Television

BBC World readies launch of new series of 'Mastermind India 2001'

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The Siddhartha Basu-produced and presented Mastermind India, with its famous "Black Chair of Wits" that has seen contestants raring to test their knowledge since 1997 in India, begins a new series next month.

Now into its fourth year, the new series will begin airing on BBC World from 9 August 2001 announced Alistair Brown, director of operations for BBC World at Mastermind India - Media Special on Tuesday at south Mumbai's Oberoi Hotel.

The series will be aired every Thursday at 10:00 pm with three repeat telecasts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 pm, 10:00 pm and 8:00 pm respectively.

The 21-episode series will be shot in four historic places in India. Eight initial episodes of the series' preliminary round have already been shot at Metcalfe House in New Delhi. The series has received 2,700 entries from 215 cities and towns all over India - the maximum number of entries in past three years. Of them 64 have qualified.

After the finalists are listed, the contestants have to clear a short test series. "The test series is somewhat like the UPSC public service exams and this 'mini-UPSC' helps gauge the contestant's knowledge about the subject," says Basu. For the fourth series the qualifying test were conducted simultaneously at 21 different centres across the country.

"Nobody can come onto the programme unprepared. If anyone comes blind then it is very unlikely that they can give a decent performance," says Basu, giving a feel about the level of seriousness that the quiz is credited with. Helping organise the enormous task of providing content is a team of 10 to 11 people, of which six work full time on the research needed for the diverse topics that are selected. "It's an incredible amount of work," says Basu, considering the contestants have to select a topic which has not been taken before.

From there on, the 75-strong unit of Basu's Synergy Communications manoeuvres the studio equipment back and forth from the selected location. An online studio is set up on the location that, keeping with tradition, necessarily has to be a place of historical importance and connected to knowledge. On an average about Rs 3,00,000 goes into producing each episode but this too differs according to the distance travelled by the unit and the contestants.

Basu has personally selected the signature tune of 'Approaching Menace'. "The music is not what the original Mastermind has but the spirit and feel is the same. I wanted something very original. The music has an accompaniment of bells and "Manjeeras" that give it an Indian feel. The score has been done by Savant Dutta who, surprisingly, is an architect by training.

"Mastermind's mood is sombre, slightly menacing and confrontationist, its of a harsh interrogation but beyond what it seems on the surface we try to make it as much a fair encounter as possible," says Basu.

"There is no mileage or percentage in tinkering with something that is sound. There is nothing that I would like to change in this format. Otherwise it would a just another game and the character of Mastermind is what it is and it is essentially that. But what changes is the location and the people," Basu says, when asked

whether he had made any changes to the original format.

    

Siddhartha Basu, producer-presenter of Mastermind India

To celebrate the launch of the new series, a Mastermind India Media Special was organised as an initiative to let the media get a feel of what is it like to sit on the "Black Chair of Wits" and sustain the quiz, testing contestant's depth of knowledge in their selected topic.

Seven participants volunteered to participate. Tom Alter, Rahul Dacunha, and Cyrus Broacha were among the celebrity participants while Sunil Nair, (Indian Express), Sandeep Bamzai, (Business India) and Sandeep Unnithan (India Today) represented the media.

The stage was set. The ambience was dark and dramatic with 'Approaching Menace' being played before the question round began.

After following the actual format of series, it was Sandeep Unnithan of India Today - (chosen subject The Indian Navy - 1935 to 1998) and adman Rahul Dacunha (India-England Tests) who came out winners after the two rounds of quick-fire questions that lasted for two minutes each.

The first round was a specialised round where the questions were framed on the basis of the subject chosen by the participant, while the second was pure general knowledge.

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