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KBC director Arun Sheshkumar on the quiz and the star anchor

Arun Sheshkumar, 43, has been at the helm of Indian TV’s biggest reality shows.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Seven years ago, Arun Sheshkumar stepped into the control booth on the sets of Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) for the first time. It was Season 6 of the very popular game show with Amitabh Bachchan as host. After five seasons and hundreds of episodes as the show’s director, Sheshkumar hasn’t lost sight of what was that season’s tagline: Sirf gyaan hi aapko haq dilate hai (Only knowledge empowers you). “Nothing else matters,” Sheshkumar reiterates. “You could potentially walk away with ₹7 crore simply on the basis of your knowledge.”

In a career spanning almost two decades, the 43-year-old has been at the helm of Indian TV’s biggest reality shows — Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, Sacch Ka Saamna, India’s Got Talent, Nach Baliye, Indian Idol and Satyamev Jayate. KBC, though, has a special place in Sheshkumar’s resume. Over a cup of coffee in his Juhu office that overlooks the Bachchan home, we chat about everything that goes into KBC and the state of Indian TV today. Excerpts:

When the show began, Amitabh Bachchan often spoke of being uncomfortable because for the first time he had to be himself. How much has he changed as host over the years?

He’s a lot more approachable now — more accessible, more giving. He goes that extra mile to pose with audience members. We shoot two episodes per session. He signs 200-300 autographs per session; we even have a team handling that. Not many know this but there are a lot of fans who give him gifts; and he treasures each one of them. They’re all arranged neatly in his office and home.

Over the years, if you had to pick one moment that stands out, what would it be?

On the show, every crorepati winner has touched our lives because they were so deserving. Sitting in the control room, we’ve all had our emotional moments. There have been people from different backgrounds, like the electrician who lived away from his family. He won ₹25 lakh. It just reiterates the idea that knowledge can change futures.

When it started, KBC was purely a quiz show. When did you decide to focus more on the contestants’ backstories?

A lot hasn’t changed from 2000 to 2019. In fact, we’ve gone deeper into the quizzing, so I don’t know why the perception that we’re more about the stories now. KBC used to have 12 questions per episode, today we’re doing 16-19 questions. The game has become faster, that’s all. The additional 20 minutes is to profile the contestants, not disturb the game. Our research told us that while viewers wanted more of the quizzing, they also liked hearing about the contestants — so it was done purely for relatability. It was organic. There are episodes where people talk and we laugh, and there are others where we cry with them.

Is there anything that’s sacrosanct and will never change?

It’s the only show that doesn’t have a performance by a superstar — every other reality show has the stars doing some kind of dance or performance. Mr. Bachchan doesn’t do any of that because he believes it’s a serious quiz show and it’s about celebrating the life of the contestant. He believes in keeping the contestant as the hero.

You’ve worked on some of the biggest non-fiction shows. What does it take for a show to become popular?

I’m lucky to have worked with almost every format. What I’ve tried to do is maintain the skeleton of the show but Indianise it, with emotions. Earlier, most Western shows did not have that emotional connect between the judge and the contestant. Today, you see Simon Cowell crying at a contestant’s story. There is a shift, which may be India has influenced. We did it long ago and it’s a successful formula now.

When KBC began in 2000, there was a boom in Indian television. Where are we today?

Television is at that stage today where nobody is trying to do new things and everyone wants to stick to the formula. That’s probably why the digital medium is growing so fast. Television needs to catch up — a small shift is needed. The major difference between TV and the web is that we’re more mass-y in television; our reach is across households and we cater to a bigger audience. The web is still niche, classy and very urban. We need to evolve, try different things, and it’s a risk all broadcasters should take.

The film journalist is obsessed with baking, Kanye West and fantasy fiction.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 10:23:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/kbc-director-arun-sheshkumar-on-the-quiz-and-the-star-anchor/article29409596.ece

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