By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) Packed with pulsating stunts and tough guy acts, MTV's weekly reality show "Roadies" has managed to hook millions of Indians, from college goers to school kids to housewives.
Five years after it came into being, MTV's "Roadies" has proved to be one of the most popular programmes on Indian television today and thousands across the country send entries to participate in the adventure show.
"I relish the show. You cannot predict what is going to happen next. Every episode treats you to new adventure," said Kalpana Bajaj, a Delhi-based housewife who has been following it for the last three years.
"And the best part is that it is in Hindi. Had it been in English, I might not have enjoyed it so much."
According to TAM (Television Audience Measurement) data of February 2008, MTV commanded the highest audience share among all music channels during the telecast of the first episode of "Roadies 5.0", the fifth edition of the show, telecast March 22.
This year 13 contestants were selected after being auditioned for attitude, tolerance and patience. The selected "Roadies" are given bikes to travel on a pre-decided route and assigned difficult physical or rational tasks. A vote-out takes place at the end of the show and whoever survives till the end is declared winner. And of course it's all captured on camera.
The winner is rewarded a cash prize of Rs.500,000 and a bike.
"'Roadies' has a cult following today and the fact that it has at least equalled the popularity of (MTV's comedy show) 'Bakra' is an achievement in itself," Rannvijay Singh, the host of the show, told IANS on phone from Mumbai.
Rannvijay, who sees himself as a confidant on the show where the physical and mental calibre of a person is tested, is a winner of the first season of the show.
The show started in 2003 with seven contestants biking across the country to win a bike and is raging on even though it costs about one tenth the cost of other reality shows.
Among the general entertainment channels (GECs), MTV succeeded over the big boys like Zee TV, STAR Plus and Sony with a share of 9.83 points. And much of this is credited to "Roadies".
Raghu Ram, the brain behind and producer of "Roadies", said: "I think that the popularity of the show has increased by almost 2,500 percent from the first season and has built a global appeal".
The show believes in making a contestant's life miserable so that only the deserving person makes it to the end.
When asked about the age limit, Raghu said: "They have to be 18 years old to participate in the show. We haven't fixed the upper limit."
Raghu maintains that the show has evolved over the year and tried to introduce a new format every year. "This year, we have gone a step ahead and gone international," he said.
In its fifth season, the "Roadies" journey has gone beyond the Indian shores and been extended to Thailand and Malaysia.
But what makes 'Roadies' so popular?
Raghu believes the main draw of the show is the honesty with which it is shown. "Nothing is rigged on 'Roadies' and, in fact, now we are even showing behind-the-scenes clippings. So nothing is made up and that is the real punch," he explained.
"We don't give the contestants a TV, they don't have a mobile phone and they aren't even allowed to speak to strangers," he said.
More often than not, the show has been criticised for influencing young minds with offensive language and by showing outrageous tasks.
"People send me hate mails saying that we are aggravating the use of foul language and spoiling children. But since we don't want to offend the sensibilities of the general public, we add beeps wherever abusive language is used," said Raghu.
Despite the controversy, it's raging on.
Ashish Patil, general manager and vice president (Creative and Content), MTV, said: "Nothing like this show exists on TV. It is wary of melodramatic judges and every emotion on the show is real.
"Besides, the thrills that the audience gets from the show are incomparable to those in any other Indian show."