They locked their final answers and waited with bated breath for Computerji to tell them their fate. And then there was a star burst. Celebrity status. National respect. Pots of money.
It’s been 14 years since the TV quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) first held India spellbound. The show changed the way we saw television. Its host, Amitabh Bachchan, defined how Indian TV hosts should be. And the prize money – a dazzling Rs 1 crore 14 years ago, and a mindblowing Rs 5 crore now – changed the lives of its winners.
Or did it? Did the money really make the winners’ lives better? Did it buy them happiness?
“For a year after the win, I lived the life of a rock star”
Harshvardhan Nawathe, 40, winner, season 1
His father was in the Indian Police Service (IPS) and Harshvardhan Nawathe was studying for the civil services exam himself when KBC began. A quiz programme on TV was an attractive proposition for an IPS aspirant. So he’d watch the show and answer the questions along with the contestants, getting them right all the time. Till, one night, his mother said, “If you know all this, why do you just sit on the couch and answer? Why don’t you sit on the hot seat?”
So he did. While the show was on, he sent in a correct entry to one of the viewer questions that are asked at regular intervals and sure enough, was called in for auditions. In 2000, Nawathe made history as KBC’s very first winner, and the first ever person in the country to win such a massive amount on TV at the age of 27. Few people remember the names of the winners on other seasons of KBC. But everyone remembers the name of the show’s first winner.
The Rs 1 crore he won, says Nawathe, was important. But the fame he acquired along with it was unimaginable. “For a year, I lived the life of a rock star,” he laughs. He was hounded for autographs, courted by parents of wannabe brides, recognised everywhere he went. It was surreal and fantastic. But it also had its side effects. “I lost my focus and didn’t take the civil services’ exam,” says Nawathe.
Also read: Amitabh thrilled to have multiple crorepatis
Fortunately, he comes from a middle-class family with practical values, so Nawathe used his prize money to further his education, finishing an MBA from a university in Edinburgh, UK. He also bought his first car (a Maruti Esteem) and a house in Mumbai.
“I had earned every bit of it, so I was proud of it,” he says. That was 14 years ago. Nawathe, now married, with two children, works with Mahindra & Mahindra and lives the regular corporate life. But the fame of being the winner of the first KBC crore hasn’t diminished. Neither has the glory of being known as a man who made money purely because of his knowledge and IQ. “That made all the difference,” says Nawathe.
“The money bought me my dreams – a big house and my own fashion label”
Sanmeet Kaur, 38, winner, season 6
She had a degree in fashion design. But her conservative Mumbai-based in-laws didn’t want her going out to work. That could have been that for Sanmeet Kaur, except that she really wanted to be more than a homemaker. So she started a tiffin service, supplying lunch dabbas to office goers. But then she had an accident that left her bed-ridden for six months. Unable to cook, Kaur had to stop her business.
“That left me very depressed,” she says.
It was on her husband’s suggestion that she started tutoring children. And, because she was a general-knowledge enthusiast herself, as part of the learning chart she’d created for her pupils, she urged them to watch KBC.
“The show was so good,” says Kaur. “I seemed always to be learning from the show.”
One day, on a whim while watching TV, Kaur sent an SMS answering the question asked as an entry qualifier for KBC. The next thing she knew, she was on the hot seat. And she won Rs 5 crore. “I was sure I could win about Rs 25-30 lakhs, but not more,” says Kaur.
Kaur made history as the first woman to win Rs 5 crore. And the money bought her all her dreams. A bigger house in Mumbai with all the amenities was her first buy. But she also opened her own fashion studio.
Also read: What makes KBC work?
“That was really my dream come true,” says Kaur. “I started my own label, Phir Desi Fashion, in partnership with an old friend. Though I am in Mumbai, the studio and manufacturing unit are in Delhi. My friend manages those while I concentrate on exhibitions and taking the brand forward.”
For Kaur, life in the past year has been a roller coaster ride. From being a middle-class homemaker in a conservative family, she is now a heavily socialising entrepreneur. Someone even her in-laws are proud of. “They think I know it all!” she says, laughing.
“I could get my partially blind daughter treated”
Taj Mohammed Rangrez, 40 winner, season 6
He was most nervous about KBC’s qualifying round – the Fastest Finger First. “I had never operated a computer in my life, so I really had no clue what to do. I had to practise a million times before I finally sat at the machine. But then I managed,” says a beaming Taj Mohammed Rangrez.
Once on the hot seat though, nothing stopped him. Rangrez went on to win the glorious amount of Rs 1 crore. He could have had a shot at the bumper Rs 5 crore question, but didn’t want to risk what he’d already won.
“I didn’t know the answer and I couldn’t afford the risk. So I quit,” he says.
But after that Rs 1 crore got to his bank account, Rangrez found there was lots he could afford. This was a kind of money he’d never been able to envision before. “I didn’t even know how many zeroes were in a crore,” he laughs.
The first thing he did was begin treatment for his partially blind daughter. “Finally, I could afford it,” he says. “This was my biggest task. It is very painful for a father to be helpless when his children need help. Nothing can be more heart-breaking. But now I am not that helpless.”
In fact, Rangrez is a helpful sort. When two orphan girls in his village needed to be married, Rangrez paid for their weddings. And he did it exactly the way he would for his own daughter – with arrangements for more than a thousand guests and all the trappings of an Indian wedding. And of course, he also bought a house and made some investments as well.
Based in Kanore, a hamlet in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district, Rangrez lives with his mother, wife, sister and daughter. He decided to enter KBC when he first learned about it after its third season, which was when his family got a TV. Of course, he is still hooked to the show and is eagerly awaiting the next season.
“That Rs 1 crore gave me a new life, self-belief and confidence”
Rahat Taslim, 37, winner, season 4
She was an ordinary homemaker from a conservative, lower-middle-class Muslim household, decently happy, living with her husband and two children in Giridih, Jharkhand. That wasn’t what she’d wanted to be however. Taslim was studying to appear for her medical entrance exams when her family decided it would be better for her to marry, and that was the end of her career aspirations.
But though Taslim uncomplainingly managed her household on her husband’s meagre income as a government employee, she knew she was meant for bigger things. So when KBC started, she was hooked.
“I loved the show. It wasn’t just the big money. It was like going back to my studies,” she says. Always a good student, Taslim decided to participate in KBC herself.
She did. And she won. She used the prize money of Rs 1 crore to buy herself a new life. A risk taker to the core, after setting aside some money for her children’s education, Taslim invested a big chunk of the prize money in a business of her own, even though her husband and family were against it.
“They said I wouldn’t be able to manage a business. But I was adamant.”
And so Taslim opened a garment showroom in a newly opened mall in Giridih in 2012. Though still in its teething stage, the business is doing fairly well. “I used my prize money to prove myself and I succeeded.”
The Rs 1 crore has given Taslim the life she wanted. But more important, she says, it gave her confidence and self-belief. “That was my greatest win.”
From HT Brunch, July 27
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch