Life after the limelight

A good story on reality television, pluses and minuses of it, from Tehelka.

Raju Hela, 29, was a sweeper in Kolkata’s posh St James School. John Bergis, a school manager, heard him singing in the hallway and encouraged Raju to audition for Indian Idol. As Raju bantered about how such contests were only for the rich, Bergis SMSed his entry and he was registered. At the elimination round on the show, Sonu Nigam gifted him and other contestants a ring each, and announced that Sony channel would finance Raju’s future musical training. After the show, Raju says he spent months chasing the channel; finally Nigam’s office sent him to train with music director Suresh Wadkar. Raju was asked for fees when he didn’t even have money for the commute. He ended up getting a menial job at Wadkar’s studio — cleaning the very classroom he was supposed to be studying in. Eventually, he quit. Wadkar says Raju came to him seeking work and denies Sonu Nigam ever recommended Raju for training.

Five years of struggle in Mumbai have taken their toll. Raju rarely smiles. “It hurts me that after all the love I got from across the country, these people forgot me in one moment. I was just used. Whenever I’d call, they’d evade me saying they’re in London,” says he. Today he strains to pay Rs 600 rent for his room in a Juhu chawl and has taken many loans to make ends meet. He recently took a singing job at a dance bar nearby where he gets paid Rs 100 for the days he performs. Though stretched almost to starvation, Raju cannot make himself return home as long as he strides the donkey of failure. “Sometimes I think it would’ve been better if I’d never made it to Indian Idol,” says he.