Sumanth C. Raman, the face of BSNL Sports Quiz, talks about the momentous journey as the show reaches its 500th episode this week. We quiz the quizmaster
Be it at malls, temples or on the street, he's used to being accosted by fond viewers who pop him impromptu questions. “When I bump into viewers aged 80 and above, they ask me questions from the 1940s, and sometimes I don't have the right answer. I tell them I have a talent in selecting good questions, but that doesn't mean I know all the answers," laughs Sumanth C. Raman, host of BSNL Sports Quiz on DD Podhigai. The show that started in 2002 is the longest running live television quiz in India, and has even made it to the Limca Book of Records for the same in 2010. It airs every Saturday at 10.10 p.m. and the coming week will see Dr. Sumanth hosting the 500th episode. “We have achieved this because of the support of our viewers and Doordarshan. It's been a team effort, and for this celebratory episode we will have each member of the show speak to the audience.”
Juggling many roles
Apart from this show, Sumanth has hosted nearly 2,000 sports programmes. For a person with a keen interest in sports, did he ever think of taking up sport as a career? “I used to play chess and tennis. As for cricket, I was a great help for the opponent team because I would drop catches and things like that,” he smiles. But what did work out for him is a profession in medicine and television. He is a doctor, works for a leading IT company in the health care vertical, and manages his family business too. “I enjoy all these roles, but my heart is in television. At the same time, I'm glad I'm able to contribute to the healthcare and IT sectors.”
His tryst with television started in 1987 when he went to Ambasamudram as a Doordarshan commentator for a hockey tournament. Ever since, he has conceived, scripted and anchored about 200 features and documentary programmes on channels, including Doordarshan, Vijay TV, Sun TV and Asianet.
A no-frills set-up
In a day and age where everything is sleekly-packaged, BSNL Sports Quiz has managed to do well in spite of its no-frills set-up. “That's because the format is racy, the questions have a good mix of different sports. It's important to get the balance right. The questions shouldn't be too tough or nobody will be able to answer, and they shouldn't be too easy either because then there is no challenge,” he says. Apart from hosting the show, he also does the research and frames questions. The viewers too contribute a few questions, but the quizmaster has to ensure that questions don't get repeated and that the statistics are accurate. “Because then I get flooded with calls and mails from spectators. The margin for error is low. But it also proves we have a very loyal and involved viewership.”
In the earlier days, Sumanth spent numerous hours scouring public libraries for questions and photographs. Now, of course, there's the Internet, books and newspaper archives that provide him the fodder. It takes him around 10 hours every week to get his set of 32 questions ready. “I put in three hours on Sundays, and during the week, I stay up at night for two to three hours preparing questions. I manage at least six hours of sleep so I don't go to work groggy-eyed,” he jokes.
The BSNL Sports Quiz spanning 50 minutes has him asking questions at tongue-twisting speed and can often make the viewers feel breathless. Luckily for me throughout the interview he sits back relaxed, talks at a comfortable pace and even gives me enough time to finish my coffee and as a result, I don't have to hurriedly take down notes.
How does he manage talking so fast on the show? “It just happens because I feel we should fit in as many callers as possible. It keeps the tempo going. We get callers right from the age of five to even 80 and above, callers from all over the country, and it makes me happy when they win,” he says.
In spite of quizzing people for all these years, the experienced host still hasn't tired out. “It's a live programme, and I’m interacting with the public. I feel a tinge of excitement before going on air; in fact, I have butterflies in my stomach!”
Hosted shows such as “Makkal Theerpu”, “Tamizha Tamizha”, “All Out For No Loss”
Anchored documentaries such as “Power of the Ballot” and “These Leaves Never Wither”
Commentator for South Asian Federation Games (SAF) held at Madras in December 1995
Commentator for the Asia Cup Hockey Tournament (2007)
Commentator for the Twenty 20 Cricket World Cup in Tamil for ESPN Star Sports (2007)
World Team Squash Championships (2007) and The World Cup (2011)