Inside the ‘Play Room’ — a temporary retreat for the contestants of the Indian edition of Junior MasterChef on Star Plus — it is all chaos. The contestants, all under 14, are animatedly talking while throwing at each other single-seaters made of thermocol. The pandemonium ensues until Kusumita Tiwari and Aabha Padgaonkar enter the scene, a roll of chart paper tucked under one arm and a big box of colours in another. Soon, the children get busy with the ‘crafts session’, closely following the duo’s instructions. “It is easy for these children to get carried away but it is upon us to make sure that, among other things, they don’t waste their energy, especially on the day of shoot,” explains Tiwari. Over the last few weeks, ever since the show went on air, both Tiwari and Padgaonkar have been spending almost every second awake with these children. They manage their schedule, attend to their needs, keep them entertained and act as both friends and guides.
While it may seem that Tiwari and Padgaonkar are nannies to this bunch, they are, in fact, contestant managers with the show. A thankless job, it is, however, a crucial function without which, say the producers, they’d find themselves at loss while dealing with the children. “They are in charge of managing their schedule, right from when they wake up to their studies, extra-curricular activities, training sessions with the chefs and the shoots. On the sets, they have to accompany the child when he or she demands to use the washroom or make sure food and water is provided before the child realises the need for it,” says Nikita Balasubramanium, creative producer — Junior MasterChef India.
Dealing with minor contestants, however, isn’t restricted to these aspects alone. These children also go through intensive sessions with psychologists who talk to them to identify signs of depression. But the first indication of any such cases, says Satish Dutt, project head of the recently-concluded Indian Idol Junior, comes through the contestant manager. “It is important that they remain close to the child and watch out for signs of stress or