From a much-loved show, Kaun Banega Crorepati became an agenda-setting exercise.
The season 10 finale of Kaun Banega Crorepati or KBC aired Monday. Host Amitabh Bachchan got ‘emotional’ at 22:46 pm (IST) and ‘bid goodbye’ to audience and fans at 23:04 – yes, the finale was even live blogged.
The show has consistently pulled a large number of viewers over the last 18 years (with some gaps). Last year, one single episode – featuring celebrity guest Abhishek Bachchan— was watched by 37.1 million viewers.
It’s difficult to explain the charm of Kaun Banega Crorepati to someone who didn’t grow up with the first few years of the show that started in 2000.
Those were the days when dial-up internet wasn’t fast enough to find the answers, and when judging contestants from your living room was a daily activity. You would scream out the answer before the contestants could and roll your eyes condescendingly when someone used an unnecessary lifeline.
KBC is especially important because it was a mirror to how India changed, boomed, and grew in the new millennium. If you, like me, grew up on a healthy diet of KBC, you saw how the stories of the contestants changed, and how the show interacted with these stories. We all knew a large chunk was scripted, sure, but watching a person’s life unfold (and often change) on screen was an experience. Over the years, the show tried to evolve with the times – like when it adopted the new rupee sign ₹ in season 4 (2010) – but it always came down to the basics: The image of Amitabh Bachchan walking down the stage, the giant KBC logo halo-ing him, and the iconic theme tune playing. That’s what made the experience.
And that’s the nostalgia we kept buying into. KBC has become a household name in India. The ninth season of the show apparently made close to Rs 400 crore – so we know who really did end up becoming the crorepati there.
Popular as it may be, KBC (and some might disagree here) also has a certain responsibility to its audiences. As the stage and prize money got bigger, this sense of responsibility seems to have quite comfortably evaporated. The amount of titillation, pandering, and obvious agenda-setting wasn’t just a little awkward to see, it was also dishonest and disappointing.
Whereas the first few seasons were actually interesting and made us somewhat knowledgeable, the show later started asking the most redundant questions to its contestants. Case in point: When Amitabh Bachchan asked, “Which one of these film stars has Alia Bhatt not yet kissed on screen?” While the question does not have any explicit slut-shaming attached to it, the implicit questioning of a woman’s behaviour was just strange and unwarranted.
The same can be said for Bachchan’s interactions with the audience and participants. The fact that he thinks wife jokes are okay to crack on national television doesn’t just make him the human rendition of every WhatsApp uncle ever, it also creates an atmosphere of permission. Think of how many people watch the venerable Mr Bachchan crack these jokes and think they’re absolutely okay. All the efforts we make towards turning around this language of subtle, gendered violence goes to waste when a behemoth like Amitabh Bachchan endorses them.
So many of us cringe every night when we hear him ask the contestants on the show: “Aap shaadi kyun nahi karna chahte hain?” What does that have to do with answering question 10 worth Rs 3,20,000? We can only wonder. The question of marriage is an especially loaded one in India, and putting someone on the spot isn’t just unfair, it’s pretty cruel.
Finally, remember how the show came under fire for allegedly acting like the ruling party’s mouthpiece? Here are a few questions asked in season 9 of KBC:
-In July 2017, Narendra Modi Become the first Prime Minister to visit which country?
-Uzma Ahmed was forced to marry a man at gunpoint. With the help of our MEA minister, from which country did she return to India?
– Which of these government schemes deals with the expansion of LPG connection to households below the poverty line?
And the strange turn an episode took into becoming a Mann Ki Baat advertisement? How can one forget the constant reminders that the digitisation of the show happened to support ‘Digital India’ – “Digital ka zamaana aa gaya hai.”
The way the public discourse changed over the years is reflected in the way KBC episodes are scripted. As the era evolved into hyperbolic, grotesque masquerades, so did the stories of the contestants. Our screens were filled with stories meant to evoke pity, not pride. The videos of suffering did the show’s ratings a favour, may be, but destroyed what the show meant to a generation of people.
These complaints might be small, and they’ll probably be dwarfed by the glorious odes people will be writing about KCB for the next few days. But it’s important to realise that as your audience matures, grows smarter, and demands better, it’s the show’s responsibility to grow with them.
KBC ending will be a stark reminder that all good things come with an expiry date, and it’s important to know when that arrives. And if it doesn’t? Well, then the show ends up a lot like its host Amitabh Bachchan. A relic that manages to reinvent itself, and yet refuses to become ‘woke’.
Lock kiya jaaye?
The author is a poet.
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