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Who will be Australia's Bollywood Star?

Australian's have been given the chance to sing and dance their way into a Bollywood movie thanks to the latest reality tv show from SBS Bollywood Star.

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The premise of SBS’ Bollywood Star is simple – get a bunch of people of mixed levels talent to audition for renowned Bollywood producer and director Mahesh Bhatt’s next film. The usual reality TV suspects lined up – the crazies, the try-hards, the wannabes, the desperados, the chancers – like the guy who when asked to name his favourite Bollywood actor responded: “Mike Myers”. In case you were wondering Myers played an Indian guru in the film The Love Guru. Amongst the rabble were those serious about their dedication and love for Bollywood. 24 of them triumphed past the first round of auditions and made it to the next round where they had to perform in a flash mob and take part in a photo shoot where they made overt expressions to convey emotions like “jealous housewife”.

All of which makes Bollywood Star seem like good, mindless entertainment, which it is, but it’s so much more too.  My extended family have committed to giving up their Saturday nights to follow the show because, even though we wouldn’t outwardly admit it, we are finally getting to see people like us - that is brown-skinned Australian folk - getting air-time on TV.

A lot of the time when you are a non-white Australian you pretend that you are of no race. That people won’t notice that your skin is different colour or your eyes are a different shape. You act as if you’re transparent. You’re not white, but you hope people somehow overlook the fact that you are any race at all. I don’t speak for all non-white Australians of course. But I do know well the burden of being different in a society which can sometimes be monochrome. Sometimes all you want to do is switch off and not wonder if someone’s actions or inactions, someone’s behaviour, someone’s rejection, someone’s rudeness or awkwardness, someone’s suspicions or judgements were based on the colour of your skin. Sometimes all you want to do is spend a day where you don’t have to deal with the possibility of battling someone else’s preconceptions. We weren’t born this way. We have been conditioned by society to do so.

Sydney-based contestant, Amy Roya, performs in front of the <i>Bollywood Star</i> judges.

Sydney-based contestant, Amy Roya, performs in front of the Bollywood Star judges.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the colour of my skin. I love my heritage. I love the fact that I have access to two cultures, not just the one. But it’s not always easy having to juggle two separate identities, and finding a comfortable middle ground without feeling like you’re losing part of who you are.

A show like Bollywood Star  helps us embrace that side of us which we indulge at home, in private. The gaudiness, the gauche bright colours, the singing at the drop of a hat, the hysterical tears one minute, the raucous laughter – that’s not just Bollywood – that’s a family get together at my place.

The soundtrack to many an afternoon of my adolescence, whilst whiling away the hours in a relative’s house, was that of a Bollywood film. While my parents, uncles and aunts would gather to watch the three hour marathon of a film, I would wonder how they could lose themselves in such a flimsy piece of work. The films almost always follow the same premise - two people from opposite sides of the track meet and fall in love but have to face the disapproval of their respective families. They then battle it out with the most evil of evil villains, usually the man betrothed to the heroine of the film, to prove their love to everyone once and for all.

Bollywood mega star Aishwarya Rai.

Bollywood mega star Aishwarya Rai.

What I failed to realise at the time of course was that Bollywood was a way for my family to connect to the homeland they left behind. Seeing a familiar culture on a familiar landscape gave them some form of comfort.

My parents’ generation grew up with Bollywood. The songs my mother sang to me as a child weren’t nursery rhymes, but songs from the movies she loved. I on the other hand grew up in the West, the landscape of my childhood was alien to my parents. The issues and battles I came across, were ones they hadn’t faced before.

While Bollywood doesn’t appeal to me directly it doesn’t mean I don’t want to see films and TV shows that deal with the issues I face, not only when growing up, but growing old, starting a family, bringing up children of mixed race, juggling my heritage with the culture of my hometown. Issues that aren’t only unique to me, but to many living on this fair, Brown land.

A show like Bollywood Star gives us a tinge of comfort, not unlike what my parents generation felt watching movies from the place they left behind. Except this time the culture is here and now, it is part of the country we’ve adopted as home. It’s just not shown often enough.

The Bollywood Star finale airs this Saturday night on SBS at 7.30pm.