KBC2 recently went off the air, citing Amitabh Bachchan's illness as the reason for its inability to can fresh episodes. But India TV has a different story.
Don't mourn the loss of your favourite game show, says the channel. Don't mourn the loss of hopes and dreams. Don't blame your bad luck either - you never had a fair chance of making it to the "Hot Seat" anyways.
Dial mein kuch kaala?
The India TV story, backed up with impressive amount of documentation, paints a pretty bleak picture of the selection process for India's most popular game show.
The gist of the expose: KBC gets 25 lakh calls per episode, so the odds of making it to final 10 twice are next to zero. Yet, it happened five times. And though the rules bar BSNL and MTNL employees, at least nine took part..
To elaborate: 25 lakh (2.5 million) viewers vied for a place on every episode of KBC2. To qualify required a small amount of grey matter and large doses of luck.
Step 1: Call in or sms (via MTNL, BSNL or Airtel) and answer one simple question. Charges - Rs 2.40 on BSNL/ MTNL or Rs 6 on the Airtel network.
Step 2: Of those who answer correctly the computer 'randomly' selects 500 callers who are then asked to reply to 2 more questions.
Step 3 : This is followed by round 3 where a lucky 100 people must answer 3 more questions.
Step 4: Of those who clear this hurdle, the computer generates a list of 10 'final' participants who get a chance to compete for the Hot Seat.
So yes, anyone making it to the 'final 10' twice defies all laws of probability.. And yet, India TV has pictorial evidence to prove it.
The BSNL tangle
This is a picture of Prem Prakash Rai, Sub Divisional Engineer, BSNL, Bhopal. He appeared first on KBC in Episode 4 on August 12, 2005.
And the second time on Sept 12, 2005 in episode 15. This time he won Rs 20,000.
On the face of it, there has been a huge mess up. Rule no 1 of the 31 listed states:
Employees of the Company, the producers of the programme "Synergy Communications Pvt Ltd," the advertising agency which has been appointed from time to time, and all sub-contractors and agents rendering services in respect of the Competition, any sponsor; and members of their immediate family... are ineligible to enter the
Lines of this kind drafted by the 'legal department' are a standard part of all competitions. Wonder whether the auditor was given a specfic LIST of companies whose employees were persona non grata.
As per official statistics, 7.5 crores of the 10 crore calls received were through BSNL.
BSNL happens to have 3.5 lakh employees... Wonder whether they get free calls from home and office. If so, they probably did just that in their 'spare time' (which is never lacking in a PSU!).
That would be simple 'misuse' of faclities. More worrying is possible manipulation of the system. After all offficals such as Shri R L Dubey, Director (Planning), BSNL have stated on record that calls made from PCOs, office board lines and any other telephone lines (other than BSNL/ MTNL) would not be considered valid entries.
For both image and profit reasons, BSNL needs to provide some answers.In July 2005 BSNL had already raked in over Rs 4 crore or 32 lakh per day by routing KBC2's tele-voting calls from across the country.
Any breach of trust would surely affect future revenues of this nature!
And what was Star TV doing? Whatever the angle at BSNL, at the end of the day the organisers are to blame for actually allowing BSNL employees to appear on KBC. You can't shrug off 9 such instances as an 'oversight'.
"Shaayad Star TV ko yeh jaankaari maloom nahin thi... ," suggested india TV's Rajat Sharma. Then adds,"Magar unki website par har participant ke details maujood hain. Woh kahaan ka rehne waala hai... kahaan kaam karta hai etc etc"
As regards the same person appearing twice on air, Rule no 17 states: Contestants can make it only once to the Fastest Finger First round for any Show in a Schedule.
So the channel may be able to defend itself by saying that those who made it to the final 10 twice were not picked in the *same* shooting schedule. It still appears fishy...
Especially because to ensure 'fair representation' the rules further stipulated a quota for women (2 out of 10 in every episode at least). There was a regional quota as well to ensure participants were drawn from throughout the country.
Under those circumstances the chances of making it twice in the final 10 appear all the more remote!
Auditor, where art thou?
The FAQ section on the KBC 2 website contains the following query:
There are touts and so called influential people who claim they can get me an entry directly into the show. How true is this?
Answer: There is only one way to get on to KBC 2 - by qualifying through the phone lines, as described in the rules. There is no question of bypassing this process, and contacts have no role to play at all in gaining entry into the contest. It is a fair process, closely monitored by independent auditors.
Well, these independent auditors were the venerable KPMG . What exactly was their job defintion? Who set up the systems to execute the selection process? Who oversaw its functioning??
Since KBC is a franchise of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' it should be following the same selection process. Has the Mother Brand faced any such issues??
It is still unclear who was ultimately responsible for the selection of contestants. Was ir Star TV or producers Synergy Communications (owned by Siddhartha Basu)? Or was the task outsourced to a third party??
As Amitabhji would have said sahi option ko 'lock kiya jaaye'...
Why it matters
You might say, it's just a gameshow - why get so worked up? The truth is it far more than that. Combine the lure of winning one crore with that of interacting with India's biggest Bollywood actor and you have 'the Dream of a Lifetime'.
At one level it was luck - but once you made it to the Hot Seat, it was all about your soojh boojh. Your General knowledge, of course. But also your ability to handle pressure, your presence of mind.
Unlike other game shows, on KBC2 anyone who won a few lakhs really 'earned' it. KBC2 was perceived to be a merit based game show where luck played only a facilitating role - not a decisive one.
Coupled with the grace and gravity of its host Amitabh Bachchan, KBC2 was synomymous with the 'high standards' that every Indian wishes to see in public life.
If those standards were in fact diluted, it feels like a betrayal of faith. A loss of innocence. A lack of decency.
Mild aftershock... so far
Although the rotten eggs may have been few in number (and none of them won significant amounts on the show), the fact that they did make it on air is not just egg but fully cooked omlette on Star TV's face. Naturally, India TV has been trying to gain as much mileage as possible.
This includes its trademark rabble rousing anchoring. "Dekhiye kis tarah Star TV ne hazaaron laakhon darshakon ke jazbaaton ke saath khilwaad kiya. Chaliye aapko Patna le chalte hain... "
In Patna a 'member of the public' appeared to be reading a speech from a paper (written down for him by whom?) expressing his shock and anger. Junta accosted on the roads of Mumbai were a little more natural and convincing. The channel claims messages from 'lakhs' of viewers are pouring in...
But the story has not had a major impact yet... Being an India TV expose, no rival TV channel covered it. And being the day after Republic Day there were no papers this morning.
Midday had featured the story on page 1 yesterday but again, most folks missed it, as it was a national holiday and Mid-day is more of an office/ commuting paper than home delivery.
It remains to be seen whether media will take up the story or keep mum. As the show is now officially 'over' in any case, they may choose not to antagonise Star TV.
Every dog has his day
India TV is one those those channels most of us never tune into, just taking in nano-second darshans of it as we surf by. I for one made several efforts to consign it to the nether regions of my 100 channel television. But the Cable Guy seems to believe every underdog deserves a chance and keeps fiddling with the order.
He may be right.
Every channel can come up with something to hold the viewer's attention. And every viewer can come up with something to draw the channel's attention.
This story was first brought to India TV's notice by a KBC crazed viewer based in Udaipur who has notes and details of every episode ever telecast. From which contestant spent how many minutes on air to what suit Amitabh Bachchan was wearing on a particular day.
KBC mein chahe number na aaye, citizen reporter ki haisiyat mein ab aapka bhi number as sakta hai. Some consolation huh!
Give us four options or four hundred, we'd still vote for a clean, untainted KBC!