(Published in Sify.com on 2 June, 2011, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/
cranial-showdown-a-reality- show-for-the-iits-news- columns-lgcpwHhjgai.html)
First, a series of scams. Second, an alumnus and Minister starts a debate about the quality of education. Third, a rapid fire round of controversial statements and backtracks from sundry ministries, and a declaration that the elite institute is best equipped to clean rivers. Fourth, a snub from the government to a proposal on hiking fees.
The scene is all set for the IITs to star in a TV reality show.
Perhaps, given the content of Jairam Ramesh’s surmise, the institute should pit its staff against the students. As celebrity host, they might want to call in the Minister, who’s happy to give away awards at the convocation, particularly fond of disrobing in public, and seemingly unable to control the upward jerk of his extremities towards his facial orifice.
While the TV channels get into bidding wars – which, in all likelihood, will be won by Doordarshan – here’s a blueprint that might allow them to compete with Lok Sabha’s new reality show starring Meira Kumar.
Music begins. The words CRANIAL SHOWDOWN – which the Ministry of Environment showed remarkable ingenuity in coming up with – flash on screen.
Task 1: Put your mouth where your money is
An anxious group of ten students stares at the door nervously. Some are thinking up smart lines for dumb chicks at the next culturals, others are trying to solve CAT questions, and the rest are strumming imaginary guitars. Jairam Ramesh walks in to a drumroll, and smiles cheerily. The boys stand up and clap, because that’s what you’re supposed to do at the sound of a drumroll.
JR: Okay, boys, are you ready for an IQ test?
Boy 1: Sir, are we competing against each other or against the staff?
JR: Excellent question. Two points for that, and an automatic pass to the next level. The rest of you: “The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire. Discuss.”
The boys groan together.
Boy 2: Sir, that question’s been a pick up line since you were at Insti.
JR (looking surprised): Wow! So you guys are still as bright as we were, huh? Well, good work, then. Everyone goes to the next level.
The boys whoop.
JR (to the audience): But you can still vote for your favourites. If you like Boy 1 – Sailesh – send in ‘IIT Space CS Space B1’ to...(pauses)Wait a minute, do I have to do this for ten people? I don’t even know your darned names! And I didn’t even get the ministry I wanted! I mean, this is a big joke! Boy 6 to Boy 10, get out now!
Storms off angrily. Camera follows him outside, where he walks purposefully towards a jacaranda tree, rests his head against a branch, sighs and then walks off. Another camera’s been following the five eliminated boys.
Boy 6: It just isn’t fair. We’re just numbers to him. And he doesn’t even know how to crunch them properly.
Boy 7: You know what, I don’t care. I didn’t want to come to this crappy show in the first place.
Boy 8: I mean, he could have told us the cut-off, at the very least!
Boy 9: Can’t you count? It was 5!
Boy 10: In this case, it wasn’t about cut-offs, dude. It’s scatter factor. Jeez. I’m so glad to be leaving this pathetic show, with a pathetic bunch of contestants!
Boy 4 (who has come out to heckle them): Yeah, trot along, losers. IIT is about survival of the fittest. That’s our motto. We say that when students kill themselves; we say that when people get eliminated from Cranial Showdown. Too bad.
He slams the door shut on them, and goes back in, to glare at the other four contestants.
Task 2: No crash land-ing!
This time, seven men in suits stand in a room, looking suspiciously at the camera. Their hands are in their pockets, they hate the press. These must be the Directors. Our host confirms it for us.
JR: Are you all ready for this challenge?
Director 1: Do you really want to do this in front of the press?
JR: They’re paying us for it, man.
Director 2: I’m going to kill you, you *&%$#@%^! You went and told them that the students are brilliant, the staff is not. I was in the same hostel as you. I even ragged you on your first day! (Takes a few threatening steps towards him and points his index finger at the precise centre of JR’s chin) You may not remember me, but I’ll make sure you never forget!
Storms off, hissing at the cameras.
JR: Whoa, what’s got his goat?
Director 3: Some students, apparently. They’ve been grumbling about the shortage of girls on campus, and finally decided to do something about it.
JR: Like, he actually had a goat?
Director 4: What, Osama can and he can’t? Survival of the fittest, man! Have you forgotten?
Director 5: Are we going to stand here talking about goats and memory loss all day, or do you have a task for us?
JR: Well, yes. Umm, actually there are tasks for each of you here, and they all involve paperwork. First up, there’s the problem of 40 acres of prime land given away to the Government of Tamil Nadu, which has leased 25.27 acres to the Tatas.
Director 5: Come on, Jay, I’m tired of this. I already told the press that the ‘I’ in the drawings in the land revenue office looks like a ‘C’.
JR (puzzled): You mean, it’s with ITC now, not Tata?
Director 5: No! CIT not IIT! God, you’re a G-I-T!
JR: This IT industry’s beginning to tick me off!
Director 6: Bravo!
JR: Anyway, Director 5, that’s your paperwork.
Director 5: Hey, there’s no point to this! I also said “If you think legally pursuing a case of this sort would have gotten us this land, you are living in a different world.”
Director 6: Bravo!
Director 5: I quit!
He storms out. The camera follows him to the jacaranda tree, but he doesn’t lean against it.
Director 5 (glaring at the camera): I’ve had it with the press! They want to know why we thanked the government for gifting us back our land. They want to know whether we blame ourselves for a student death. And then they ask about bribes for land! I mean, I’m still paying EMIs for my housing loan! I’ve said this before. (Breathes heavily) I hate TV, and I hate films. I even tried having the film city demolished. They just never answered my letters!
Patient voice behind the camera: Who didn’t answer your letters? The government?
Director 5: Huh? What? No, Oprah. It’s all because of Scientology.
Patient voice behind the camera: What does Oprah have to do with anything?
Director 5: Are you saying Oprah’s an independent entity, disconnected from the world?
Patient voice behind the camera: How is this related to what you said earlier?
Director 5: Are you challenging me to contradict myself? Huh? Is that what you want? You think I can’t? Go check the damn press! (Storms off angrily.)
The cameras go back to the room of directors, which has now been reduced to five people and the host.
JR (with some delight): Wow, this is pretty amazing! Five students and five staff! It evens it all out. Perfect for the next contest!
Director 1: What’s that, arm wrestling? I can beat those wimps any day! You know how many signatures I can scrawl in a day? (Looks proudly at the others.)
Director 4: Wait a minute, did you just call us ‘staff’?
JR: Why, yes.
Director 4: I’m not staying here to be degraded like this!
Storms off. JR looks uncertain and then shrugs.
JR: What was his number? 4? Well, we’ll just have to send off Boy 4 too.
The cameras follow him, as he leads the Directors to the Boys.
JR: Boy 4, leave.
Boy 4: Whaaa...?
JR: You heard me. Leave. You know the motto. Survival of the fittest.
Comic music plays as the boy mournfully drags out his laptop bag and leaves. ‘SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST?’ pops on to the screen.
Director 3: Why did you allow 5 to leave? There’s so much dirt we had on him. Making appointments when his tenure was ending, diversion of 40 crore to the research park without involving the Human Resources Development Ministry, the gold c...
JR (with a wicked grin): And who heads the HRD? (Breaks off into an evil laugh, as the Directors look on with some awe.)
Boy 1: Sir, does this mean that five-fold fee hike will come into effect?
JR: Who gives these boys newspapers? Anyway, if you win the next task, you won’t have to worry about the fees. (Winks at the camera.)We’ll be right back, after this break.
Task 3: Economical Meltdown
The four Boys and four Directors face off, as the host looks on evilly.
JR: Here’s a real test of your wits. Staff against Students.
Director 3: J, it is offensive when you call us staff, you know. We’re not really...
JR: Out! And Boy 3 too.
Boy 3: But, sir, this is just weird. This is murder by numbers.
JR: Oh, I love that film! All right, you can stay. Boy 2, leave.
Boy 2: Hey, that’s unfair!
JR signals frantically for the camera to stay on the contestants, so Boy 2 and Director 3 skip the jacaranda tree ritual.
JR: All right, listen to me carefully. I’m going to give you a problem. Whoever solves it wins the Cranial Showdown for their group. Question. (Breathes deeply. Camera focuses on each contestant’s expression, and moves back to JR’s.) What is the quickest way to melt 10,000 grams of gold?
Boy 3: Easy, sir! Give it to the Directors to distribute for the golden jubilee!
JR: Excellent answer! (Smiles triumphantly.) Did I not tell you that the students are the smart ones? And now you...(Looks at the Directors) are all FIRED!
The directors begin to walk away slowly, but before they can reach the jacaranda tree, Director 7 speaks for the first time.
Director 7: I don’t know about you guys, but I’m really just waiting for the diamond jubilee!