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It's quiz time, Siddharth

Quiz master Siddhartha Basu is all set to grill pre-teens in his show

Siddharth Basu:looking for India's Child Genius

QUESTIONS IN brisk baritone, reeled off with impeccable diction, in a no-nonsense, just-give-me-the-answer manner. Blue "intelligent lights". 360-degree camera work. Ticking clocks. Nail biting finishes — they all bear the signature of ace quizmaster Siddhartha Basu. Now 320 of the country's brightest kids between 10 and 12 years get geared up for India's Child Genius, his new quiz show on StarWorld that looks for India's smartest kid. As the show hits the air, the man who brought quizzing to your living room is amazed at how many Indians enjoy the mindsport.

How has the Indian quizzing scene changed from Quiz Time to now?

There's more happening now than ever before. TV has been a powerful populariser. More exposure to reading material, the Internet, CDs, and radio has increased access to information. Also, the amount of quizzing activity around the country is phenomenal.

How different is it to work with a public and private broadcaster?

Private channels really publicise the show. In case of ICG, very high rotation promos were run, entries were called for... Even though this is very much a "brains" programme and thus, a segmented one, the support from the broadcaster has been exceptional. But you don't have this proactive approach when it comes to a public broadcaster, where you are just one in a line of supplicants. Your programme is your problem. As far as they are concerned, your programme is just another dusty file among thousands lying around. There is a huge difference in attitude and levels of motivation in doing what you are trying to do.

But wouldn't a channel like DD reach out to a larger audience in the country?

It does. It has a huge responsibility, which it approaches in a very desultory, bureaucratic fashion. This is no attitude to have in a dynamic media like TV. BBC is another public service broadcaster. But programme for programme, they slug it out with the most commercial channels. And they combine popular appeal with public interest and manage it very well. BBC is a truly autonomous organisation. So it really depends on how an organisation is run.

Should people mix big bucks and quizzing?

I think there's room for both. Just as in any activity. You play Mastermind and University Challenge only for prestige. You can take a purist attitude and say: "Look, cricketers should just play cricket because it's a gentleman's game." At the same time, if somebody invests time and energy in doing something professionally and plays for large prizes, there should be room for that as well.

But for a show such as India's Child Genius, are monetary rewards the right way to go?

I think the money encourages children to do better. Good education costs a bomb. The children have the freedom to invest on education.

The eligibility criterion for India's Child Genius was an academic track record of above 80 per cent. How does this really tell you if the child is a genius?

The show is broadly based on the original Fox format show, The Challenge of the Child Geniuses. In America, there is a procedure that recognises geniuses and puts them on a fast-track educational system. But in India, there is no such system that recognises a bright kid. The most objective benchmark in the preliminary round was, thus, academic performance.

But it eliminated 20,000 applicants who might be geniuses outside the classroom...

We looked at kids who are doing very well in school, across subjects. That could possibly exclude potential geniuses in a particular subject. This show cannot be all things to all people. But we spread our net as widely as possible and hope that we have picked the smartest kids in India. Hopefully, there will be lots of others with thousand times the intellect as those we have on our show. Let's root for them. There will be other forums for these children.

What about geniuses who do not speak English?

The show is on an English channel. So the kids have to converse in English.

We could do it in 28 official languages and 5,000 dialects, but I'm yet to see a programme that does all of that.

Who is a genius according to you?

The dictionary meaning of the term is "a person having a natural ability for something". Though a person with excellent aptitude for music, sport, or language is also a genius, in the show, we go by mental faculties. We also look at reasoning, verbal skills, problem solving, cognitive ability, etc.. I think academic performance includes all this.

When you exclude such a large section, do you have to call an A grade student who speaks English "India's genius"?

The title of the original programme is the Challenge of the Geniuses. We took it from that. Secondly, it is a legitimate usage of the word "genius". The psychological usage of the word is of exceptional academic and mental ability. The term is used in two ways here — India's child genius and the child geniuses of India.

In a show where it is the individual in the spotlight, isn't the child under more pressure?

An individual being quizzed needs to dig into his own resources. As for the pressure, the selection process is geared to pick an individual who is comfortable with competition. These kids are used to doing it on their own.


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