Updated: September 24, 2017 6:00:39 am
It’s only in India that a grown man can be rebuked by his parents on national television for wanting to adopt a pet, even as host Amitabh Bachchan speaks about his and son Abhishek’s own thwarted attempts to bring home one. Kaun Banega Crorepati is delightful, simply for putting up contestants from India’s heartland on its hot-seat. It’s also where you see the best of Big B, a mega-star since the Eighties and hero-worshipped across generations.
He is quick to strike a rapport, sometimes as a friend, sometimes a mentor. Recently, when he discovered that a young girl, a state-level chess champion, was named Shweta after his own daughter, his attitude was almost paternal. He was quick to rebuke the “Chess Queen” when she couldn’t guess that “XXX” made up 30. “I don’t see a chess mind at work here. I have my doubts,” he teased. He also doesn’t let it go when someone picks a lifeline too early on in the game. Like a family elder, he is quick to share his two bits of advice to contestants.
KBC could easily be a vanity project for the veteran star, but it’s really the contestants and their stories that sparkle. Often, I watch heart-in-mouth, for instance, praying the 22-year-old Gujarati farmer, who is hoping KBC increases his marital prospects, can win enough to build a toilet in his village home and educate his sister, who sacrificed her studies so that he could continue his. Since I watch recorded episodes, I fast-forward to the end of the session, reassure myself that they have won a good amount and go back to enjoy the show, minus nerves. There was the woman from a Haryana village, her head covered, whose focus was her son’s athletics career and the cattle and other animals she looked after. Bachchan spoke to her, like a girlfriend would, keenly asking her about how she spent her morning. Within minutes, the shy woman was shush-ing Bachchan so that she could finish what she wanted to say!
We don’t know if he’s just a good professional, but watching the star is a lesson in the forgotten etiquette of taking interest in knowing the person in front of us. How often do we simply retreat behind our phones and keypads, not taking trouble to smile at a stranger or get to know an acquaintance better?
It also shows that joint families are alive and well in India. A woman, whose father-in-law wanted a daughter-in-law like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (she herself was confident of a resemblance!), decided she wanted to use the prize money to build a home for the extended family, including her brother-in-law, who helped in her KBC preparation by quizzing her while she cooked. It’s also about the joys of simplicity as one man, married for over a decade, said he enjoyed talking to his wife so much that the milk would boil over, without either of them noticing. For people like me, used to cosmopolitan India, where responses and interactions follow a standard format, the sheer flavour that small-town India brings to the small screen is a joy to watch.
It’s no wonder that the episode with Anand Kumar, of Super 30 fame, was reportedly a hit in terms of TRPs, as the teacher who coaches underprivileged IIT aspirants set up a board onstage and gave an example of his unique method.
Just one small hitch…wish some of the questions weren’t so north-centric. Sample this: “Which of these Hindi idioms means running away? Rafoochakkar hona / Taabadtod / Ram Ram japna / Jungle mein mangal karna.”
But, just for the interesting conversations that take place between the host and contestants, I’m going to keep watching!
(The writer is an editorial consultant and co-founder of The Goodwill Project. She tweets @anuvee. Views expressed are personal.)
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