This is the show which I feel Aamir Khan wanted to make. The show that the entire family can seriously sit down to watch – without any repercussions on any member of the family. So I couldn’t be happier that it’s back. And since I’ve watched most of the other seasons, I was also prepared for the tamasha which usually ensues as part of the opening episode and was expecting the usual bearded ladies and dancing boys. What I didn’t realise was that the ode to knowledge was going to become an ode to the old man with the long beard — Rabi Thakur — or as the non-Bongs know him — Rabindranath Tagore.
This time the theme for Kaun Banega Crorepati is knowledge and how only knowledge can get you what is your due and your right. Lofty yet worthy ideals and thoughts. At least knowledge is better than the usual drivel which other shows are based on, of money and good looks getting you your due. So ten on ten for that.
And then Amitabh Bachchan came on. In his sutradhar avatar. Which reminded me of his turn as a voiceover artist in Jodha Akbar and March of the Penguins. The sudden bombast of his voice was too theatrical for a quiz show. But he exhorted us to move forward and told us that the show was here, “aap ke haq dilane ke liye”. I lost the rest of what he was saying because the music was so loud that it drowned out even his baritone.
And then, just when I thought that that bad dream would never return, it was back. Like the Poltergeist. It seems there’s really no escaping it, because Amitji decided to sing Ekla Chalo Re AGAIN because his rendition in Kahaani was not enough. I’ll give him this much, he’s at least gotten the pronunciation down pat this time. But must we sing Tagore’s songs everywhere? And must it always be Ekla Chalo Re when it comes tosinging and Where the Mind is without Fear when it comes to reciting? He has written other songs and poems. I promise you. Hundreds of them.
Suddenly a dance troupe dressed in white shiny leotards and wearing masks appeared around Bachchan. They reminded me of the dancers from that magnum opus, Aks. Who were these people? What did they have to do with knowledge? Why were they pirouetting around Bachchan? Who knows. And then from their midst, like magic, appeared four singers who I mistakenly thought must be contestants on the show, but have Googled since and have found out were the four top Indian Idol 6 contestants. Now don’t get me wrong, the entire act was very well put together. But you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking it was the opening episode of either a dance or a song show.
After the dancing troubadours had vanished from the set, Bachchan — who’s dressed way better than the last season — started doing what he does best on this show, which is talking and hosting, We got all the details of the show. That it will last 21 weeks. The first episode had 10 contestants. There was Koeli Roy, a housewife from Calcutta who got him rasgullas and like all good Bongs wouldn’t stop talking. She spoke to him in Bengali and then sang him a song. There was a soldier from Allahabad. A Northern Railway assistant from Jammu and Kashmir who got him a beautiful Kashmiri shawl. There was an elderly lady — who was a civil engineer — from Ahmedabad.
What’s nice this time around is that there are no sob stories and testimonials to pain and suffering, which you know KBC would alleviate by the end of each show. This time, everyone who was called on the show seemed to have normal, happy lives. The videos didn't highlight the great tragedies in their lives.
There was also one more star on the show. Headline Today’s Rahul Kanwal. Who, if you’re on Twitter, has been tweeting about AB and KBC since last week. Kanwal was the Expert for the Ask the Expert segment of the show. HT also broadcast an interview by him of AB where Kanwal looked at him with more love than he’d looked at Sunny Leone — and trust me there was a lot of love that time round as well. I must admit there was something very endearing about how star-struck Kanwal seemed whenever Amitabh would speak with him. Like a love-struck bushbaby.
Also as usual, whenever Amitabh calls the “friend” during the Phone-a-Friend segment, it’s most fun to hear the reaction of the person on the other end. And sure enough when he called the first contestant’s mother, she was completely flustered. As a result of which she was most “thankful to god” for Amitabh calling her and “thankful to god” for her son being on the hot-seat.
You have to give AB this much though, that there are few hosts like him. He’s got a certain ease and candour which immediately relaxes the contestants, even though you can make out they are in absolute awe of him. The closest I can think of anyone being able to come to him as a host is Salman Khan, who also seemed to know just how to speak with the audiences. A heinous comparison I know, but the truth must prevail.
Then what I hadn’t been prepared for at all, happened. Amitabh had to wind up the show, so after performing with the Shillong Chamber Choir who sang Sare Jahan Se Accha and Aashayein from Iqbal, I thought he’d say a few “uplifting” lines and we’d be done with it. But, no no. There it was again! Another Tagore poem being recited by Amitabh. And what could it be? Of course, it was Where the Mind is Without Fear. What I cannot for the life of me understand is why Rabi Thakur is the only Bengali poet who must be quoted. We did have other very good — even famous — poets in Bengal. Maybe film producers and show producers could do themselves — and us — some good by simply Googling “Bengali poet other than Tagore”.
As Amitji ended by thundering “Into that freedom my father, let my country awake” I had to agree. I hope the country will awake to understand that we must not take Tagore’s name in vain. And that we can free Tagore and his poems so that we are not held hostage to Ekla Chalo Re and Where the Mind is Without Fear.
Kaun Banega Crorepati airs on Sony from 8:30– 10 pm Friday-Sunday.