is a victim of a clockless work pattern. As Iqbal Khan, the intense-looking actor of Kaisa Yeh Pyaar Hain, Kkavyanjali and Karam Apna Apna wryly observes, "There is no IN or OUT time. You just work 25 hours a day."

"I used to be very fit earlier but now I'm not as fit as I'd like to be," rues Ram Kapoor, the increasingly popular Mr Walia of Kasamh Se. "When you are playing the lead role of a daily serial, you can't really take care of your health. There have been occasions when I've shot for 30 hours at a stretch. TV engulfs you totally. If we shoot till the wee hours of the morning, there is no question of having breakfast; and our dinnertime is usually around 1 a.m. But when I accepted the role I was prepared for these demanding conditions of work."

While Raheja and Kapoor found only their weighing machines creaking under them, others have had more serious problems. Sharad Kelkar, the fresh-faced Nahar of Saat Phere and Rudra of Sinndoor Tere Naam Ka, found that, apart from gaining nine kilos in seven months, he had developed multiple health problems because of doing two and sometimes even three shifts a day. "My cholesterol level and blood pressure shot up. I had water retention and a constant feeling of fatigue," he reveals. Nach Baliye 2 was the blessing that came in disguise. Five hours of rigorous rehearsals daily for this competitive dance show helped him to knock off seven kilos of flab in two and a half months, notwithstanding a few sprains along the way. "My wife, Kirti, was the motivating force through the show. She would insist on us putting in that many hours of practice, even if she was burning with viral fever. I have to salute her willpower."

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