By Dushyant Shekhawat
In the year 2000, Indian reality TV as we know it today did not exist. The idea of a superstar of Salman Khan’s stature hosting the most popular show on television was as far-fetched as the thought of him going to jail. What the audiences had available to them were garish soap operas borne out of Ekta Kapoor’s fever dreams, which seemed like clones of one another, right down to the sound effects and storylines.
But then, a show came along which broke the mould. Amitabh Bachchan, arguably India’s greatest living celebrity, was going to be hosting Kaun Banega Crorepati.
I still remember that it was a hot, humid evening when KBC premiered. The alarm on my digital Fast Track wristwatch went off while I was playing football, and I hurried upstairs to wash the dust off me so that my grandmother would allow me to sit on the living room sofa. I was a ’90s kid, for whom Sunday afternoons involved watching films like Agneepath and Khuda Gawah until the heat subsided enough to go out and play. My favourite Bollywood actor hosting a TV show was an event I could not miss.
Of course, this is Amitabh Bachchan we’re dealing with here – the man could take a nap and it would make headlines – so it wasn’t just me, but the whole nation that was glued to its screen. It was the start of a cultural phenomenon. Almost overnight, KBC had all of India’s attention. The show had been on air for barely a week before people began addressing gatherings of friends as “deviyo aur sajjano”, and the phrase “are you sure?” was rendered obsolete by “lock kiya jaye?” Such was the star power of the Big B that he managed to turn Computerji into a household name across the country.
This week, the show premiered its 10th season. For nearly two decades, it’s been returning to our screens, time and again, proving that multiple choice questions is undisputedly the most popular format for taking tests, a fact that surely contains a lesson for the ICSE and SSC boards. A family can be divided over an issue as serious as politics or as frivolous as what radio channel to play in the car. But have Amitabh Bachchan pop up on the screen, pose a trivia question with four options, and they’ll come together to solve it in a happy ending befitting a Yashraj film.
There are no losers on KBC, and that’s where its true beauty lies.
In fact, KBC was a show that made its bread and butter specialising in happily ever afters. Bachchan was an expert in drawing out sentimentality from the contestants. When you know someone is playing to buy their aging parents a house or to purchase their dream car, you can’t help but root for them. Even today, almost 20 years since the day it happened, I still remember when Harshvardhan Navathe became the “first Crorepati” by answering a civics question about the Attorney General’s role in Parliament.
But KBC has had its share of ups and downs. The mistake of a third season, which was hosted by SRK instead of Big B and cancelled before it completed its scheduled run, definitely ranks as a down. Meanwhile, the one thing that’s consistently remained up is the prize money, which has rocketed from just (!) one crore in the first season, to seven crore since Season 7. Now, unless your parents own an IPL team, that is a staggering amount of money, which also explains the show’s enduring appeal among us average Indians. After all, itna saara paisa mein bahut zyaada milega.
KBC is the low-key MVP of Indian television. Even before Nawazuddin and Saif did it (and Radhika Apte overdid it), Amitabh became the first big-screen star to anchor a show on the small screen. KBC predates even Roadies as India’s seminal reality show, and has managed to grab eyeballs with none of the gaalis and death threats we associate with the genre. And this is obvious but bears mentioning – the notion of a cash grand prize was revolutionised by KBC’s mouth-watering jackpots.
The more I think about it, the more I feel like KBC has always been a class apart from the other shows on TV. Perhaps it’s the gravitas lent by Bachchan, or maybe it’s the informative nature of the contest that makes it so special, or maybe it’s something as simple as the fact that watching people get richer beyond their wildest dreams is feel-good TV. There are no losers on KBC, and that’s where its true beauty lies. The folks on KBC are like you and me, which also means that we could be in the hot seat across Amitabh Bachchan one day, looking to answer 15 questions and make our dreams come true.
The producers behind the show should pat themselves on the back for coming up with an offering that has become a cultural landmark for Indian TV, and then get down to making as many more seasons as Amitabh Bachchan is fit to film. After that, we’ll just have to implant his consciousness into Computerji and see what happens next.
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