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Bournvita Quiz Contest — from radio to tv & digital space, a show that evolved with the times

What began in 1972 as a competition hosted in schools, the show went through several stages of evolution, including one that was hosted by Derek O’Brien.

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New Delhi: Malted food drink and nutrition brand Cadbury Bournvita has been a staple in Indian kitchens. But it is a lot more than a taste enhancer.

In the years since it was launched in 1948, the drink has seen references in India’s pop culture and has been famously associated with the ‘Bournvita Quiz Contest’ — one of India’s longest running TV quiz shows.

What began in 1972 as a competition hosted at schools by anchor Hamid Sayani, the contest went through several stages of evolution, before finally turning into a radio show in 1973. Hamid’s untimely death in 1975 led to his brother Ameen Sayani taking over the show, who kept it going for about eight more years.

However, the version of the quiz show that most people today recognise is the one that was aired on Zee TV starting 1992 and hosted by Derek O’Brien, who is now a member of the Rajya Sabha from the All India Trinamool Congress.

O’Brien’s charismatic style of quizzing, the show’s catchy tune, celebrity guests such as Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Aamir Khan and Kiran Bedi, and middle-school children answering some rather tough questions made it hugely popular. The show also made many schools well-known and as one Twitter user said, the contest was the “biggest branding exercise” for many Indian institutes.

“The show was a Sunday morning ritual for me. It was kids participating, which made the show fun to watch, and was almost relatable. Despite their aversion towards television, my parents couldn’t deny the educational aspect of the show, and had no qualms on me waking up in front of a screen. And at the end of the day, it was still a contest, so you want to watch who is winning,” said a Delhi-based fan of the show, who didn’t want to be identified.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the contest.

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A nostalgic essential

Despite its success, the Bournvita Quiz Contest was a niche English- language show for a select group and discontinued from Zee TV in 2000. It was relaunched in both English and Hindi on the Colors TV channel in 2011, with actress Saumya Tandon as the co-host.

With Hindi as the primary language, the show became available to an even wider Indian audience.

Participants for the show, however, still hailed from some of the top private schools and it was primarily hosted in the metro cities. Nevertheless, the show continues to remain a nostalgic essential for the urban population of India.

Truly testing knowledge and memory of participants

General knowledge may sound like something that does not need to be formalised, yet it remains an integral part of what students are taught as subjects in schools.

The Bournvita Quiz Contest thrived because of the feelings it elicited in viewers who could be seen shouting answers from their couches.

Questions in the Bournvita Quiz Contest covered a whole range of topics, from politics, history, geography, literature from India and abroad, and the sciences, truly testing the knowledge and memory of participants.

Devangshu Datta, a consulting editor to the Business Standard newspaper and a participant in the show, has been quoted by the Mint as saying, “For us, it was the excitement of travelling all the way to Bombay and being put up at the Taj Mahal Hotel, besides seeing a live version of the famous radio programmes in the (AIR) studio.”

The Bournvita Quiz Contest went off air in 2012, with its final season taking place online on its app in 2015. The TV show is still talked about on social media platforms as something to reminisce about.

The quiz contest also appeared on digital platforms, with quizzes and interactive videos online, along with published books on the questions that appeared on the show. Some episodes of the show have been archived on YouTube as well. The attempt to keep alive its legacy has been admirable, but the glory of its early days remains unmatched.

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