Two Three little words: Kaun Banega Crorepati and Shah Rukh Khan. KBC and SRK. One is the Star TV show that rewrote television history six years ago and the other is the film star who made Bollywood history more than ten years ago.
Whether the two of them together will write a fresh chapter in entertainment history or not, no one knows as yet. But for the moment, here is the one and only King Khan on Kaun Banega Crorepati – without any breaks. Yeh raha aapka pehla sawaal...
You’ve introduced a lot of humour and fun into the show…
I’m like that, I like to joke. People who don’t know me think I’m being a smart ass, but I really believe in the three Hs of life – humour, hard work and honesty. Not just in entertainment but also in real life. I joke with my kids all the time. In my live shows too, I interact a lot with people on stage, it makes them feel good.
And it’s never done offensively. I can laugh at myself. There was a contestant who said, “I don’t like you.” I answered, “Maybe you’ll like me by the end of the show!” Before I took up KBC, I read up a lot about it.
Do you know that in the first reviews of the show, it was described as the “funniest show” on TV?
I usually sit with the contestant about 15 minutes before the show and I tell them, “Laugh with me, laugh at me!” There is a hidden funny side to most of them.
Some questions are themselves funny. You know, like, which of the following is a kind of dance? And one of the options in the answers could be ‘Bathroom!” Of course the questions go from easy to difficult, but even if you don’t know the answer, you can still have fun, can’t you?
I’m going to bring in little items every ten or 12 episodes. I have a few minutes of time exclusively to myself on each show, so I’m going to utilise it to do my own thing.
How much is rehearsed and how much is spontaneous?
Lots of the banter is completely impromptu. It unfolds as the show is going on. I’m suddenly told, “Go for a break now” and I need to say it differently each time. Sometimes I may say something really silly, but I let it go.
The technical part of the show is actually quite complicated. There are certain things I have to say at certain times. I have to state the rules, I have to give the value of the question when I ask a question.
I have to say which question the contestant is on. All the information is there on the screen, but I have to know where that information is. I rehearsed for about seven or eight days to get used to all that.
Amitabh Bachchan’s big plus was that he was totally on the contestant’s side. It was him and the contestant versus Computerji. That was one of the big things that worked for him in KBC…
Actually, that’s the easiest part of the show and that’s the only way you can be. Anyone who knows how contestants actually get to that hot sea can’t help but be on their side.
When you see a contestant from Tikamgarh who owns a chai stall, who wants to use the prize money to get his daughter educated, who has sent over 20,000 messages to get to KBC, who got an opportunity to go to Dubai but didn’t go because he was finally called for the show – how can you not be on his side?
It’s not about money, it’s about achievement. It’s about KBC being the highest point in somebody’s life. It’s not just a game.
Why do you give away your watch to contestants?
When Guggy (one of the contestants in the first week) lost, I had this watch Tag Heuer had given me. It was probably worth as much as the value of the question he was on. I gave it to him in a completely spontaneous gesture.
Then there was this 19-year-old kid who was nervous as hell. He was taking a lot of time to answer the questions. I gave him a watch too. I’ve told Tag that they had better give me about 40 watches which I want to just give away.
When Guggy crashed, I felt so terrible, I wanted to cry, he was such a sweetheart. I told him, like I tell everyone, give me a hug and go.
I encourage contestants to think aloud because that can help them. Sometimes, they’ve forgotten that they have a lifeline, so I remind them.
Films or TV? What’s tougher?
In films, even one film can sometimes make or break you. Here, you can tweak things as you go along. It’s a highly professional set-up. The stakes are so high.
There’s so much work that goes into KBC, right from the lighting of the set to getting the contestants into Mumbai, taking care of the entire unit’s food etc. I’m a sort of important cog in this whole machine. If I fall ill, it’s a problem for everyone! Episodes have to be canned on time.
What really made you decide to do KBC?
Star asked me to do the show in August-September. I told them that I would consider it only if Mr Bachchan was not doing the show. Then they told he had said ‘No’ for reasons best known to himself. I don’t go into all this. They called me on the 27th November. I was in Australia and I told them that I was coming back on the 7th December and would meet them. We met and I said yes. And I began rehearsing.
Why did I say yes? It is a great show, Sameer (Nair) and Siddharth Basu are old friends (I know Siddharth from my Delhi days, we were both part of Barry John’s theatre group). The money was good, it was a show that could afford a big star. I love reading and finding out things. I play this game called ‘It’s Cool To Be Smart’ with my kids. I’m not new to TV. Everything fitted in. So I agreed.
How did you cope with all the media speculation about you versus Amitabh Bachchan?
I really don’t think about all this. No one can do what Mr Bachchan has done – in films or TV. He does his own stuff, I do mine. I’ll continue to do what I have done for 17 years. I’ve got appreciation, I’ve got criticism. People have said I’m a fluke, I’m only an NRI hero, I stammer, I don’t have a great body, I can’t dance, I’m a smartass. But I must be doing something right to be where I am. So – as an American saying goes – if it ain’t broke, why fix it? I have faith in my own work, my own talent.
When all these comparisons are made between Mr Bachchan and me, I actually feel bad for the show. Because it’s a great show, the anchor is just like the cherry on the cake.
You call a lot of the contestants tu or tum. Do you think it could be construed as offensive?
Actually, it’s difficult for me to say tu or tum to anyone. I’ve been brought up a little in Urdu. I would never say that to anyone older than me. Even in my films, I never call my mother tum. But I use tu or tum when I’m talking to participants who are younger than I am. I also tell them not to call me Mr Khan. Say ‘Freeze kar do, Shah Rukh,’ I tell them. I try and make it all a bit informal.
Do you think you talk too much on the show?
Maybe I do sometimes. See, it’s like this. There is no time limit for the contestants in which to answer questions. Sometimes they take 20 minutes. So Siddharth tells me, ‘Say something to them, so that they think aloud.’ I have to keep talking. When the show is edited, the editors keep some of the lines. So it seems as if I’m talking a lot.
In my head, I see it like a 15-question film. In the first seven questions or so, which are the easier ones, I talk a lot. After the first four or five questions, the contestants become relaxed.
In questions six or seven, I start easing off. From questions eight to 12, there is more drama. I know there are still some rough edges. I’m working on them!