Friday, January 27, 2006

Kaun nahin banega crorepati

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!

More questions
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!


  1. no rashmi probably higher standards wouldn't appeal to indian populace. Leave aside degrees, what would be the GK level of an average indian? Its all hiphop stuff, publicity, fame, and marketing thats playing the game. Donno how can 'quality control' be asked for in such a show with such audience!
    Oh between thats about that last part... regarding all those 'daal mein kala hai' speculations - I have never watched a single episode - least interested hence do not care how bad they wanna screw the scene ;-)

    Good excitement for an average indian household - hard to accept its actually entertaining - for me there are better things to watch.

    Take for example, this USO (United School's Organisation) GK Quiz - some branch of UNESCO - no one ever went crazy for it or for that matter BQC on the idiot box. [between have once secured a 99th global rank in USO Quiz :>:>]

  2. Hello Ms Bansal, When I started to read your blog I knew that you had to befrom the media fraternity. Well I am an amatuer in your group. I work with Jetwings Magazine in Delhi and I have read JAM.

    You are right, i missed the story too and I think this issue should be taken up pretty seriously. I am not a fan of KBC at all, like Ashish, but I am a big fan of such scams. I am a die hard fan of IE.

    If you have the time, please go through my stories on my blog -
    I would like to mail you my CV too, but only if you think I can fit in.


  3. Hi Rashmi,

    Thanx for picking on the issue, which everyone is bent to give a pass... extremely well written.

    This is a fraud on a monumental scale. Previously guys like Siddharta Basu, Amitabh were looked upon as incorruptible but even idols have feets of clay !!

    How can these fellows stay silent(if they were unaware). Couldn't Amitabh/Siddhartha have easily spotted a repeater contestant. Couldn't they have vetted the contestant properly.

    This is akin to the major QUIZ SCANDAL which rocked America in the 1950's.

    Amitabh is bound to lose his personal credibility and the brand he endorses.

  4. I dont quiet understand this thing. One news channel comes up with something and all the others choose to ignore it in such a pathetic way that they wont even have those east-to-west moving one liners abt it. I as a viewer who catches up with more than one news channel feel wronged when an imp news is skipped jus bcoz someone else caught the news earlier. I remember the first of its kind exception was made when aajtak reported an attack over 2 female star news reporters.....and i was like....yes, they have moved on.....but no, they have not.

  5. just the one question.....I have no degree of bizness admiistration to boast of but my natural-marwari-buisness instincts tell me that it doesnt make any gud bizness sense either....does it??

  6. I would be really glad if they publish the "randomness" algorithms used in step 2, 3 and 4.

    Also, one needs to consider the situation when not enough participants qualify for round 3 and 4. What if only 10 people manage to clear round 2 (not a big deal if you consider the number of people failing fastest-finger round)? Will they still insist on further rounds and possibly eliminate more contestants? (Haven't read the rules, so pardon the ignorance, if any.)

    I find this reason (participant selection fraud) too frivolous to take the show off the air. If Star is aware of the problem, fixing it should be trivial.

  7. Honestly, this might be true, but does it really matter. Sure, the BSNL and MTNL guys can rig the phone-ins, and they might have, Star should acknowledge the problem and fix it. Or maybe they got a better 'revenue sharing' model in excahnge for letting random people in on the show. Too many 'kon'spiracy theories out there.
    Do I think most game shows are fixed? Yes.
    Does that fact let me not sleep at night? Nope.
    And Bluffmaster, I think this won't do jack to the image of the Big B. You see, for me, a party determined to corrupt the sense of democracy in India clinging to power is more impoartant than some game show.

  8. Well it is a very sad ending to a game show that has inspred millions of indians. i myself is a big fan of KBC but the crediblity of all other Game shows on idiot box is also in question.

    But a big applause to Big B who quit the show when he realized what was going on.

  9. I watched the first KBC in India, compared to the Australian version of the show the questions in KBC are much much simpler.

    It took 6 years here before anyone won the million compared to KBC where some one won in a year.

  10. When you watch the celebrities participating in KBC, one for sure knows that the process is not transparent. John,Bipasha have looks but not brains..Yet, they "won" some money for a charity. This was expected.:). If I had got a chance to participate at KBC, I for sure would have made some money for sponsoring my education.!

  11. For the BSNL part i think The telecome minister Mr.Maran needs to speak-7.5 crores of calls out of 10 crores-crazy-even if you consider 1 rupee per call 7.5crores of public money has been

  12. Anonymous8:04 PM

    Hello Rashmi,the story is certainly mind-blowing and shocking.even after the 4 steps you mentioned,lakhs of people were stood no chance of making there,when such fishy things were happening.the photographs are a indication that people were fooled.
    i am hoping some sort of explanation might be on it's way or may be i am expecting too much in a place where public memeory is short .

  13. Frankly Rashmi

    I think the story is a waste of lot of space - even for blogosphere.

    While the revelations might be true - but it does not seem to be monumental scam or any thing even close to that. It is possible that some of these guys did manipulate to find their way to the hot seat - unfairly. But prima facie their does not seem to be a case against the organisors or Star TV. When you are dealing with a few lakhs of applications daily - they did a decent job of being fair. The incosistencies pointed out might be too small & is possible even when one tries to monitor the cases.

    Forget it - this might look juicy but there isn't any juice in this.


  14. Interesting storyline. If there is some truth in this allegations they need to be invested properly. All throughout India people watch this show, hoping that the participants will win money and moreover they themselves will get a chance to feature in the show. Whether that will ever get fulfilled or not is a different matter altogether.

  15. Uhm..cant say that i was too shocked to find such a revelation but u do expect a certain level of integrity and transparenct when a show of such magnitude is being screened.Plus it has the added bonus of being associated with the Big B who for some reason instills a false sense of security(in relation to credibilty) in us!

    Another thing, does anyone else feel that shows with celebs are rigged...rigged as in ..somewhat pre-planned..i dont know about the new ones but the old ones where i saw shah rukh etc, was just too obvious.They make it to 1crore or a sum just below that...and they conveniently donate it all to charity!

  16. I have not seen much of KBC2 since I am in US of A. But just a quick look at the 2 snaps you have posted here seem to be quite you think they are docterd snaps ??

  17. Well am a quizzer; earlier i had participated in Synergy's Mastermind and from that database got a call for their Kammzor kadi kaun..

    Well i was in an episode of Kammzor kadi kaun whch was never telecast as it ws taken off air due to bad ratings..but from the incidents during shooting i can say with conviction that it was FIXED. - but KKK format was supposed to be like that !But I wouldnt be surprised if KBC too is fixed..

  18. Exchange4media reports: Matters are far from over in the spat between STAR India and India TV following the ‘Breaking News’ exposé done by the latter on January 26, 2006 about alleged manipulations in shortlisting candidates for ‘KBC2’. On Wednesday, India TV filed a legal notice on STAR India and ‘Mumbai Mirror’, demanding an apology for carrying an article that it claims is defamatory and erring on facts.

    The legal notice has named Meenal Baghel, Editor, ‘Mumbai Mirror’, Subhash K Jha, columnist, Sameer Nair, COO, STAR India, and Deepak Sehgal, EVP-Content, as Respondents.

    The reason for the legal notice is an article that appeared in Mumbai Mirror on January 28, written by Jha, in which Sehgal had called India TV “a scam”. Says the legal notice: “Noticee No. 4 (Sehgal)… has been further quoted in saying, ‘I’d say the word scam applies more to what India TV is doing, than to us. This is a desperate move by a channel anxious to be watched and if they are so sure of their facts, why didn’t they approach us…

  19. Anonymous12:28 PM

    Interesting story...Used to watch the earlier, cudn't follow the IInd one.

  20. This is very interesting. It looks like a good expose but I am not sure if something will be dome about it considering the fact that it didn't get too much coverage as you mentioned. I hope it does because Amitabh is known for his integrity and honesty and his programme should reflect those same values.

  21. if an official quantitative expose needs to be made, guess Steven Levitt of 'Freakonomics'fame needs to be brought in....but i must say that u have made a pretty good attempt...

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