interview with quiz master and Synergy Communications Pvt Ltd managing
director Siddharth Basu
prefer reality to the unreality of soaps...'
on 31 January 2005
the 1980s, when Siddharth Basu used to go to Delhi's INA market
shopping for vegetables on a scooter on Sundays, people looked at
him curiously; some recognising him as the affable and knowledgeable
quiz master of the very popular Quiz Time on DD, while others were
unable to place him, but still gave him a second look. Today, when
Basu saunters into a room, still affable and down to earth, even
the P-3 types scramble to shake his hands, not to mention young
girls, who generally find the now balding quiz master still handsome
and date material.
shy Basu is hard to pin down for an interview, but he can be total
fun when in an expansive mood. Coming from a background that covers
theatre, radio jockeying, debating and psychedelic campus experiences,
today Basu uses all of his past to good use. His pauses are said
to be Dilip Kumar-ish, while his smile is said to be a deadly weapon
to disarm the toughest of guests who appear on his shows.
Basu lets wife Anita --- once upon a time a staffer with India Today
--- take care of the logistics of running and expanding the company,
he surfaces at the forefront only on TV screens. In between preparing
for a BBC World shoot on the outskirts of Delhi and encouraging
contestants and media people to down some vodka-filled golgappas
(an Indian preparation of flour with a hollow inside) at a small
party, Basu answers some questions (for a change) posed by Indiantelevision.com's
Excerpts from the conversation:
Considering you have done some high profile TV shows and began with
radio at All India Radio, what is your take on the industry today?
a medium that is exciting. I am not saying this because my company
is operating in this segment, but because I genuinely feel the medium
offers you the chance to do a lot of work and vent your creative
energies. However, I would also like to add in the same breath that
that the Indian TV industry is a nascent one and is going through
an evolutionary phase.
it can be said that your first shot at fame came through 'Quiz Time'
on Indian pubcaster Doordarshan in the 1980s. Any particular reason
why you haven't worked much with the mentor, if it can be described
Even I am wondering why this has happened as I would still love
to work with DD and Prasar Bharati. More so as my orientation is
towards public service broadcasting and it's a sad commentary that
good professionals find it difficult to work with the public service
broadcaster. The level of nepotism thriving in DD makes you feel
sometimes, where is the public service broadcaster heading?
you regret not being able to work with DD, considering that you
could offer so much to the national broadcaster in terms of programming
that would be entertaining, yet educative?
short, yes. I deeply regret not getting more chances to work with
DD and why I feel more sorry is the fact that we have held negotiations
for various type of programming, but have been unable to conclude
give you an example, an information-based programme was almost finalised
to be aired on DD with me even having meetings with the Prasar Bharati
board members and senior officials of DD. Everything was agreed
upon in principle, but the final letter giving the official green
signal did not come through.
not want to believe it when a senior Board member had cautioned
me on this. But his advice turned out to be so true. He had said
that till the time a final letter from DD is issued, nothing could
be taken as finalised. That is exactly what happened.
to make one thing clear here. My interest in working with DD is
not because I want to make money, which, by God's grace, is coming
in modest amounts from other assignments that the company undertakes.
I feel that private sector channels would not touch the type of
programming that the public service broadcaster can do or commission.
for instance, Tamas (a riveting serial based on a novel by
Bhism Sahni on the pains of India's Partition, which held the nation's
viewers spellbound when it was telecast on DD National). Tell me
which private TV channel would take up a serial based on an issue
like partition? I don't think the Star Plusses, Sonys and Zees of
the world would like to get into this area, not that these private
channels are doing a bad job. But there are certain things that
a public service broadcaster can only do and which DD doesn't seem
to be doing.
you think DD's performance or non-performance has contributed to
the phenomenal rise of private sector TV channels in India and to
the success of most of them?
I cannot but agree with this. Had DD, with its vast network and
other facilities at its disposal been more alert, it would have
made the establishment of private sector satellite TV channels that
much more difficult. DD could have not only given competition to
others, but also set standards for others to follow. Sadly, this
has not been the case, except for a brief period in the mid-1990s
when DD's entertainment channel DD Metro (wound up in 2003 to make
way for DD News) really gave the Stars and Zees of the world a run
for their money and, in the process, also earned handsome revenues.
need not be crass or puerile. It can be informative too as the likes
of BBC have shown. I feel that by abdicating its role as a true
public service broadcaster, DD has contributed to the success story
of private TV channels that abound, which otherwise could have remained
an alternate viewing and not primary viewing for the public as the
situation is today.
be fair to DD and Prasar Bharati, which manages DD and AIR, don't
you feel that political interference too has contributed to a degeneration
of public service broadcasting in India?
That also is true. But the managers of Prasar Bharati have to realise
that the public service broadcaster could not always be market driven.
At the same time, it also does not mean that dull and drab programming
should be aired. Look at the BBC, which has maintained a fine balance
between political pressure, commercial viability and quality programming.
In the process, it has also inspired the likes of ITV.
up of quiz shows? Certainly not'
DD hasn't done anything good for the industry, have the private
broadcasters done any good? What's your experience of working with
the likes of Star where market drives everything?
I would say private broadcasters have many positive aspects. For
example, most of them are not reactive, but pro-active. Decisions
are taken quickly and once taken, seldom changed. Of course, quite
a few would be TRP-driven, but then that is how they run their businesses.
My experience with private sector broadcasters has been very good.
by your feelings, would you be better off making and doing programmes
whose performances would not be judged by ratings? Are you afraid
of the TRPs?
I never said so. It's just that we have landed programmes that have
saved us, by and large, from the tyranny of TRPs. Whether those programmes
have been on Star One or Star Plus or BBC World, largely the ratings
have not affected our relationship with the broadcaster. However,
I must add that whatever ratings our programmes do get have been very
according to you, has been accepting assignments coming its way
and has not made efforts to go out to sell an idea to broadcasters.
Do you foresee this situation undergoing a change?
Over the next two years we do plan to diversify trying to tap some
other genre of programming. But they would mostly be in the non-fiction
segment. Up till now, we have not gone out and aggressively pitched
for programmes because we have been happy generating shows for the
likes of BCC (association now is of seven years), which are not
sort of programming is Synergy looking at doing in the future and
does it signify that you are fed up hosting quiz-based shows?
up of quiz shows? Certainly not. But coming to back to your other
query, we are looking at doing some reality-based shows for channels
in India. Maybe after successfully crossing this juncture, we will
look at fiction, but it would not be of the saas-bahu type. Still,
I don't see anything of that sort happening before at least five
don't you think that Indian TV channels are witnessing an overdose
of reality shows and that the novelty factor would wear off soon?
depends on how you approach reality shows. To me, truth has always
been more fascinating, making for more compelling viewing than fiction.
It also does not look like a passing fad to me. Of course, the craze
would plateau off after some years, but such shows would always
remain a part and parcel of the TV industry. Over the world such
reality shows work in a cyclical format, depending on what sort
of integrity such programming inspires. There have been some cases
of game fixing on some shows. I, personally, prefer reality to the
unreality of soaps.
reality TV can have negative effect too on people as losers are
made to feel wortless. Do you feel Indian viewers are mature enough
to take such things, keeping in mind that an Indianised version
of 'The Weakest Link' just did not go down well with Indian audiences?
Again, it depends on the spirit with which reality shows and
competition are taken. If it's all about competition, then it's
got to be sporting too. A healthy approach to competition is what
is needed and I feel that we tend to underestimate the Indian audience.
you consider yourself to be a successful professional who evolved
into an equally good entrepreneur?
have always considered myself to be a professional and tend to agree
with what my friends say that Bengalis do not make very good business
persons. But Synergy has grown from a small outfit to now employing
about 40 people. We are also looking at working out of Mumbai and
Delhi simultaneously so as to pitch for programmes more aggressively
over the coming months.
Would we see another software producer turning into a broadcaster,
a la Prannoy Roy and Raghav Behl (promoters of NDTV and Television
Prannoy and others are success stories and I do have high regards
for them. But, frankly speaking, the idea of being a broadcaster does
not excite me. I am quite content being a professional.
have been a theatre person. Do you still dabble in your favorite
past time now or regret not doing so?
I do regret not getting time for theatre and dramas as I used to
in the past. But, according to me, if something has to be done,
it should get my best. I know, at this time, I would not be able
to give time and energy to theatre, which it demands in the form
of dedication and rehearsals.
as I view it, even quizzing is all about drama. Look at Kaun
Banega Crorepati (the Basu-directed game show on Star Plus,
featuring Amitabh Bachchan, which is said to have been instrumental
in changing Star's fortunes in India with one stroke). Wasn't it
all about drama, suspense, and theatrics? It also featured Bachchan
saab. So, in a way, I make up the loss of the actual stage by getting
involved in TV programmes that have elements of drama.
is said that you have paved the way for a generation of quizmasters
in the country. How do you view competition?
me, more the merrier. I have seen some of the quizzers and feel they
are very good. But, I don't feel threatened.