After the first 12 out of 80 episodes rolled out in its first season, the makers of the Tamil KBC, Neengalum Vellalaam Oru Kodi, have gone in for a life-line. Audience Poll. Just to be sure if the show’s working after initial buzz that the questions were just too silly.
“The ratings haven’t fallen. In fact, we have grown in the third week even with these questions. And the questions were not silly, the options were mocking. The feedback we got was: Don’t mock your own questions. We’ve taken it as constructive feedback and put it to the Big Synergy team,” says K. Sriram, Channel Head, Vijay TV.
“The characteristic of the show is that you play at the level of the contestant. If it’s a chaiwala like in Slumdog Millionaire, the questions are made at his level. It’s partly science, partly art and it involves a little judgement and experience. The first few questions are meant to be icebreakers and people can slip even in the simplest of questions. Out of 19 people who have been on the show in the first 12 episodes, five have taken lifelines within the first five deceptively simple questions. The reason we employ simple or easy questions is also because it increases the ‘Shoutability’ factor. People sitting and watching the show shout out at the answer. The idea is not to put an organic chemistry formula question to trip everybody right at the start,” explains Siddharth Basu, one of the masterminds behind the Indian variants of the show.
Siddharth Basu, who runs Big Synergy, was in town to supervise the new schedule – Episodes 13 & 14 – shot on Friday, for Monday and Tuesday evenings.
“You can look up this video on Youtube when a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire was asked Which of the following is the largest: A. A Peanut B. An Elephant C. The Moon D. A Kettle… and still got it wrong after using a lifeline. That’s part of what the show is supposed to be at the first level. It is supposed to be funny, bizarre and eventually get serious. Sometimes, even stupid questions get wrong answers.”
There has been no dumbing down for the South whatsoever, Basu swears.
“It has never entered our mind. Part of the format is to play at the level of the contestant. To give you an analogy, a show like Mastermind is like watching Sachin bat in full form. You admire a virtuoso. On KBC, anybody can put bat and ball. It could be your grandmother. Or to give you another analogy of high jump, let’s say you can jump 3 feet. Since the show is designed as a ladder, we would start easy to make you clear your level before pushing you to jump higher.”
“You will see more and more facets of Suriya during the season. He’s making quite an effort, really reaching out to connect to the audience,” adds Siddharth Basu. “He approached it very conscientiously and sincerity that comes off on screen. We did mock sessions for gameplay, techniques with him and different kinds of people. He hadn’t done much real time interaction like theatre before and yet, he’s managed that graph in quick time. The idea is to play to the strengths of the star. The idea is not to make him become Amitabh Bachchan or SRK, it has to be Suriya or Suriya plus.”
Last week, viewers got to see a very new side of the star when we went down and danced with a contestant and he went down on his knee to propose to her. “When he goes on to the floor, he surprises us,” says Sriram.
Most criticism of the show has come from Twitter and Facebook with people putting up screen grabs of questions and comments under it.
“The blogosphere, or social network-sphere, you can take seriously only up to a point. If Facebook were to have it’s say, Anna Hazare would be President and Prime Minister rolled to one, we could have Lokpal that would be housed on the moon… How seriously can you take this? Of course you listen to it. And if it’s sensible it is but if it’s off the point, if it’s just whole lot of venting and opinions, then it’s people’s right to do it… It’s wonderful but you keep your judgement and keep going. Here’s a format that has been hugely successful in 120 territories worldwide. You do what you think is right when it is time-tested,” says Siddharth Basu.
“It’s about the ratings. Otherwise, we would run the show on Facebook. It’s not. It’s on Vijay TV. We want to go to Madurai and beyond. We have our priority. It’s not for the Facebook crowd. In fact, I can challenge them to take the test and after a point it wouldn’t be simple for them. ‘Millionaire’ world wide, particularly in India, has become the human story as much as it’s knowledge game. It’s a knowledge game that’s life changing and gives you a sense of the people that are there in small towns… A sense of India beyond what’s on Facebook, what you read in newspapers or what’s on TV generally. The contestants are the stars of the show. This is about their stories and their lives.”
“When people say I can’t, I want to do that: Suriya”
When I was first approached, I went and saw this show in Mumbai and met Mr. Bachchan. I was thrilled, excited, very scared at the idea, I even thought I cannot do it. But when people say I can’t, I want to do just that. So I just thought I should jump into it since it would be a good exercise to learn something new. When I went to Mumbai and saw what the show was doing, I knew I couldn’t have missed this opportunity. Because this is not a game show or a quiz show. It’s about people. You see the whole of Tamilnadu on the set and I had a role to play, I had to be instrumental in helping them get the prize money. There’s been a lot of positive feedback. I have been able to reach out to people who have never seen me in theatres because TV has a much wider reach.
The first person who was shocked was Jo (Jyotika, his wife). ‘Dhoni was my hero and he’s gone to No. 2 and you are now No.1, she said after watching the first episode. It wouldn’t have been surprised for any of us if Karthi had done this because he’s naturally talkative. We actors are always restricted to a small circle of people. We meet some at the airport, we have people watching shooting but we don’t connect or talk to them but this show brings me closer to people. I see them share their life experiences and open up. I want to make them feel comfortable.
I don’t have any plans of what all I want to do in the show. I just go with the flow. I jumped into it because it would help me grow. Even while playing the game, I only know the answers after the computer tells me once they have told me their answer. So I am as excited as the audience for them during the gameplay. I want to be more spontaneous on the show and make them open up. Everything happens in real time. So nothing is planned.
I can’t be another person (on comparisons with Mr. Bachchan). Initially, I thought I had to play all the questions seriously but I realised, there were some fun questions which I shouldn’t have taken seriously. So from now, I would handle them differently. This show has been a learning for me.
An edited version of this story originally appeared here.