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The chosen ones: Audiences paid to be present on TV shows

They clap, they laugh, they ask questions on cue. We discover a few surprising facts about the ready audiences that are seen at television shows...

You are sitting at home before the TV screen and watching a show or a film. Chances are you’re thinking: I wish I could do this for a living! As it turns out, there are people who do just that. Not only do people get cast as characters on a TV show, there are many who form part of what is called the ‘paid audience’. The latter comprises a segment of people who often queue outside a studio as they are on the lookout for a show where they can play the audience. These are people who are made to laugh and clap on cue.

Money, food and celeb sightings

The irony, of course, lies in the fact that while many of these shows cost crores of rupees to make per episode, the people who make the audience don’t earn more than Rs 1,500 for a single 12-hour shift. But they are provided with food, especially if it’s a daylong shoot. Moreover, audiences are categorised according to their looks and attire.

Navjot Singh Sidhu on the TV show, 'Comedy Nights with Kapil'. The show employs several people as its audience. Pic/Sameer Markande
Navjot Singh Sidhu on the TV show, 'Comedy Nights with Kapil'. The show employs several people as its audience. Pic/Sameer Markande

Pappu Lekhraj, who has been working as a casting agent for 25 years now, says that playing an audience member is a good career option for many people. “A lot of reality shows are in constant need of audiences on the sets, and those who take up these jobs get paid on a daily basis. They are also given free food and water during a 12-hour shift,” he says.

Ajit Dadheech, who has been a production head for fiction shows such as Pratigya and Khamoshiyan, tells us, “The casting of audience members and junior artistes in fictional shows is different from casting for reality shows. Audience members for both types of shows get paid on a daily basis. At times, the production house provides them food or they are given some money for it. Fictional shows have an 8-hour shift whereas reality shows go on for 12 hours.”

Contestants and the audience on the sets of the TV show, 'Dance India Dance'. Pic/Sameer Markande
Contestants and the audience on the sets of the TV show, 'Dance India Dance'. Pic/Sameer Markande

Meet the audience Salim Razzak, who has been an audience member on many reality shows says, “I have been sitting in the audience for more than a year now and I earn anywhere between Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 every month. I also get to see my favourite celebrities in person. I am quite happy with the money and the job.” Amit Patil, who has been working in the same field for over six months now, reveals, “I was not doing anything for a living till a friend of mine told me about this job. I now earn between Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 every month. All we have to do is sit in the crowd and follow the instructions.”

Models v/s junior artistes

It’s also important to know the category one falls into. There are two different categories for audience members: first is that of models and then come the junior artistes or ‘the crowd’. Models are usually hired for shows where they are made to sit or stand behind a certain judge. Since they often appear on screen, they are expected to meet certain requirements in terms of their appearance. For instance, they need to be tall and slim. Since the camera trains its sights on them, they have to wear makeup and look attractive. The other category has junior artistes whose looks don’t really matter.

Moolah matters

In reality shows:

Rs 400
The amount junior artistes earn for a 12-hour shift.

Rs 1,500
The amount models earn for a similar shift (12 hours)

In fictional shows:
Here, only members of the junior artistes’ association are allowed to sit in the audience

Rs 850-900
The sum male junior artistes earn for an 8-hour shift

Rs 1,200
The sum a female junior artiste earns for the same shift

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