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Friday, October 8, 2010

Having put down my thoughts on ‘good’ quiz questions, I realized that I had disguised my philistinism quite well since a commenter pointed out that Dadagiri (a Bengali TV quiz show, conducted by – who else – Sourav Ganguly) is the worst form of quizzing. Now, TV quiz shows form my favourite genre – not because the questions are tough (sometimes, they are) but because of the host’s charisma.
Also, I would like to distinguish between quiz shows and game shows. The former requires a spot of grey matter, a little bit of listening skills and a bit more of nerve (e.g. Kaun Banega Crorepati). The latter requires no grey matter, no hearing and a passion to demonstrate the lack of them to a million people (e.g. Dus ka Dum).

So, here is a quick recap of 5 quiz shows on Indian television. (BONUS QUESTION: Which film had the tagline – 50 million people watched. No one saw a thing?)

One of my earliest memories of Doordrashan involve Narottam Puri conducting a Sports Quiz (which was called the ‘longest running television quiz show in the world’ on the blurb of his book) where questions ranged from “Who won the gold in Men’s 400m in the Helsinki Olympics” to “Who was at the non-striker end when Bradman got out for a duck in his last innings”.
The questions were strictly in the rote-learning zone but Dr Puri’s genial charm and clipped accent made it quite watchable.
In any case, it was not as if MasterChef Australia was running on the other channel, then!

After a few years, we had Quiz Time and Indian television’s first non-fiction star was born – Siddharth Basu. While the first season succeeded purely because of the quality of questions and competition, Mr Basu’s smiling visage and Stephanian diction did a lot to improve the viewership from the second season onwards. The questions were not really ‘workoutable’ but the general appeal of ‘GK’ in India, the sight of pleasant youngsters from pitting their wits against each other and the Indian family trying to answer questions before the college dudes made the shows a huge success.
For me personally, this was the first time I was hooked to a TV show!

A couple of years back, we had Bollywood Ka Boss. It was a ‘tough’ quiz on Hindi cinema, made quite interesting by the anchor’s (Boman Irani) personal proficiency in trivia of this kind. It was quite obvious he was having a lot of fun himself when he asked questions like “From which film’s song does DDLJ take its title from?” and “Which pair of siblings sang the children’s version of Kitni hain pyaari pyaari dosti hamari from Parinda?”
The show suffered a bit on the production values because Indian TV audience had seen far swankier sets and fatter prize money than on BKB but for Bollywood trivia buffs, this was the best attempt to have something that made sense. (BONUS QUESTION: Which blogger could not take part in Bollywood Ka Boss because he contributed questions to it?)

There are quiz shows on television. Then, there are quiz shows on television. And finally, there is Kaun Banega Crorepati.
Starring India’s two biggest superstars, KBC transcended the boundaries of TV and became a part of its life – evolving its own lingo (“lock kiya jaye?”), own furniture (“hot seat”) and a cult following.
Here, the first host – Amitabh Bachchan – had a stellar role to play. Seen on the small screen for the first time, the Big B was the kind uncle, the humourous cousin, the flirtatious neighbor and sometimes even the superstar. The questions were completed only by his passive hints – the naughty smile when somebody answered wrongly, the quick ‘locking’ when somebody answered correctly and his mock consultations with Computer-ji. KBC was not about winning (then) the biggest prize money offered on TV, it was also once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with Amitabh Bachchan.
My favourite KBC moment is not when Harshvardhan Navathe answered “Who among these does the Indian Constitution permit to take part in the proceedings of Parliament?” but when Amitabh asked a lady contestant, “You had won Rs x at the end of yesterday’s show. What were you thinking about last night?” and she said with a giggle, “Aap ke baare mein…” Sweet!

When a celebrity anchors a show, his personality becomes an intrinsic part of the package and even more so, when the show is named after him. Therefore, Dadagiri is nothing without Sourav Ganguly.
But as a new fan, I find the questions (at least some of them) and the way Sourav conducts the show very interesting. He handles the celebrities on the show with just the right amount of disdain that made him Maharaj and the commoners with just the right amount of chumminess that makes him Dada. He gives away hints as if they are going out of fashion but doesn’t forget to sneer (“Etao parlen na?”).
And the questions are nicely topical. For example, actress Locket Chatterjee was shown a clip from Kuch Kuch Hota Hain and asked “What was written on Shahrukh’s *crooked grin* locket *pause* in that scene?”. Another question featured a song from Gupi Bagha Phirey Elo and the singer had to be identified. The hint was “amader khub kachher manush” (Somebody very close to us). The correct answer turned out to be one of the other contestants on the show!

Hence, my humble submission is that TV quiz shows – especially celebrity ones – feed a lot from the host. And there is nothing wrong with it. The mannerisms, the turns of the phrases and the fan-boy reactions are all part of the package.
After all, it is not only a quiz. It is a show as well.


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