Calcutta champs

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By SUDESHNA BANERJEE
  • Published 9.09.09
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At lunch, little Antara Nandy lingered by the dessert counter. Turning her back to her mother, she picked up two rosogollas on her plate, quickly popped in one and came back innocent-faced with the other sponge ball. But she was not lucky with the next course, ice cream. All protestations fell on deaf ears as mother Jui vetoed it. “I do feel bad to deprive her but it will affect her voice,” said the mother of the nine-year-old.

Life in the L’il Champs camp is not easy if one is a foodie. “We are served mostly vegetarian food — idli, dosa, sambar, upma, vada pav, burger… One day, they gave us egg and we said ‘galti se bana diya’,” laughed Shreyasi Bhattacharya, a Class VIII girl from Krishnagar whom Antara calls “dibhai”.

These are the only girls from the initial bunch who have reached the top five of L’il Champs, Zee TV’s talent hunt for children. Bengali girls both, they were recently back to meet with friends and family.

According to both girls, the most mischievous character of the pack is Swarit Shukla. The youngest performer on the show, a darling of judges Abhijeet and Alka Yagnik, is not one to sit still. “When we get on stage, he invariably wants to pee. Once they had to do a retake because of that,” giggles Shreyasi. Swarit feeds biscuits to street dogs and also has the gift of telling the notations on hearing any song.

Swarit and Yatharth Ratnum are the vegetarians among the kids. “But when chicken is served, sometimes they give in to the temptation and join us,” Shreyasi says. Her parents agree that it is a royal treat that is laid out on the days of the shoot. “On those days, all their tantrums are accepted by the production team,” says mother Debi Bhattacharya.

Antara, who misses fish and phuchka the most, had come third in the Zee Bangla edition of the contest. “My toughest moment in Mumbai was singing with 104º C fever.” That was the time she was down with chicken pox. “But so were Devleena, Hemant, Abhigyan, Swarit and Yashodhan… all one after the other,” giggles Shreyasi. There could be no let-up in rehearsals or shooting, though. Only, there was no make-up on the face.

While both girls agree that Yatharth is their toughest competitor, off the stage they are all too happy to ignore the competition and play together. This is where Antara’s mother Jui is a focal point. “While other mothers discuss eliminations and the songs their children have been given to sing, I would rather play with the kids.”

But the resident of Thakurpukur admits that she used to be a nervous wreck earlier. “Once her performance had clearly suffered because she lost confidence on seeing me weep away in the audience. I got a tongue-lashing from Mukesh sir, their singing coach, after that.” She was sent to the in-house counsellor who told her to take it easy. “Antara’s performance peaked after that.”

The student of Delhi Public School Ruby Park is now high on confidence. Before each performance, counsellor Charuhans Nayar holds hands with each kid, “passing on energy”. “But I don’t need such things,” shrugs Antara.