Khan’s light touch

BY sevanti ninan| IN Media Practice | 30/04/2008
So far, the contestants have been a pretty game lot. The charm could wear off if that changes, and if SRK loses his touch.
SEVANTI NINAN says Paanchvi Pass is fun.

Idiot Box

Sevanti Ninan



One could carp about an overdose of Shah Rukh Khan, and about the further Fox-ification of Indian television. Or about the panache with which a columnist gave the show a plug in his column before it had even surfaced on the box. One could grimace at the excessively cute, over-exuberant, seen-before-on-TV kids  who are integral to the show. But all said and done,  "Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain"  is fun. A wacky show that is more about being dumb than about being clever. Its subtext is that its alright to not know all that textbook stuff that is crammed into our children, so come enjoy yourself. In that sense its different from Kaun Banega Crorepati which was about winning a jackpot. This one, also on Star Plus, is about being shown up by a bunch of kids, and taking it in your stride. The  jackpot may be five times bigger but is remote enough not to matter.  But who knows, that may change as the show progresses because aspirants may well take to mugging kids¿ textbooks in preparation.


Whether it¿s the PhD in a Kanjeevaram, the sassy mass com student who is very pretty but hasn¿t a clue about most things, or her confident sister who can tell you without batting an eyelid that Istanbul is the capital of Pakistan, Paanchvi Pass is made by the contestants as much as it is made by Shah Rukh Khan. Like other quiz-based game shows before it, notably KBC.  Even as the first contestant on the first night groped for the correct answer a flashing screen cheekily reminded you that she was a PhD and a gold medallist. The host ribbed the family good-naturedly. "All of them are weak in math!" In setting the tone, our Brand For All Seasons gets it right.


There are many Khan personas served up as SRK widens his reach across entertainment territories. His face is taut and watchful in some of them—check out the gamut of Khan appearances on the Net. He is relaxed and chirpy in others. Here he tends to talk so much that it takes forever to get through the questions, barely four or five get asked per episode.  If Bachchan had an inherent reserve, Khan is smart alecky. Something about his hosting did not quite work for Kaun Banega Crorepati. But with the Indian version of the Fox show, ¿Are you smarter than a third grader?¿ it could be a different story.  In the original version on Fox TV the host was a TV comedian. Its meant to be a light show.


Can one have too much of Shah Rukh Khan? Apparently not. If at one time it seemed like Amitabh Bachchan was in every third advertisement on the box, now it¿s the Khan¿s turn. He¿s also into cricket, a dimension that Bachchan never acquired. As a cricket team owner he is the stands, bounding up and down like a teeny bopper, his hair an overgrown mop. And now he will loom large over our weekends.


The kids in ¿Paanchvi Pass¿ are somewhat overdone—performers rather than naturals, sassy nine and ten year olds who do Hindi movie routines at the drop of a hat. But that¿s in line with how Indians seem to like their kids on television. So does it work?  Actually it does. The ratings aren¿t impressive but it¿s a fun weekend show. The questions are nerdy (do they really do astronomy and Indian history in class one?) In contrast to Amitabh Bachchan¿s gravely respectful treatment of contestants on Kaun Banega Crorepati, Khan has the requisite lightness of touch. He wisecracks, "lets see how much money your PhD gets you here!"


In his Sunday column in the Hindustan Times the weekend the show opened Vir Sanghvi did a spot of sociological  analysis on the basis of the fact that he had sat through close to 400 video-taped auditions of those aspiring to be contestants. He was on the jury to select participants and discovered in the process the upbeat mood of middle India, undeterred by its dodgy command of English.  He discovered, he said, that Indians have learned to laugh at themselves.


So far, the contestants have been a pretty game lot. The charm could wear off if that changes, and if SRK loses his touch.



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