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Bollywood dream was a nightmare

There is nothing like a 4am start, followed by three hours' dancing under Indian sun, to make teaching a class of fractious 13-year-olds seem easy.

This was the discovery that 23-year-old Rivona Essop made when she flew to Bombay to compete in the semi-finals of Channel 4's Pop-Idol-goes-Bhangra talent show, Bollywood Star.

Mrs Essop, a dance and drama teacher at Harrow Way comprehensive, Hampshire, spent six days in Bombay along with five other would-be big screen idols, After the 4am daily start, contestants were given intensive dance and drama coaching by Bollywood professionals.

"Dancing for three hours in the hot sun is tough," the South African-born Mrs Essop said. "It was a challenge, but it made me a stronger dancer."

Not all her experiences were as positive. She and Asha Chandra, her acting coach, clashed over technique, and Ms Chandra complained that her pupil's arrogance stood in the way of progress.

"She tried to break us down psychologically," Mrs Essop said. "The other contestants cried from beginning to end. But I didn't, because I'm happy with my life. I don't think I took anything from those lessons."

But, she said, skills learnt in her own classroom enabled her to cope with the stresses of Bollywood education. "I used my mediating skills as a teacher to stop any bickering," she said. "When two girls were arguing about using previous acting experience, I said, Monet reworked his paintings, think of yourself as a Monet canvas.

"But in the classroom you have rules. In real life there aren't any. They could have started clawing each other's eyes out."

Viewers saw little of these mediation skills. Instead, they were entertained by a protracted fight between contestants, in which a revelation by Mrs Essop left another semi-finalist in tears.

When she was voted out by judges, Mrs Essop reacted with recriminations, which she repeats readily: "It was so much politics."

Last weekend, she recorded a London-based dance number for a Bollywood film. She now hopes the publicity generated by the programme will lead to TV work.

Meanwhile, she has returned to the classroom with a new perspective. "On film shoots, you start work at 6am and finish at 7pm. But teaching starts at 9am and finishes at 3.30pm. And you get great holidays. Teachers need to step back and look at the broader perspective."

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