From quiz shows to reality TV, Siddhartha Basu has come a long way

Laughing aloud, Anita Kaul Basu draws an interesting analogy between them (she and her hubby Siddhartha Basu) and millions of people who every year head to the Gulf countries to work. Well, the Gulf in this case is Mumbai — the hub of the entertainment industry — where the TV world’s power couple has recently moved to since they merged with Adlabs Films — a Reliance ADA Group company — and got rechristened as BIG Synergy (Synergy Adlabs Media) from Synergy Communications. “Mumbai is very work-centric. I feel like a Gulf-returnee when I am in Delhi,” says Anita, the Managing Director of BIG Synergy. Mumbai means work, and Delhi — where the duo has a beautiful house in Sainik Farms and an office in Zamrudpur — is home. For somebody like Siddhartha and Anita who have spent a good part of their life in Delhi and loved it, making such comparisons is natural.

Before Siddhartha became a big name in the area of non-fiction programming in the TV industry, it was here that he studied, did theatre with Barry John, romanced Anita, married her and finally started Synergy, a TV production company which took TV quizzing to another level altogether. There was the unforgettable “Quiz Time” on Doordarshan, “Spectrum”, “The IndiaQuiz” “Mastermind India”, “University Challenge” on BBC World and many more that Siddhartha says were produced out of Delhi, adding that something as huge as “Kaun Banega Crorepati” — which brought the Big B onto the small screen for the first time and changed Siddhartha’s fortunes — was also done here. “We still roll out shows like “Khelo Jeeto Jiyo” and “Aap Ki Kachehri (AKK)” from here. Our entire content and research team is in Delhi because it is easy to find people with that background here rather than in Mumbai,” says Siddhartha, the Chief Managing Director of the company.

Reality shows

His appreciation of academics, knowledge, research and content is understandable. After all, Siddhartha gave a new spin to the television quiz shows and thus came to be known as the father of television quiz shows in India. Explaining his departure from such an intellectual exercise to shows like “Sach Ka Saamna (SKS)” “Dus Ka Dum (DKD)” that run high on commercialism and reveal human fallacies, Siddhartha says, “We got stereotyped there. The SKS is an accurate reflection of what’s going on in real life and that’s dealt with compassion. You allow people to tell their stories. You decide how far you want to go with the truth. People are concentrating on sex questions but that’s just a small part of it. In any case, people know of the questions beforehand. The biggest thing about reality shows is how do you deal with them? We deal it with fidelity. There is fidelity to research and quality of content. In AKK, drama is intrinsic to it and it has both conflict and resolution.”

Siddhartha is particularly proud of “India’s Got Talent”, a talent hunt show inspired from the famous U.K. show “Britain’s Got Talent”, aiming to give a platform to the untapped talent in various parts of India. “It had a sense of India. Most importantly, it wasn’t contrived. Isko gaali do, usse lado, all this wasn’t there. You know, the Orissa-based Prince Dance Group which won the show had painted themselves blue for the act because they didn’t have money for the costume. It was a real celebration of India,” explains the erstwhile quiz master.

But does he borrow from his experience as a quiz master at times to guide the celebrities who host these reality shows like “KBC”, “Kya Aap Panchvi Paas Se Tez Hain”, “DKD”? “Yes, we are hands-on producers. We are involved with everything. Salman is not a conventional host. He is most uncomfortable with anything that has to be memorised but he has a great connect with people and a good sense of humour,” says Siddhartha, defending the level of questions asked on DKD by saying that they are to do with values and habits of people.

The man. who can be given the credit for redefining the television viewing in India, misses Delhi amidst all this. “You don’t see the sky in Mumbai. There are no seasons. It’s a little bit of an island culture in Mumbai. In Delhi there is a thriving university culture. People are not so insecure here.”

Siddhartha Trivia

Siddhartha did his early schooling from Besant Montessori, Cathedral in Bombay and later moved to Frank Anthony in Delhi.

He is an English literature graduate from St. Stephen’s college and postgraduate in the same subject from Arts Faculty, Delhi University.

In his college days, he formed a group with Barry John called TAG (Theatre Action Group). Lilette Dubey, Mira Nair and Pamela Rooks were part of it.

He even tried to make a living out of it and stayed for a year in Kolkata but that didn’t work out.

At that time, St. Stephen’s used to be a boys’ college and the women actors were imported from the neighbouring colleges. For a play called “The Serpent” Mira Nair recommended Anita Kaul Basu who was her junior in Miranda House then, to Siddhartha. That’s how the two met.

Siddhartha’s career in television began in 1977 as a documentary filmmaker.

Starting with “Quiz Time” on the DD network, he moved on to host and produce “Spectrum”, the 7 nation SAARC Quiz, “The IndiaQuiz” and “The Beanstalk Quiz Summit” (On DD), “Mastermind India”, “University Challenge” on BBC World, and “India’s Child Genius” on STAR World.

He started Synergy in 1988.

Next on his radar is fiction programming.