Follow Mint Lounge

Latest Issue

Home > How To Lounge> Movies & TV > Siddhartha Basu on a life in quizzing

Siddhartha Basu on a life in quizzing

The quizmaster, actor and film-maker on his approach to quizzing, why he finds the word ‘trivia’ derogatory, and building a knowledge community

Siddhartha Basu is back with a new show
Siddhartha Basu is back with a new show

Siddhartha Basu has been a theatre and film actor, a documentary film-maker, a quiz show host (including Quiz Time), a television show host (Mastermind India) and a content creator, though he is most famous for championing formats that test general knowledge. After a long and successful run as the producer-director of Kaun Banega Crorepati and other talent and reality shows, Delhi-based Basu is now in the quiz master’s chair again as host of Quizzer Of The Year (QOTY). This app-based general knowledge testing format, which can be accessed by students and adults on the SonyLIV app, will lead to a final televised round for classes IX-XII students.

Basu spoke to us about quizzing in the digital age and the challenges of creating a knowledge-testing entertainment product. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Learning used to be about reading books, maybe travelling, talking to people and memorising. How do you see quizzing in this information and digital age?

With decades of involvement in this particular field, we have learnt how to define quizzing. In one sense, quizzing is about asking questions and getting answers at the very basic level. General knowledge itself, by definition, is everything that’s not part of your formal education or specialised knowledge. The main way by which you learn about the world is through reading, through watching, through listening, and now through surfing. In that sense things have not changed —whether you are reading off the net, or reading from the library or your personal collection, or newspapers and magazines, wherever you are getting your information from, I think the discrimination, curiosity and scepticism remain the same.

My approach to quizzing has never been just as a coterie activity and certainly not as trivia, which is the American word for general knowledge. I find the term derogatory—as though it’s trivial. I am not interested in trivial information about obscure things. The breadth and depth of knowledge about all sorts of things, of all matters of interest, is what I think quizzing is about.

In the last competitive quiz we did on TV, we included Google search as part of that activity. It’s not as easy as everybody thinks. The first thing that pops up is not necessarily the correct answer. Some things aren’t on Google at all. But how do you try and get as close as you can to knowing about something? Because there’s so much misinformation.

There’s so much deliberate fake news. There’s so much propaganda. There’s so much casual mythmaking. We hope this show not only offers daily engagement of an edu-training kind but also is a tool in fostering a factual culture and a knowledge community.

What is the creative process for building an interactive filmed quiz show?

Every time you are trying to develop an appealing, relevant, entertaining format or engagement for people, you try and match it to the people that you are doing it for. We have done live quizzes for inmates of Tihar jail (in Delhi) and also for members of Parliament.

QOTY is not just a television show. It’s an app you can get on today and play. Within that is an exciting all-India inter-school contest for senior school students. Even for those people who don’t qualify to the further stages, they can play round the year. We have tried to spread the net so that everybody can play, test and expand their knowledge. Apart from points for correct answers, the time counts. So, you can see where you stand, you can try and improve.

There are daily, weekly and monthly gratifications and certificates for the toppers. It’s not just a matter of watching other people perform on television. That’s the end of the road of the inter-school competition. I have tried to move away just from television shows because we have been there-done that. I wanted to expand the net to build a knowledge community, to build factual culture at a time when it’s very important.

What is it that quizzes actually do?

In the US, quiz is another word for an exam. In one sense, it tests your knowledge about anything. On the other hand, when we are talking about general knowledge, it’s what’s not in your textbooks. It’s about your general awareness and how accurately you know it. We are trying to foster a healthy, constructive, informed curiosity; a scepticism, to be able to question things, to know how to double-check, cross-check, fact-check; to be able to discriminate—between what is right and what is not. Hopefully, through knowledge, we get to a better understanding of things and then use that towards whatever you want to do in life, or even just experientially.

Where did your own interest in, and relationship with, quizzing begin?

In school we used to have classroom quizzes on various subjects, including English, which I was reasonably good at. In college, my passion was theatre. My engagement with curating quiz content happened only after I started hosting the first national inter-college quiz tournament on DD, Quiz Time. My becoming a quizmaster was quite by happenstance. I was briefly an events manager at the Taj group of hotels, where I used to MC by default. Former film-maker colleagues, who were making a pilot of a game show called Safecracker, saw me MCing some event and out of the blue they asked me to do an introduction at the top of the pilot. It was all of two minutes that I improvised.

After about a month they asked me to be quizmaster of the show they were doing. That was Quiz Time. The first series ran for a whole year on the only national network and was well received. The next year I took more charge than hosting, and subsequently produced the show independently. One thing led to the other. From hosting, to content curation, formatting, visualising, producing, we gave every little detail of all aspects due care, creativity and attention, and that became our mainstay.

Udita Jhunjhunwala is a writer, film critic and festival programmer. She tweets @Udita J.

Next Story