The Tribune - Spectrum



Sunday, November 5, 2000
Lead Article

says Naveen S. Garewal

Money shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati and Sawaal Dus Crore Ka have found a good viewership among India’s middle class. These serials feed middle class aspirations of becoming rich quickly. A large number of people also draw vicarious pleasure from watching one of their ilk become an instant millionaire. At the same time, however, the value of these programmes is being questioned by critics. Do these serials really increase knowledge? Does the emphasis on money erode the value system? Are they promoting philistine culture? What is their impact on young viewers? The debate is hot and bubbling

ELEVEN in the morning on a Saturday, Pragun, barely seven, is glued to a world map trying to locate the island nation of Fiji. Thrilled with his discovery, he looks at his father and quips, "Ask me more." "Who built the Taj Mahal," questions his father and pat comes the reply, "Shah Jahan". Too good for his age, but how did the kid learn all this? "He is inspired by Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC)", the father explains.

Money shows like KBC and Sawaal Dus Crore Ka (SDCK) have a good viewership among India’s middle class. These serials kindle the middle class aspiration of becoming rich quickly. A large number of people draw vicarious pleasure from watching one of their ilk become an instant millionaire. At the same time, however, the value of these programmes is being questioned by critics. Do these serials really increase knowledge? Does overemphasis on money erode the value system? Are they promoting philistine culture? What is their impact on young viewers? The debate is hot and bubbling.

One viewpoint on which there is hardly any dissension is that these programmes promote lust for money. Unlike other quiz programmes that encourage participants to gain knowledge for the sake of knowledge, KBC and SDCK are accused of using the garb of knowledge to fan the fires of greed. It is none other than KBC’s host Amitabh Bachchan, who frequently repeats that it could take the contestants 50 years to make the kind of money they could make in 50 minutes— Is this not the promotion of gambling? Harshvardhan Nawathe, the first man to win Rs1 crore on Indian television, took two wild guesses to hit the jackpot.


The basic objection is not to the nature of questions being asked on these programmes, but to the not-so-subtle advocacy of money mania.

While most parents would be delighted with their child’s increasing interest in general knowledge, Pragun’s mother, a psychologist, is concernedabout her son’s latest interest. "No doubt KBC and SDCK provide a stimulating learning experience — a clean information input with entertainment— but its potential to trigger off a race to mug up is what bothers me. At the same time linking information with money is playing on people’s psyche to get rich quickly, which is not a very desirable thing for the well-being of any society", says Dr Seema Vinayak.

Degeneration of society is also feared by Dr Satya Paul Gautam of Panjab University’s Philosophy Department. "From pursuit of wisdom we stepped down to being satisfied with seeking knowledge. Now this crorepati mania has further deteriorated this to a narrow pursuit of information", he opines, while adding, "These programmes will make people mug up information without realising whether it is useful or not. In case these programmes encourage people to seek information in areas which are of significance to them, they can play a positive role."

The producers of these shows are only concerned with the money they generate for these programmes. Money shows have been successful ventures in many western countries. ABC’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, a popular game show in over two dozen countries, and Greed by Fox are two very popular game shows. KBC and SDCK have no doubt made an impact on society where phrases like "sure", "confident" "final jawab", "lock kar diya jaye", "freeze it", etc have become commonplace. But don’t television programmes in a developing country like India have any social obligations too?

Sony has signed cine star Govinda for hosting their game show. Sun TV is already running Koteeswarn in Tamil. SABe has started Jab Khelo Sab Khelo with Shekhar Suman, a programme which promises that lakhs of people can win crores of rupees by watching the show from their homes. They are all working on the theory that entertainment value and viewership is directly proportional to the amount of prize money offered on stage. Each programme is coming up with bigger bucks to cash in on people’s longing for money. These programmes are planning to give away Rs 65 crore in prize money over the next one year.

Ratings of TV programmes indicate that southern states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu keenly watch Koteeswarn, but are not avid viewers of KBC and SDCK. These two programmes, however, have virtually overawed North India. Calcutta too has not shown much interest in KBC and SDCK. But after the launch of KBC, the viewership of this programme in Mumbai shot from a rating of 8.49 on July 3 to 16.77 on July 6. Why is the acceptance of these programmes so varied?

According to Dr Gopal Iyer, a sociologist, "Since KBC and SDCK are in Hindi, they are better accepted in the North. But this does not mean that people in the southern states are less consumerist. Even the most rigid states like Tamil Nadu are beginning to open up to Hindi. It will only be a matter of time before the impact of Hindi language shows percolate down to the masses in the South".

"Consumer culture is catching up fast in both rural and urban areas and such programmes only hasten its growth", says Dr Iyer. "The question debated most often in middle class families today is how to get rich quickly? The stimulation obviously comes from such programmes that have a lottery effect on the poorer sections, generating lethargy. When the masses see someone on TV getting rich, the frustration level goes up and this in turn can push up suicidal tendencies and increase crime in society. Families can be adversely affected by such shows, as children tend to get out of control. Studies have shown that parents are already witnessing this. Since the TV is now accessible to masses, it has its share of corrupting and degenerating influence on them", he opines.

Sociologists feel that money shows will certainly give rise to gambling at the local level. In rural Haryana — where men play cards, while women work — this is already a problem. They feel that these money shows like the TV serial Ramayana and Mahabharata are making a massive impact, as the entire village sits glued to one TV set. But the outcome of these shows would be a lot different.

An experienced medical practitioner as well as a conscientious parent, Dr Rashmi Garg, is very concerned about the ethos such programmes project upon the growing and impressionable minds. Glamour and easy money are twin flavours of KBC and SDCK, she feels. "The so-called ‘quiz’ takes a backseat with each question laced with the money factor. These are money programmes first and foremost and quiz programmes later".

Dr Garg feels strongly about the prime-time slot that these programmes have been allocated – that too on weekdays, robbing growing children of quality family time. "Small routines like eating together, socialising with friends and bonding — important for nurturing an emotionally healthy and stable child — are pushed aside by this latest craze. Even for adults such programmes, which fall in the entertainment category, and should help a person relax and unwind after a hard day’s work, fail to serve the purpose and instead generate a feeling of, ‘I have very little’, raising frustration levels", she says.

However, not all agree that money shows like KBC and SDCK are going to cause any permanent damage to the fabric of our society. Dr JM Jerath, Head of the Department of Psychology at Panjab University, says, "Serious concerns about the adverse impact of these shows are misplaced. The programmes are not going to turn people into gamblers or any such thing. Serials like Hum Log, Mahabharat etc, the first few to have mass appeal, are now forgotten". He feels once the initial euphoria dies down, the mass impact will lessen too.

Dr Jerath explains, "The viewer identifies himself with the players and accepts the programme as a game in which he can participate. It is this identification of the common man with the participants that makes the programme popular. The very thought that he (the viewer) too can make money and he too knows the answers to the questions posed, makes the show very pleasurable. Certain amount of anticipation and excitement coupled with empathy for the participant is what hooks on the viewer to the show".

"Serious quiz programmes like Mastermind India by Sidharath Basu are enjoyable to the viewer only if he himself has some amount of knowledge. But in ‘low-difficulty’ shows like these the common man too finds some amount of participation", says Dr Jerath. These programmes will not leave any major impact on society and will have their ‘desensitising and wear- off’ effect as more and more such programmes come in, he feels, adding that these programmes are watched purely because they keep your blood racing throughout the show.

A former Principal of Government College, Gurdaspur, Swarn Garewal, disagrees with Dr Jerath, "Such shows have affected values. People’s aspirations of earning money by honest means will go down when everyone starts thinking that he can make a crore by just a little effort. This is bound to increase greed in society". Though, she opines, these shows will certainly increase public awareness about events and happenings and can help generate commonman’s interest in history and culture along with love for books.
A well-educated businessman, Gurshinder Singh, however does not agree with the detractors of the Big ‘B’. "In a country with a large number of illiterates or the so-called educated people who are as good as illiterate," he argues, "any means to spread knowledge is justified. And what is wrong if one aspires to be a millionaire? Those who call this trend as an evil influence from the West and condemn it forget that in the Indian tradition the four important goals for a person are: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. And all these have equal importance in a person’s life. To say that these shows promote gambling is to miss the point entirely, because the contestants do not spend money to take part in these shows other than the amount spent to make phone calls. What our ambitious educational programmes have failed to achieve in the past five decades, these game shows have managed to achieve in just a few months".

"If these programmes encourage greed and are socially degenerating, what about the hundreds of third-rate soap operas that are shown on every channel round the clock," questions Anila Katyal, Business Executive with Sawraj Mazda.

"When billions of rupees are being spent to train cricket players, who in no way promote knowledge, what is wrong in enticing youngsters towards books? In fact, our industrialists would do a yeoman service to the nation by promoting young students who are good in science, literature and other branches of knowledge. If these big corporations can give jobs to sportspersons, what is wrong if they encourage the pursuit of knowledge?" she adds.

Dr Iyer feels that there is an immediate need to counter the negative influence of money shows by airing socially productive programmes. Besides, at the school level, teachers must make a conscious effort to negate the harmful effects on children.

Not all school teachers agree with Dr Iyer. A school run by Hero cycles in Ludhiana performs a regular drill each morning wherein the students are asked five questions. Students who can answer all five receive a pat from the principal and sweets for encouragement.

Dr Vinayak says she always tries to supplement bare information on these shows with some additional knowledge while dealing with her kids. "When my son talks about Taj Mahal for example, I make it a point to show him a picture of the monument from our Time-Life Series and read out to him more details about the structure. I want to give him a complete picture rather than bits of information". She also attributes the runaway success of these shows to what she terms as the "primacy effect". It is the first time the Indian audience has been exposed to such high stakes on a game show, hence the popularity. With time this effect will subside, she says, echoing Dr Jerath’s views.

No doubt the programmes are stimulating and provide clean entertainment. The informative inputs are a

welcome change from the usual song-dance sequences.

But the overemphasis on money needs to be toned down. If they were to cater to people’s intellectual needs rather than their greed, there would be no reason to be concernedu

The crorepati-and-more list

Kaun Banega Crorepati ?(Starplus)

This programme is made under licence from British quiz show "Who wants to be a millionaire?" that first went on air in 1998. It was Celador, a UK production company, that came up with the game show. Currently it is aired in 28 countries including the USA, where the popularity of the game show has made it a four-days-a-week feature.

Jab Khelo Sab Khelo (SAB)

TV anchor Shekhar Suman will dole out Rs 1.25 crore in prize money on ‘Jab Khelo Sab Khelo’ on SAB entertainment channel. This money driven fun show focus primarily on housewives and has been slotted at 1.30 pm. To make the programme interactive, viewers too would be able to participate and the winners would be announced on the spot using specially developed software.

Call-in facility will be available in over 11 cities, the show will involve TV viewers in the four metros plus Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Pune, Nagpur, Ludhiana and Lucknow.

Sawaal Dus Crore Ka (Zee)

Hosts Anupum Kher and Manisha Koirala charge Rs 4 and 5 crore annually. The programme is produced by Gajendra Singh who has programmes like Antakshri, Sa Re Ga, etc to his credit. The show was originally to be hosted by Madhuri Dixit. Derek O’ Brien is framing questions for SDCK and Koteeswarn and would also do the same for Sony.

Koteeswarn (Sun TV)

Aims to capture weekend viewership. Slotted for Saturday and Sunday between 9 to 10 PM, the programme offers a reward of Rs 1 crore. The programme is in Tamil.

Title-Undisclosed (Sony)

Govinda who would be charging anything between Rs 18 to 20 crore monthly would host the Sony show. Tentatively scheduled for launch around mid December, the programme would give out prizes like cars and flats and would have no upper prize limit.

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