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August 13, 1998

MTV wraps up "Real World: Calcutta"
In a converted Hindu temple, seven strangers learn about lofe, love, leprosy

CALCUTTA — MTV has just finished shooting on a new season of "The Real World," this time set in Calcutta, India. The show will begin airing in September.calcuttaart.jpg (34471 bytes)

"We’re really excited about this season," says Greg Fischer, the show’s executive producer. "We think this is the most hard-hitting season of "The Real World" yet, and it’s because we picked a city that’s truly on the cutting edge. We could have gone to where the ‘scene’ is now, like Barcelona, or where the scene is going next, like Budapest. But in Calcutta we’re way ahead of the scene. Fifty to 100 years ahead, maybe. It’s definitely on its way, though."

The mix of personalities was especially potent. The seven selected were: Jyl, an abstract painter; Julie B., a female rapper; Roc, a bicycle messenger; Kevin, a gay singer/songwriter; Loretta, a Southern debutante; Norris, a male model; and Yogesh Kondalu Rao, a leper.

Rao was selected as the so-called "wild card," a local brought in at random to help add variety to the cast. Fliers were posted promising that the first Calcutta resident to show up at the Real World loft would be invited in as the seventh resident. Fortunately for Rao, he lived on the street right outside the loft. The producers welcomed him in enthusiastically, praising his "fresh look."

The loft itself was converted from a beautiful old Hindu temple right along the Bay of Bengal. All the sacred chambers were gutted and converted into hip, modernized living spaces, including three bedrooms, living & dining rooms, a rec room (complete with pool table), a wet bar and, at Loretta’s insistence, a meat locker to store sides of beef shipped over from her family’s cattle farm in Alabama.

Fischer spoke about the difficulties of editing the show. "As always, the challenge in creating a show like this is carving up six months of living into one hour segments. For example, it doesn’t really do justice to the trauma Rao suffered when his arm rotted off to stuff it all into one episode (‘Out on a Limb’), but there was just so much to get in.

"Or the one where Roc falls in with Jainist monks (‘Jain Says’) and starts wearing a cloth over his mouth to avoid inadvertently killing any microorganisms. There were hours of mystical insight that he imparted — like, ‘reality is constituted by innumerable material and spiritual substances, each of which is the locus of innumerable qualities’ — that we just weren’t able to fit."

"We’re having to make hard choices," agreed assistant producer Amy Green. "Do we explore how hard it was for Jyl to date a snake charmer or do we focus on Kevin’s involvement in the Pakistani terrorist underground? And which of the different diseases that cast members picked up — dysentery, typhus, malaria, cholera, polio — should be featured? It’s a constant challenge."

MTV has narrowed down the episodes to the following plot lines:

• Loretta’s conservative views on homosexuality anger Kevin.

• Julie B., who grew up poor in Brooklyn, goes through a class identity crisis when her meager savings, converted into rupees, allow her to buy a large local textile manufacturer.

• Roc’s messy living habits cause him to be ostracized by the other cast members.

• Jyl’s feminist views are challenged when her Indian boyfriend dies and she is expected to throw herself on his funeral pyre.

• At Calcutta’s lone dance club — which doubles as a 24-hour Catholic mission — Norris falls head over heels for a comely young nun. To get her attention, he pretends to be possessed by demons.

• Final episode: the whole cast road-trips to Bangladesh during monsoon season.

Says Fischer: "Our cast members had some really wonderful, diverse experiences that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. The ones who lived."

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