Suruchi Gupta

Archive for August, 2011

Interviewing the Master Quizzer: Siddhartha Basu

by on Aug.28, 2011, under Interviews

Siddhartha Basu.... definitely more than a Crorepati!

Mr. Siddhartha Basu is the creative head, director and one of the three producers for Kaun Banega Crorepati. As a fan of the first season of the show, I personally consider him as the man behind bringing life back in Mr. Amitabh Bachchan’s career (even if he was only partly responsible for it), among other things. It’s surprising that although his show got the highest TRP’s in it’s prior editions, he never supported the TRP rating calculations.
Mr. Basu accepted to do the underneath interview for 
Hindustan Times, HT City, Kolkata, over email, and requested that it be used verbatim. Published on HT City, Kolkata/Ranchi/Patna on August 28, 2011:

Copyright@ HT Media Ltd.

In its fifth season, branching out to five different languages – Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali Bhojpuri and Kannada, what would you say is the best thing about KBC?
It’s the human story that unspools through a knowledge game.

Have you been personally present for all the shoots of all the three versions so far? Should we think you have sleepless worrisome nights given the demands and expectations out of the brand?
The best way to make sure you sleep well is to get it right when you’re awake. My Bangla is no great shakes, and my Bhojpuri is zilch, so no, I was not present in person throughout at the Kolkata shoots, but I was there for the start up of those versions, and from time to time thereafter, but virtually tracking them from wherever I was. We had good teams turning around these shows, and even if you do lose some sleep, it’s worth it if it keeps viewers and competitors alert and awake. For the Hindi one, though, I’m there at the shoot every day, even though Mumbai, where I now live, is Big Synergy’s headquarters, and we have a great team here. I guess because the show is scaled like a Titanic, and more eyes need to steer the ship through bigger waters and look out for icebergs.

What is an ideal shooting day like for you? 
It’s a dawn to midnight day for me anyway, because that’s the way my body clock functions. The call time for KBC is 9 in the morning and winds up about 12 hours later. It’s ideal when things go according to plan, and we have magic on the floor. The backend is vital to empower what happens in front of the cameras. KBC is a real time recording and a lot goes into preparing and lining things up in such a way that we have a good game and story unfolding when the cameras roll. It’s a sort of military operation, involving a team of around 300, and a rolling population of twice that number every day. Getting things to mesh smoothly is a Synergy specialty, requiring a number of teams and functions to work together closely. We usually roll about 2 episodes a day, and the team follows a well established drill. Thankfully, the host too is highly methodical and professional in his preparation and performance, so that’s a huge help.

Are you directing and producing all the five versions? I could not find direction credits for various versions… (I had looked up Big Synergy’s website and Facebook pages of the versions, apart from news reports, random searches on Net.)
The credits are there. The Creative Directors (or Supervising Producers, in our nomenclature ) are Sujata Sanghamitra, Rajeev Mishra and Sudeshna Roy, for Hindi, Bhojpuri and Bangla, respectively. And the Online Director, who also doubles as Vision Mixer for all the versions has been the seasoned Gagan Deep Birjanya. I’m one of the three Producers of the show.

As the director of the show, what is the task like for you, since the cameras are probably fixed (or working on certain angles only), and (as a viewer I thought) there is not much scope to explore within the set boundaries?
We use up to 10 cameras, depending on what’s happening on the floor. 3 are mobile – on the jib, hand held and on a track and trolley. All of it allows for enough dynamism and fluidity in coverage, with a choice of perspectives. A precise and controlled play of lights is also a vital part of the audio visual grammar of the show.

For one who is doling out dreams of crores to millions, what is the value/significance of money?
While money would appear to be both the ends and means of the show, in essence, it’s the plot driver of the human story of the person on the hot seat. At its heart the show is less about the money than the drama of an ordinary person playing for life changing sums of money.  The more you can connect with that person, and what he or she is playing for, the better the show works. The money simply provides the motive and heightens the drama.

Since you are a quizmaster yourself, apart from being the key man making the show, should we expect that you know all the answers to the questions asked on the shows various versions?
It’s my job to get to know whatever goes on to the show. Otherwise I’m not a know-all at all. I’ve never claimed to be one. What I do know a thing or two about is what sort of questions excite interest and make for a good game.

What is the most satisfying part of making these quiz shows – say, making people earn something, or entertainment, or something at creative level?
With KBC, it’s gratifying that a knowledge game can be made to appeal to both the heart and the mind at a mass level, where the reigning fare tends towards the lowest common denominator, and there is constant pressure to dumb things down.

You have been known to be a criticizer of TRP ratings. What then is the best way according to you to find out if audience wants a show or not?
I personally believe there needs to be better objective assessment as well as a limit to populism, allowing space for content that is not merely aggressively majoritarian. At this time, a mere 7000 TAM meters track the viewership of a vast viewership of 135 million television households across a heterogeneous country like ours. It’s at best a useful dipstick, but it’s a limited one, with accepted lacunae. This sample measurement has been blown out of proportion to such an extent, that now everyone lives under the tyranny of TRPs. Its extrapolations have come to be accepted as God’s own ruling, a sweeping final judgement. Its like saying an exit poll (and we know how notoriously wrong they can be) is as good as a final vote count. TAM ratings are slavishly followed by both the 29000 crore rupee industry (three times of the size of India’s film industry, in all languages) and the media, and pretty much dictate what you and I must watch. This is when we now have about 28 million dish TV homes, whose viewing patterns can be monitored much more accurately, and there are other initiatives at mapping the viewership beyond, if only all the stakeholders and government agree on how this can be done and get on with it.

From this season’s shoot so far, share an incident that left you happy and one that disturbed may be?
It’s always wonderful when someone plays a good game and wins, and sad when someone loses. A clerk from a grain mandi in Gujrat with great comic talent crashed big time yesterday and it was heartbreaking to watch it happen. Hopefully he’ll get a break in show business at least, from his fun outing. And then it was great soon after to see this simple farmer and pujari so moved at watching his son, now a Microsoft engineer and aspiring film maker, play a super game.

From your close association and outlook of Mr. Bachchan, how would you say he has changed over the years, since change is imminent?
Like wine, his engagement with the show has mellowed and richened. (Thanda – manda reply! Am sure there is more to this question…)

Do you interact with your audience in any way to find out what they want to see on TV?
All the time. Our audience is quite vocal in their views. You listen to everything, sift the grain from the chaff, but ultimately heed your inner voice.

Are there any changes that you have made on any of your shows based on audience reviews?
It’s a constant process. Whether from the team, or the viewers, or your waking thoughts every day, innovation happens every day, in ways big and small.

People wanna know: Are there any books/games/preparatory notes they may read for cracking in on the KBC and winning subsequently? Your reply?
No, there’s no quickfix kunji or guide. If you keep your eyes and ears open, take a general interest in the world around you, have a basic education, follow the newspapers, watch TV, that’s good enough.

Of all your productions, which happens to be your favourite and why (no diplomacy in answering pls!)
The next one, always the next one.

What are the first and last thoughts of Mr. Siddharth Basu in a day?
In the morning – It’s still dark, wish I’d slept better. And at night – man, I hope I can get enough sleep! (Why would you think that if that is how your body clock functions? 🙂 One of my colleagues shared that Mr. Basu had shared with her, while on the set of Bhojpuri KBC, that he lived a crazy routine with few hours of sleep…)

How much of a Bengali are you, would you say?
Genetically, 100 %, and this is so at the core of who I am, I guess. Personality, 50%. Culturally and socially, as a 100% probashi, I’m afraid I’m just about in. (Perhaps a bad question, and thus such an impossibly statistical good answer!)

Thanks to Mr. Basu for taking out time and giving such detailed answers to questions!

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