Orwell Is Watching

“Art, it’s said, imitates life. Sometimes, the exact opposite happens. We watched a replay of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire when computer operator Sushil Kumar, hailing from a little-known town called Motihari (East Champaran, Bihar), became the first person to win the five-crore rupees jackpot on the popular reality television show, Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). Incidentally, Motihari is the birthplace of acclaimed author George Orwell, though in modern times it has become more famous for extortions and kidnappings. No wonder Sushil Kumar didn’t appear too keen on taking his largesse back home in a hurry.”

“One thing is quite clear, though. Despite its success, and despite all the format alterations, KBC’s allure had, by the fourth season, taken a serious nosedive in the urban areas. While greed always sells, too much of it can cause boredom and predictability. Realising this, for the latest KBC version, the channel Sony deliberately (or so it appears) decided to target interior India, where the show still grabs many eyeballs. So now the contestants come from really impoverished backgrounds, and their gloomy stories are played out generously. For example, we were constantly reminded that the five-crore bounty winner Sushil Kumar ONLY earns a measly sum of Rs 6,000 per month (half the salary of a memsaab’s chauffeur in Mumbai). Thank god we were spared horrifying details of the break-up in terms of Basic, HRA, DA, LTA, etc, though I am sure the channel suits would have loved to dish them out. The big question is: why have they chosen to target mofussil towns and the teary-eyed have-nots? At first glance this appears to be a suicidal marketing strategy when you consider that sponsors and advertisers would not want to be a part of any activity that does not engage India Shining aka India Splurging. Conspicuous consumption mainly happens in the metros and the large towns of India.”

“Well, the truth is, there is actually a very clever strategy at work out here. Which is to showcase the less fortunate from remote areas, and let the affluent city-slickers enjoy all the weeping and drama that inevitably happens when the rags to riches story plays out. And that is exactly what happened with Slumdog Millionaire. South Bombay was enthralled by the film, but South Latur was left wondering what the fuss was all about. For a lowly paid computer operator from Motihari, an amount of Rs 5 lakh is life-altering, leave alone Rs 5 crore. And the constant rona-dhona of the have-nots, their earthy antics on the large LED screen, keeps India Shining amused. Many of us enjoyed Sushil Kumar’s desperation to use the toilet during the tense moments as also Bachchan’s inability to help him in the matter. Not surprisingly, therefore, Sushil Kumar, on that fateful evening, was not just happening in Champaran, he was trending on Twitter too.

Superb success formula. Tears of the poor. Entertainment for the rich. And just in case you belong to neither category, there’s always Amitabh Bachchan’s unfailing charisma to keep you from hitting the remote button. By the way, I am sure if fellow Motihariwallah George Orwell were to have watched KBC, he would be mighty pleased with Sushil Kumar’s performance. But the author would be appalled by the goings-on in the other popular reality TV show called Bigg Boss. Fishmarket catfights aren’t exactly what he envisioned in his cult Big Brother book, Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

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  1. sputnik 8 years ago

    “KBC tries out a new strategy

    This is what you call a smart move. Just when the interest in KBC was beginning to wane, the channel decided to announce not one but two crorepatis within a span of a week. Now this is bound to keep the audience glued to their chairs, at least for the special episodes. KBC may continue to remain at the top as far as its TRPs are concerned but the concept of the poor, desperate small town Indian crying unabashedly on television was getting a wee bit tiresome. After all, you can’t spend every single evening watching sob stories unfold. The clever strategy of feeding on another’ misery and shamelessly exploiting it for professional success seems to have become the mantra of TV channels these days.

    So when the smart Alec channel bosses realised that they had milked the tears of sadness to the maximum, they decided to get generous and release funds through relatively easy questions posed at contestants. Diwali week is when you saw KBC’s generosity make lakpatis out of jodis. Like we said, the questions were suddenly so simple that it was quite easy to make Rs 25 lakh. The modus operandi this was “the further the bette”. While people in metros dialled in vain and didn’t succeed, those from the heartland of the country stood a far better chance. So they came from obscure corners of India, with a desperate desire to make some money — most were happy with Rs 1,60,000 too. And anything beyond that was truly a bonus.

    And this time, Bihar seems to have hit the jackpot not once but twice. While the first and only five crore winner is from the state, even the second crorepati hails from Bihar. Perhaps there is some magic in the Bihari pani that provides the intellectual impetus to young men from that city. Sushil Kumar from Motihari won the bumper prize while Anil Sinha from Patna was the second crorepati from the state.”

    “Not everything is spontaneous in this reality show. Any emotion that works or rather sells like the Big B wiping tears from a contestant’s eyes has already been exploited by the channel that has made the actor perform the same act over three times.

    The winners maybe laughing all the way to the bank, but it’s KBC that is the asli winner for having got its strategy right. In India, bank on the emotional quotient, and you can never go wrong!”

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