Siddharth Babu Basu is not your average Joe. Some often think he is probably the smarest man India courtesy his association with quiz shows on television and with the iconic Kaun Banega Crorepati as its producer. Babu, as he is known by those who work with him, is ecstatic to be a part of the franchise which has been going on air for the past 17 years, barring a few break seasons.
And he has a storehouse of memories over the years that he has been filming as its creative producer with with the Big B for channels Star Plus and Sony Entertainment Television. Enough to probably write a book (Babu are you listening?).
The founder of Synergy Productions has been seen as the epitome of perfection and quality. With a reputation like that, whenever a channel wanted to a TV format involving knowledge and quizzing, they would turn to Synergy’s Babu and his wife Anita Rosa Kaul Basu. At one stage, Synergy had a slate of shows on its plate like:
Babu has in recent times moved away from active participation but comes in as a consultant for the production house’s major projects like KBC. Around a decade ago, he divested equity in the company to the Anil Ambani group and he exited completely recently when it’s active running was left in the hands of its CEO Indranil Chakravarty after its acquistion by Madhu Mantena, Vikas Bahl, Anurag Kashyap, and Vikramaditya Motwane of Phantom Films.
Tellychakkar.com’s Sandip Pal got into a conversation with Babu on the KBC sets earlier this week. Excerpts from the interview:
How would you define the concept of quizzing?
Quizzing means a knowledge game mostly. In the US quizzing means any kind of test but in this country, it is a knowledge game. It is not reality television; I would rather call it factual entertainment. It is unscripted. In that genre it is participative and in this case knowledge driven. It is called “shoutability.” There’s a little bit of interaction where you’re just not a passive receptor.
Were you comfortable being a host yourself?
I was asked to host. I used to do theatre and work in documentaries and I used to emcee as well. And after someone saw me, he egged me to do it. When I figured out that my act needed to be structured and it also required some control on content because, when you are in the network, the scrutiny is enormous.
Within the next year, I took charge of the content and then started directing and producing the quiz shows as well. Because the first show quiz time was as successful as it was and it was also knowledge, content and research rich, people started coming to us to get the things figured out.
What does KBC mean to you?
Kaun Banega Crorepati is a show that created history. I feel very privileged. It was huge for the entire team. It was a classy show and became hallmark energy. It could combine mass with class. A certain richness of content, with the integrity and the quality makes the show what it is. “
As you rightly said, things in the network are scrutinised heavily. KBC too had its share of scrutiny and a total of seven cases were registered against the show, being the captain of Synergy and the core team, were those anxious moments for you?
No, we take it as a responsibility to have veracity of all information. I am proud, we have a very meagre error rate. We have learnt through experience. We have learnt to be very careful. The information challenge is something you know and you jump but if you are sound on facts you are fine. People do jump and challenge.
Sometimes it becomes controversial but if you are able to prove what it is, it is sorted. Sometimes people have issues about what they are sensitive about but you need to have a case and state your situation. While there have been occasions where people have put legal notices, we had a clear slate. There has been no issue.
Do you think all of this is snowballing into a conversation about the show as well?
Well, this is not a conscious decision. But it is good if it challenges general notions.We have been challenged on strange things. For instance, during one fastest finger first session, the contestants were asked to arrange the religious works, the New Testament Bible, the Guru Granth Sahib, BhagwadGita, Quran in a chronological order.
Some gentleman challenged it and said you can’t date it. We had to point it legally and say that Mohammad himself, said in the Quran let it be written down. Such challenges come and you have to say what it is.
When we are talking about such issues we are dealing with intolerance, with banning and censorship. Do you think or believe this is justified?
Facts are sacred and a knowledge show is based on facts, there is science and there is non-science, there is myth and there is history. We would always go with facts and hope; a show like this will foster a culture of finding out facts and be with the truth. After all, our national motto is Satyamev Jayate and not asatyamev jayate.
Synergy has done a lot of shows based on almost every genre. Out of these myriad shows, there have been some which have social and psychological ramifications as well. What is the driving factor for the participants to be a part of these shows? Is it the momentary brush with stardom or the rush of meeting celebrity or money or a need for validation?
There are a range of motivations for the participants. On a show likeKBC, it could be money, or perhaps the validation that you spoke about or it just would be meeting Mr Bachchan, anyone or all of these.
In Aap ki Kacheri, there were people in highly conflicted situations who wanted closure, who wanted to know what they could do. In the show they got an alternate dispute redressal system where you could trust someone to get you proper advice and then it was upto the person to decide whether he or she wanted the closure or not. At least you know what can be done.
And the same was with Sach Ka Saamna. The contestants were polygraphed and they knew all the questions. They would know all the questions but they wouldn’t know what the polygraph detected. People wanted to come because a lot of times they wantedto tell their story and figure it out. But I believe, the show worked as well as it did because, it was one of the first honestly probing, adult, mature and psychological revelation show. It was about the things that are there and yet we donot talk about and we dealt with it sensitively and compassionately,not judgementally. We did psychological evaluations before they came on the show. The people were reminded at every point in the show that they can leave and thatif you make the revelation, you have to live with it for life. Once they left, there was counselling again. We did everything in a socially responsible manner.
Would we see you bringing up a show like Bigg Boss?
Babu: Personally speaking, I don’t watch Bigg Boss, I am not into contrived reality at all. I don’t like to confect artificial situations. I just watch the show and I am done.
However to answer your question i need to clarify that I am now a consultant with Synergy. It has merged with Phantom and the policies will be looked after by Synergy and Indranil Chakraborty CEO Synergy, is the best person to talk about it.
(Indranil says)There are certain shows which we are definitely working on. As far as the back end is concerned, we are sure the reality won’t be contrived like in Bigg Bossor ther will not be anything unfair. The integrity factor will always be there. We will never script it. We are doing a web series called Bose.
Babu: Synergy doesn’t have any restriction.However, we want to do things with integrity. One of the key factors is, we are not supposed to contrive facts, and if we do we will state it upfront.