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One more time...

Bachchan the boss

A couple of hours on the KBC sets at Mumbai's Film City and you realise you really can't blame the contestants for not winning enough money on the show. Come on, you can't possibly conjure up the water content of bananas when The Man has got his eyes on you. He may be chasing Bunty and Babli at a theatre near you, and mouthing 'give me red' during a commercial break, but when AMITABH BACHCHAN sits opposite you, well, you know why they call it the hot seat.

The man comes cheap, too! Yeah, you read that right. With him around, you don't need a floor manager to orchestrate applause from the audience ' he walks in and one hand finds the other. With him around, you are always ahead of time ' light patterns go on the blink, videotapes run out but he never messes his lines or misses a beat. With him around, you are confident that the channel won't need an audience poll to climb the TRP tree ' STAR Plus is enjoying a 120 per cent rise in its weekend viewership, powered by the larger-than-life quizmaster.

A quiet lunch in his special cottage, a quick scan through the missed calls and the 63-year-old is raring to roar again ' Chaliye aap aur hum khelte hain Kaun Banega Crorepati Dwitiya' But not before he goes through the script a good dozen times from behind the rectangular reading glasses ' making an adjustment here and there, clarifying the diction and making the lines his own. 'He goes on rehearsing till he's satisfied,' confirms producer Siddhartha Basu.

Then comes the thunderous entry ' no hoots, no whistles, just warm applause from the 200-strong audience. A wisecrack with the make-up guy, a handshake with the finalists, a word of advice for the roll-over contestant and he sinks into his seat. 'Ki kar rahe ho audience' he queries before getting into the quizmaster act that's single-handedly rewritten Indian television history.

Technology the titan

The man-machine conflict has been the subject matter for many a fictional tale but perhaps KBC owes its real success to the coming together of the two forces. If there's anything to match the Bachchan baritone, it is the incredible technical sheen that Basu's Synergy Communication and the STAR crew bring to the show.

As many as 400 people hang around the sets; they are the nuts and bolts of the well-oiled machinery. Designed by multiple-award-winning art director Nitin Desai, the set itself ' a permanent fixture throughout the shooting season ' is lit up by special lights that include moving heads and tubes imported from China and Hong Kong. The floor is made from see-through Belgian acrylic glass, re-imported for the second edition of the show.

Thanks to the best lenses in the industry, the otherwise tiny set looks huge on the small screen. One can't even make out that the two seats in the middle pop in and out from the floor through a hydraulic set-up not even present in some of the more flashy international versions of the game. 'STAR is also trying to introduce High Density cameras where the images are fed directly into the editing setup and you don't need tapes anymore,' reveals head of operations Karun Prabhakaran.

But nothing's more striking than Computerji, holding the key to what the country's biggest star says and does on the show. The screen in front of the QM is regulated by the real Computerji in the control room that runs on the special software created by Cat & Mouse, a subsidiary of Celador, the company holding the rights to the original game show. And Basu (whom Bachchan calls Babu) sits behind the machine and calls all the shots.

There are several messages sitting ready on the master desktop ' 'Can always use a lifeline', 'Spell out stakes', 'Hold answer till after break', 'Can leave with money' ' the beeping of which on Bachchan's screen prompts him to mouth likewise. So, the actor in Bachchan is playing out his longest part ' 390 hours, no less ' following every instruction from 'Babu'.

So, when Bachchan says, 'I'm just carrying out orders' Main to sirf naukar hoon,' for once, believe The Man. For this is the portrait of the superstar as a puppet.

'I am not so sure I play myself on the show'

Just after pack-up on August 24, the lights were turned back on and Amitabh Bachchan took the hot seat. Metro turned quizmaster:

Q KBC is big money for the contestants. KBC is great fun for the audiences. What is it for you'

Through KBC, I get an opportunity to meet with all the contestants who come from such different places in the country. I get to meet them from very close quarters. Getting to know them, their families, their dreams' That's a great experience. You see, being a celebrity, there's a distance that is created between the common man and people from our profession. Usually, we don't get to meet our fans that much. So, a show like KBC creates an opportunity to get the affection from all these people directly. You have seen the way they come up and talk to me' What else do I say' Main layak nahin hoon yeh sab ke'

Q Has KBC Dwitiya been umeed se dugna for you too'

Mere liye to yeh ek naukri hai. For me, whoever's on the hot seat is the celebrity. It's a very professional set-up and the umeed se dugna thing is a concept that STAR came up with when they decided to bring back the show. Kudos to the channel and to Siddhartha Basu in particular, for having planned the campaign and the show so well. Yeh sach much mein ek adbhut baat hai' The show may look very simple from outside but the kind of hard work that goes on behind it is amazing. The set-up is complicated ' you must have seen the control-room' it's a nightmare. God knows how this gentleman, Siddhartha, manages everything.

Q With so much money at stake, is KBC becoming a gamble of sorts'

The whole concept of KBC is much more than just a game show. There's a lot of human psychology that's involved. We don't bring anything extra. These are all copyrighted rules of the game as put down by Celador. We just have to follow them. We can't change anything.

Whatever you see is just a reincarnation or rather Hindi interpretation of the international show. It involves knowledge and, of course, gives you a chance to win some money, if you play well. And it also allows you to be part of television.

Q Are you doing anything different from the first edition of the show, apart from calling it Dwitiya'

Humne kuch nahin kiya. As you see, I am wearing the same clothes, saying the same lines. KBC 2 ka anuvad to dwitiya hua. Jab teen ayega to Tritiya kar denge.

Q So you are open to a third edition of the show'

That's a question you should ask STAR.

Q On the big screen, you play these different characters. Here on KBC, you play yourself. Which is more difficult'

I am not sure whether I am playing myself. I don't know actually' I am guided by so many rules and regulations and inputs from so many people.

Q But you are Amitabh Bachchan on the show'

I don't know. I will keep that to myself. As long as you are enjoying the show, I am happy. If you are not, I will try and improve myself.

Q Will you ever sit on the hot seat'

Yeah' we are working towards that. We do not want to let the cat out of the bag.

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