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Kaun Banega Crorepati ‘KBC’ 1000: Reality shows stick

The Amitabh Bachchan-hosted TV show, 'Kaun Banega Crorepati', celebrates the completion of 21 years and 1,000 episodes since its inception.

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The Amitabh Bachchan-hosted TV show, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ (or KBC, a version of the original British show, ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’), celebrates the completion of 21 years and 1,000 episodes since its inception.

Likewise, ‘Bigg Boss’ (‘Big Brother’ – Dutch original) has achieved a run record of 15 years; ‘Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi’ (‘Fear Factor’ – US original) has run for 11 seasons; and ‘Indian Idol’ (‘American Idol’ – US original), a reality show promoting singing talent, has had a successful 17-year run.

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Otherwise, there are some soaps which are designed to stretch for many episodes, taking all possible liberties with time gaps, changing artistes and so on, and adding twists and turns at whim. Initially, all such soaps were inspired by American serials. Where else would you show a man marrying three or four times and you could never predict what the next episode had in store for you? The shows were aimed at women, though they would find it hard to identify with them.

Besides other factors, this implies that such serials with a ‘desi’ touch are immensely popular and enjoy healthy TRP ratings. So, what accounts for this phenomenon of the same serial continuing to be popular over the years? Then we had the typical made-for-India serials, such as ‘Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ and ‘Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi’, the latter being on the ugly duckling theme. Both went on to become popular and their performers still thrive.

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‘KBC’, ‘Bigg Boss’, ‘Indian Idol’ and ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’, all have one thing in common. They are legally acquired franchises of foreign television programmes. What makes reality shows work?

These reality shows do need a little bit of Indianisation, a touch of native flavour. But, what one has observed so far, these long-running reality shows count a lot on who hosts the show.

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When one talks about the Indian touch and catering to the sentiments of Indian viewers, it seems that just about every contestant has to have a sob story — tough upbringing and a lack of resources. In short, utter poverty. I am sure, the first requisite for every contestant in such a show would be his/her ability to cry convincingly; they start crying at the drop of a hat! Some shows even bring in the contestant’s parents for an added effect to rouse the sympathy factor!

What is stranger, even those sitting as judges are required to cry and one of them, Neha Kakkar, does not even need a reason to cry. She excels at this art and Himesh Reshammiya follows her closely! Both are on ‘Indian Idol’!

Now, that touches the viewer who also dreams of being on such a show and earning name, fame and, of course, money. One thing, though, is a bit uncanny about this show. Though the participants are all young, usually in teens or thereabouts, the songs they render are old numbers, as old as 50 or 60 years! Much, much before they were born!

Though the prize monies are decent, I feel it is a long toil for all participants for months after which only one of them pockets the big sum (some may think it is exploitation).

What is confusing about music reality shows is whether it’s the judges or the viewers who vote online who decide a winner? Also, what is boring is the same compliments the judges pay week after week to the participants – limited vocabulary. There is more melodrama and make-believe than there is reality in these shows. The whole thing is stage-managed.

As these shows get older, the people behind these shows get more absurd. One can expect those kinds of liberties with other shows, but not with KBC. While the other shows cater to viewers with a questionable IQ, but lately, even the producers of KBC have not been able to resist the temptation of adding some drama, some film songs, and make Bachchan look more human, a common man, rather than an icon.

What is this about Bachchan trying to drive home the message that he is only one of us, a common man! A recent episode where a member of his family was involved looked like a family grouse-venting session! Fridays on KBC are devoted to celebrity participants with a cause. I think this adds star value and probably also puts Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds to a good use.

The show works because people idolise Bachchan. Period. Were it not so, why did the same KBC not work when Shah Rukh Khan hosted it for one season instead of Bachchan. Were it not so, why did the other such shows offering big monies such as ‘Jeeto Chhappar Phaad Ke’ (hosted by Govinda) and ‘Sawaal Dus Crore Ka’ (hosted by Anupam Kher, Manisha Koirala and Ashutosh Rana) not work? I think a host needs to be respected and accepted.

What has become very obvious lately is that the sponsors are calling the shots. This season, it is Byju’s, the digital education company. The overselling was obvious, so much so that KBC even had a month-long programme devoted only to children.

On an earlier occasion, the makers seemed to be calling only contestants from mofussil India. It seemed like the MNC sponsoring the season was aiming to penetrate the hinterlands (like a lot of consumer products of other MNCs now feel the need to do) and what can work better than a package deal of Amitabh Bachchan plus cash to take home?

The marketing gurus can always learn from what the others were doing. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had decided long ago to scour the smaller towns and identified great talents this way.

The same thing happened when Amitabh Bachchan hosted ‘Bigg Boss’. It just did not work! The show needed a Salman Khan.

‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’ goes very well with the image Rohit Shetty enjoys as the maker of action films full of stunts. What also adds to his standing is that his father, M.B, Shetty, known popularly as Shetty, was a renowned action composer. Earlier, it was hosted by Akshay Kumar, Arjun Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra on occasions.

A programme imparting knowledge, or based on music, which is an integral part of being Indian, or one that provides thrills to young people, finds ready acceptance. Somehow, such reality shows have no best-before or expiry dates, unlike other serials.

–By Vinod Mirani

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