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‘I’m actually looking for a hero’

Rajiv Lakshman uses Chankyaneeti, Game Theory and the Bhagvad Gita to explain his show, The Player. It’s the only reality show in India where there are no eliminations, he says.

tv Updated: Jan 19, 2010 15:49 IST
Nikhil Taneja

Rajiv Ten people vying for Rs one crore. To win, a contestant needs to convince all other participants to vote for him. But the show seems more complex than that.

It’s a problem without a solution. Because the need for money of those 10 people exceeds the imagination. One model is the son of an alcoholic autorickshaw driver in Delhi. One girl needs money because her brother is suffering from chronic epilepsy. One boy needs the money because his sister was involved in an MMS scandal with a gangster, and he wants to shift his family elsewhere. These guys will not back out of money.

Chanakya gave a four-part strategy for such a problem in the book, Chanakyaneeti. It’s called ‘Saam, daam, dand, bhed’, which means ‘To convince, to bribe, to intimidate or to use politics’. So even if they make a strategy, which is working for them, I’ll come in, and change the stakes. And every time they don’t come up with a unanimous decision, there’ll be a serious penalty. The game begins at impossible, and then gets even more complex.

So how do you make sure they never come to a unanimous decision?

(Chuckles) I don’t. The contestants do. You are talking about probability but I’ll tell you about game theory. What are the chances of you giving me Rs one million right now? Probability says there is a chance. But in human behaviour, there is none. Game theory is an evolved science that tests human behaviour in groups of ten or more. You winning the game depends on the choices of others.

Is the format of the show inspired by the American show, Unanimous?

The concept is from Unanimous, but the treatment, sensibilities and the attitude is ours. It’s interesting because it’s the only reality show in India where there are no eliminations. And the winner will earn the youth’s respect. Because he’ll be the player who’ll have the killer instinct, presence of mind, charm, personality and attitude to survive in an impossible game. I want to give the youth a role model like them – who doesn’t play by the book and makes his/her own rules.

In Roadies, you and your brother, Raghu Ram, would persecute people who’d play games. In this show, it’s the opposite.

It’s called evolution. In Mahabharata, Arjun said to Krishna, ‘When my brothers lost our kingdom and our wife and got 14 years of exile, I wanted to kill them but you stopped me. You asked me to go to the exile because family comes first. And now, at Kurukshetra, you are asking me to massacre my family.’ Krishna told him that ‘What’s necessary is correct. At that time, you didn’t need to kill anyone. Now, you need to." In the same way, playing games was not necessary in Roadies. But if I put you in an impossible situation, can I blame you for playing it?

What about integrity?

I’m not asking them to lose their integrity. I want them to succeed with values. I have my own personal commandments that also apply to the shows I do. And if they disagree, that’s because only losers say life is unfair. My commandments are simple. Never disrespect a woman. Never intimidate or hurt a person weaker than you. Never use force when it is not necessary. But when it is necessary, you’ll be a wimp to back out. Don’t be a bystander on the highway of life. Don’t be inconsequential in whatever you do. Make careful choices of your enemies. And when you do, destroy them. But keep your dignity intact.

When I ask you to play the game, I don’t mean bitch or connive. But if that’s how you can succeed, then fine. As long as you don’t give up. Life will give you 1000 reasons to give up at every point. But the people who fight all this and succeed nevertheless, they are the real players. It’s not that they lack integrity – but they have the killer spirit.

Even on this show, it seems that people look forward to ‘getting screwed’ by you. Are you comfortable with this persona you created during Roadies?

(Laughs) Well, it makes me more effective on my job. There have been dramatic, emotional moments in the show where people have actually lunged at each other aggressively. At that time, I just have to shout ‘Stop’ and they listen. My persona helps me maintain decorum.

You know, the philosophy of the show is complex. Some viewers will feel that I’m promoting backbiting and politics. But I’m actually looking for a hero – a person who rises above and fights these things.

Will you now be working with both MTV and Channel [V]?

(Laughs) I’m the player. I’ll work with both channels and even for GECs. There are some big shows coming up soon. Talks are on.

Are you and your brother, Raghu, working on something together now?
Raghu and I are always involved in each other’s projects on a personal level. But our lives are taking different directions at the moment. It becomes difficult for us to find time. Also, we’ve reached that stage where it may be too expensive for both of us to work on the same thing. We are always looking to work together, but we are not an ‘exclusive’ team that only works with each other.