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Sunday, May 13, 2001

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Kidding whom?


IT is difficult for a big guy to come down to the level of little guys and get it just right. When "Kaun Banega Crorepati" began last July viewers were bowled over by Amitabh's humility. His elaborate namastes, his use of words like Matashree, his bahut bahut dhanyavads. But now that we are into pati patnis, his MCP (male chauvinist pig) slip is showing. The delicate looking young woman from Orissa who along with her husband became a crorepati last week was also treated with elaborate courtesy, but there were those references to "bachche ki palan poshan", and wisecracks about "do belan padege ghar mein". And the patronising suggestion that they were winning because of her. Actually it was clear that the different areas of expertise husband and wife had helped them hit the jackpot.

With children last week Amitabh was jolly and hearty, breaking into some fairly corny verse, while the children were cool and collected. It took him a while to get the interaction right, and the questions too were kiddish. "Dennis very naughty chap, no?" Said Mr. Bachchan to a 15-year-old. He smiled indulgently at the Big B.

"Crorepati Junior" is a first for this genre. In all the countries to which "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" has been licensed, nobody has come up with an edition for children. There are too many questions it raises about the ethics of giving children large sums of cash. Star Plus has of course made elaborate arrangements to safeguard the money until the child comes of age, but does the world view a child differently when they know he is sitting on a large pile of cash? And when you refer to rupees as points, whom are you kidding?

"Crorepati Junior" is an effort to keep up coming up with permutations that will help the channel flog the formula as long as it can. Govinda on Sony has slipped down in the ratings far more rapidly that "KBC" did, and is now into "Saas Bahu" versions of "Chappad Phad Ke". Next we could have grandfathers and grandmothers, then we can move on to MPs and MLAs and in-between film stars are always good for a fallback. But the signs of the formula beginning to pall are unmistakable. The suspense was missing, perhaps the questions need to get tougher. And children or no children Mr. Bachchan, do shed that yellow suit.

E-mail electioneering: I get a plea in my e-mail from P. C. George who has decided he will address his campaign for the Kerala assembly elections to netizens as well. Trouble is, Mr. George, all those with Malayali names are a) not Malayalis, and b) do not live in your constituency.

Goodbye oratory: Sonia Gandhi's penchant for reading out her speeches is becoming infectious. Mr. Vajpayee, mighty orator of yore, read out his attack on Jayalalitha at a rally in Tamil Nadu, and his comrade in arms, Mr. Karunanidhi, was also seen clutching a paper to read from. Surely Jayalalitha can move him to deliver an extempore tirade?

Do not yank it off: Just as "Pradhan Mantri" on Zee was outgrowing out its heavy-handedness and becoming a very interesting serial to watch, constantly drawing on current political references, there comes the news that it is trailing behind "Ji Mantriji" in the ratings. So what? They are at different times, and are different genres. That Zee has reacted to the the ratings story was evident in the way they shot off faxes to journalists listing endorsements for the serial from people like Shyam Benegal and Pritish Nandy. But please do not yank it off the air. Viewers are entitled to a break from sob stories and family intrigues.

Indian folk music on the web: At www.beatofindia.com there is a new website dedicated to showcasing folk music. There are audio and video clips of the music, and profiles of artistes. Begun by a group of people with their voluntary contributions, it has initially showcased folk music of Uttar Pradesh, but intends to move on to other States. As the founders put it, the good thing about the web is that with relatively little money, you can promote causes that are not commercially attractive.

SEVANTI NINAN

E-mail the writer at sevantininan@vsnl.com

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