Readers Write In #28: A random note on KBC 9

Posted on December 13, 2017


I bought-in a subscription to SLING only to watch ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ 9 primarily, and secondarily the India versus Australia matches. [Somehow, it is India facing Australia on Australian pitches boosts the adrenalin in me and not that highly vice-versa.]

I am amazed by the vibrancy the show still generates after 17 years and with that same, French-bearded man heralding the show. It requires a special strength to under-play one’s over-whelming influence on people as a cultural icon and let the common man take center-stage: How Amitabh does it, is not only his secret but also a testimony to two facets of his: a) a pan-Indian cultural icon who is still in touch with his roots inspite of annoying wealth and a whopping fandom at his disposal; b) and that of being an out-standing star-actor still not dampened by the sands of time. Whether one picks a) or b), it doesn’t matter; cynicism or fondness, the winners in the end turn out to be the audience and the common man.

He just lets himself be subdued by the strength and resilience of the common man in India. He might be the only actor left in India who starts, mediates, and ends his sentences in a mono-language; be it Hindi or English, but it is the voice of the folks of India that thunder above his baritone. It’s their emotions, their voices, their angst, their suppression, their joy, their tears, and their LIVES. Bachchan is, as they showed in Soderbergh’s delightful LOGAN LUCKY, just a conduit to whoosh the money through; albeit with a soul; and a thriving soul at that.

One contestant, a certain Mrs. Jayashree Jadhav [], smilingly talked of the fact that she works in a village school in Raigadh in Maharashtra having a ‘non-grant’ status, which, in ugly parlance means a non-paying job. After 5 years of being in such a position, she would then ‘graduate’ to being given a ‘grant’ status, meaning, she would earn 20% for the first year, and 20% incrementally every year, until she reaches the fifth year, wherein she could expect a ‘salary’ that a ‘salaried’ teacher teaching middle-school would beget. And then there’s the episode of Mrs. Anuradha Agarwal, the Deputy Collector who happens to be polio-afflicted along with her brother: Her influence is far more powerful when one considers the fact that she attended the show with a smiling countenance inspite of her mother passing away the day before she was to take the hot seat! How I wish I had that kind of rigidity and steel! Not for once did I judge Mrs. Agarwal, or couldI judge the fact that she had the interest and tenacity to come and sit on a show that promised ‘money’, when her mother passed away the previous day? These are the travails of the common man/woman. These are the influences that S. L. Bhyrapaa whiffs through in his novels when he mentions his relatives passing away from bubonic plague year after year but how he used those tragic incidents into weaving some of his finer novels: [And on a lesser tragic note and a far-lesser brutal landscape, the emotional layers that Munshi Premchand peels slowly one after the other in his stories – one that primarily comes to mind is Hori Mahato from ‘Godaan’ subtly woven into ‘Peepli Live’.] There’s then the episode of Mr. Arun Singh Rana from Bhaktavarpur, Delhi, a research scholar, and a genetically-blessed-man in-terms of good looks and intelligence, who took home Rs. 25 lakhs: His grand-father graduated doing menial work in 13 different jobs in Indian railways  before becoming a railway-inspection official starting right from cleaning the toilets and the floors of Indian railways.

The most entertaining, interesting, and riveting episode till now has, off-course been that of Anita Singh from Chakri, Dadri in Haryana when she challenged the traditional trope of ‘thinking, separating, analyzing, and then answering’ with mostly her gut; her plain gut and instincts. [And this took my idiotic cinematic mind to Aamir’s response to his daughter in ‘Dangal’, ‘के खराबी हैं तेरे बापू के टेक्नीक में?’ in the face of all ‘international-level’ training that his daughter was now privy to.] The way she answered/tackled the questions was mind-boggling; and the way she was impervious to the world around her was even more soul-stirring. It was pretty clear that she was a house-wife content within her own world consisting of her husband and her kids. Along-side, as it came across to the audience that she might have been forced into marrying—[please note the subtle difference as per her words, she isn’t against marrying a person, she is against the concept of marriage since she, accordingly to her ‘worldly-knowledge’ didn’t want to get into hassles with her ‘saas’ and her ‘nanad’]—she was equally stoic in proclaiming that she didn’t want to marry her present husband. She doesn’t say that with any malice or regret, she just says it as a matter-of-fact; as a human being running across the course of one’s life, stepping onto pebbles some times and hurting the soles, or harder still, smashing one’s toes against boulders resulting in bloodied toe-nails most of the times. During almost her entire presence on the show, she sits on the hot seat with her face at an angle not even catching a glance of Bachchan to which even Bachchan responds, “देविजी, इतना भी बुरा चेहरा नही हैं हमारा, कभी इस तरफ़ भी देखा करे”| To which the lady responds even more wittily, “नही सर पड़ोसी सब कहेंगे हम अमिताभ जी को मूह फाड़ फाड़ के देख रहे थे!” There might be a quotient of suppression in her that she displays when she says that all she wants is to prove that she can get on the hot seat and whether she wins 10K or 3 lakh 20 thousand rupees is just immaterial; I will leave it to the social-scientists and feminists to determine what they think when she implicitly—or programmatically—mentions that she would give all the money she might win to her husband. [On a hilarious note, one should nevermiss that spot when she mentions that one of her relatives does nothing but just gets involved in local politics and also keeps ‘roaming’ around. And Amitabh is stunned to discover that he did roam around in his daughter Shweta Bachchan’s wedding uninvited!!]

Based on all the above experiences and sojourns and travails of the common man of India, it is so obvious that the Hindi films of today, catering to the ‘aware-youth’ are so much distanced from the real India as the Earth is from Mars. Nobody wants to cover that middle-class milieu: A Hrithik Roshan is going to play the role of Super-30 Anand Kumar whose mother fried ‘papads’ so that their sons could sell them to make a living: [Both the Roshans are still trying to prove that 180 crores is equal to 240+ crores by any mathematical standards and the son will now play a vanity-free, ‘de-gigoloized’ role of a genius mathematician Mr. Anand Kumar – go figure: Anybody who has seen the Anand Kumar episode on KBC will be crest-fallen that there still exists a job-title called ‘casting’ expert in the Hindi film industry.  A Nawazuddin Siddiqui is called out and mentioned that it would be ‘odd’ to have a ‘dark-skinned’ actor like him cast against a ‘fair’ maiden.

Coming back to Bachchan, he is content to let the ‘commoner’ of India take the center-stage for a change. Whenever there’s any praise or epithet referring him as the ‘star of the millennium’ and what have you, he politely deflects it away. Now I am not saying that’sonly his brilliance; but it just points to the man’s dedication to the real intention of the program. [This is the brilliance of the show when they don’t make it all only about money; it is about that class-difference trying to be leveled on this platform, from one of the biggest and wealthiest stars of the country to that R. K. Lakshman’s common man sitting across. A 3rd rate original might be considered better than a first –rate duplicate; but I have seen the US version, and in this case, I will go for the duplicate in all its glory.]It’s quite easy to get one’s stardom in the way and over-whelm the audience, but he’s not interested: Case in point, when the Jayashree Jadhav episode aired, he made it a point to steer the focus on her father-in-law, trying to drive home the fact that if women-empowerment could happen in a town like Raigarh in Maharashtra, what’s stopping others? He keeps asking him questions as to the inspiration, the causes behind the decision to continue encouraging his daughter-in-law to work. He is also slyly and subtly seen locking up the answers quickly when he doesn’t want anyone to lose just for a slight hesitancy from them in terms of answering simple questions.

As I watched the Arun Singh episode, and saw his wife whistling and shouting as though it were a rock-star concert [as far as I know, the first time in KBC], my mind started judging. And then my cinematic-idiotic mind again went back to Pacino’s and Russel’s under-rated Michael Mann masterpiece , ‘The Insider’, and the scene when Pacino’s Bergman arranges a dinner with Crowe’s Wigand, his wife, and Plummer’s Mike Wallace, senior correspondent at CBS new: Husband and wife quarrel in front of them and make a scene. Both abruptly then leave and Mike Wallace asks, almost exasperatedly ‘Who are these people?’ Pacino sees the surprised, decisive/judgmental look on Plummer’s face and just non-chalantly throws the napkin on the table and utters: ‘Ordinary people under extra-ordinary pressure, Mike. What the hell do you expect? Grace and consistency?’

P.S.: As I write the above, I just finished witnessing another fantastic episode with the contestant Mrs. AnamikaMajumdar..andRanjit Singh…and Yogesh Sharma… and the sagas continue…

This post was written by An Jo