The Hottest TV Show
Host Amitabh Bachchan (left) shares the wealth. But no
one has yet won the ultimate prize of 10 million rupees.
Who wrote the autobiography Mein Kampf? What color is the belt
of the karate rank after white? In 1757 at Plassey, the British
defeated the nawab of which province? (Answers: Adolf Hitler,
yellow and Bengal.) How do you create a dazzling hit series? One
that producers confidently claim has drawn over 10 million calls
in one day from people who want to be on it? A program that single-handedly
makes a flagging channel exciting to a jaded viewing public? Answer:
If you are the India operation of the STAR TV network, you ask
questions like the first three on a show such as Kaun Banega Crorepati.
Though it started airing four times a week only in early July,
India's version of the U.S. TV program Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
has become a scorchingly successful small-screen phenomenon like
nowhere else in the region. The Hindi Crorepati, hosted by film
legend Amitabh Bachchan, taps the nation's raging get-rich-quick
spirit with a sexy basic formula. As in the other local versions
of Millionaire in two dozen-plus countries, Crorepati offers contestants
the chance to win more money than most Indians earn in a lifetime
10 million rupees ($222,000). All they have to do is answer
15 questions correctly.
Celebrity TV critic Amita Malik, who finds some of the questions
silly, says: "The show is a mixture of lottery, greed and the
glamor of appearing with the Big B [Bachchan]." Not unattractive
propositions. "The show works because it's for the common man,"
says Crorepati producer Anita Kaul Basu. "It's about human drama,
hope and disappointment." Says Sameer Nair, a STAR TV vice president:
"Nothing this grand has ever happened on Indian TV." Certainly,
the industry has never seen this kind of money thrown at one series.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned network is reportedly spending $16.7
million over 130 episodes nearly half the year's programming
budget. Bachhan's fee alone is estimated at $3.3 million. But
the money is paying off in entertainment value, a 41% viewership
rating and unparalleled buzz.
Recently, when an "average guy" like contractor Ramesh Arora walked
off the show with $55,500, an entire country (over 33 million
cable households) of middle-class Indians had their hopes vicariously
boosted. They immediately rushed to call STAR TV's 300,000 phone
Then there is Bachhan. At 58, half-forgotten and in financial
gloom, he has turned into a bankable star again complete
with a Swiss chalet-inspired dressing room with a fireplace (never
mind that Bombay is muggy most of the year). When he walks into
the studio, participants prostrate themselves before him. For
many, touching Bachchan is almost as good as winning the jackpot
Alexandro A.Seno & Simran Bhargava
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