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Serving up local flavours

Gaurav Tandon (l) with Sanjeev Kapoor.
Gaurav Tandon (l) with Sanjeev Kapoor.

A Dubai-based production house has created a food reality show aimed at viewers from the Indian subcontinent. BroadcastPro ME goes behind the scenes

A local-interest homegrown Indian TV show may be just the answer to prop up television ratings, more so if the show involves food. A Dubai-based production house has tapped into viewers’ growing appetite for locally relevant content by launching a food-based reality TV competition. It not only gives ordinary people a chance to be on TV but also showcases their talent for creating and presenting food. What’s more, the winning dish finds a place on celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s menu.

The show, Foodshala, claims to honour “home chefs”, which means anyone with a passion for cooking can test their culinary skills on the show. In its fifth season now, Foodshala went on air early last month on ZEE TV and &TV.

Gaurav Tandon, the man behind the Foodshala concept, says it’s the only Asian food reality TV show produced in the Middle East.

“Foodshala is a competition for home chefs to showcase their culinary skills and prove their worth by creating a dish that is worthy of a place in the menu of Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s restaurant Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor,” he says.

It begins with auditions, where people invited to present a dish of their choice to a panel of judges. Once shortlisted, the selected candidates are given a ‘Golden Ticket’ to the next round. In this round, contestants are given a list of ingredients and instructions, which they use to create a three-course meal presented to the judges in round two.12 contestants are chosen from this round to go to the next one. At every level contestants are eliminated, with three left to compete in the semi-finals. This is where they meet the first major twist in the show: a wild-card entry. The four contestants are paired and tag teams are formed, resulting in a team cook-off. The winning pair proceeds to the final, where they take on each other.

More than 500 participants from all over the region, including Oman and Bahrain, came to the auditions, out of which the first 33 contestants were chosen.

“During the shooting of the first season, we realised that due to the scale of production and the participation of people in huge numbers, it was impossible to execute this show with just a TV production team. This show needed a full-fledged events team to ensure a smooth flow. So from the second season onwards, we had two teams working on the show – a TV crew and an events crew,” says Tandon.

The TV crew focuses only on the content and shooting and is responsible for what goes on air. The events crew handles logistics and ensures contestants are well looked after and the selection process goes smoothly.

For a cookery show, creating a set to depict a kitchen environment is very important. This can sometimes be challenging and is often expensive to achieve, according to Tandon. The challenge is not only to provide contestants with all the equipment they use in the kitchen, but to ensure that they get all the necessary ingredients as well.

Foodshala was hosted and filmed in Melia Hotel in Dubai, the hospitality and venue partner for the show. The set was constructed at one of the clubs in the hotel, with the entire season shot at one stretch over a period of eight days.

“We worked over eight long days of 14 to 16 hours each. Each season has 13 episodes,” Tandon says.

Since the show is based on a competition, it is not scripted. Except for a broad storyboard about the various steps involved and the format of the competition, there is not much writing for the show.

The only scripting or planning is for the tasks and twists introduced to make the contest more challenging for the participants, in turn making the show more intriguing for viewers.

“Everything that happens on the set becomes content for the show. Nothing is scripted or planned except for the format. The expressions on the contestants’ faces, their emotions and the overall atmosphere, that’s the essence of a cookery show,” says Tandon.

“Whether it was people laughing or crying, or some of the contestants going completely blank and forgetting their recipes, or for that matter people rejoicing in their opponents’ mistakes or burning their own food, all of this makes great content. These situations and people’s reaction to the same is what makes the reality shows interesting.”

However, it’s not that simple. Reality shows may provide content in its purest form, but these shows come with their own set of challenges, most of them unforeseen. For starters, keeping the participants calm may pose a challenge. Since they are not trained performers and most have no prior experience facing the camera, some are overwhelmed by the setting.

“There are bright 2KV lights on the set, with professional cameras everywhere. It’s no surprise then that some contestants feel pressured or nervous. To keep them calm and not lose focus of the competition, is a big challenge. It is incumbent on the production team to ensure the participants are comfortable. We encourage contestants to bring a few members of their family on the shoot for moral support. We also create a luxury family lounge on the set for the families to feel at home and relax. Having someone around makes things a lot better for the contestants,” Tandon notes.

Filming

The show was shot on the SONY PMW series in full HD in 1920 * 1080 format, with an eight-camera set-up. The production crew comprised eight cameramen, a DOP, a director, an assistant director, three producers, 11 interns, a sound engineer, an online switcher, light boys and make-up artists.

“On an average, we had around 35-40 people working on the show during the shoots,” says Tandon.

TV works on far more demanding schedules than film, because there is less turnaround time. The crew invariably worked against tight deadlines, as the show had to go on air at a certain time.

“It was a gruelling shoot schedule. We shot for eight days in a row and completed 11 episodes. The first two episodes were auditioned and shot in one day [audition day]. For the studio shoot, we had two different set-ups. One was the kitchen set, and there were two video diary rooms to record sound bites from the contestants. Call time for the crew would be 6am and roll time would be at 8:30pm. We aimed at shooting two episodes a day and shot almost 12 to 14 hours a day. The semi-finals and finals were shot on full-day schedules each day. The latter episodes had a lot of twists and turns and the shoot was more complicated.”

The show has been running on Indian channels for five years, which goes to show that it has gone down well with audiences. The format belongs to Dubai-based production house K Kompany, owned by a husband and wife pair and long-time radio RJs Gaurav Tandon and Kritika Rawat. The production house has produced several local shows for Asian TV channels.

As for the commercial aspect of Foodshala, Tandon says: “Every year we look at the ratings of TV channels and also their content calendar for the year and decide which channel we will go with. We buy airtime from the channels and provide them with the content for that particular slot. Our company organises sponsorship deals and advertising for the show.”

The show is not limited to Indian audiences or participation. This year, the show had sizable Pakistani participation, with participants from the Philippines, Nepal and Egypt as well. K Kompany now plans to launch the show in Arabic.

“We are working on launching the show in Arabic, hopefully by next year. So, if all goes well, we will keep the format the same and launch Foodshala Arabia. This will be done totally in Arabic keeping the Arabic viewership in mind,”

Tandon says.

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