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The iconic face of Indian TV sits down with The Delhi Walla.
Calcutta-born Siddhatha Basu is widely recognized as father of television quiz shows in South Asia. Managing Director of Synergy Adlabs, he has produced TV classics like Quiz Time and Kaun Banega Crorepati. Mr. Basu lived in Delhi all these years but recently shifted to Bombay. The Delhi Walla badgered him on his life, wife, career, and just why (oh why) he ditched our Delhi.
[This is the first of the three-part interview series Mr. Basu gave to Mayank Austen Soofi. The picture shows him with wife Mrs. Anita Kaul Basu.]
Welcome to The Delhi Walla, Mr. Basu. I understand you are called Babu by friends and colleagues. Any story behind it? May I call you Babu?
You know you can, Mayank, as most people call me that anyway, which apparently stuck from the time a maali at my childhood home in Bombay started calling me Babuji. It also happen to be one of the most common Bengali nicknames going. Some call me Sid, others stay with Siddhartha. I’m OK with whatever people are comfortable with.
Children aspire to be presidents or astronauts or nuclear scientists. When you were 5-year-old, did you want to be India's No.1 quizmaster?
You must be joking. The first quiz I came anywhere near was the national inter-college one I conducted on Doordarshan, Quiz Time. At 5, I remember wanting to be a driver, by the name of Anthony, and would routinely tell people that this was my name. This was after a real Anthony, a layabout, who’d been rehabilitated by my father as a car cleaner in our block of flats, and then a driver, who was a mercurial character, but generally acted as a sort of Peter Pan to us neighbourhood tykes, and was particularly good to me.
What a loss to the community of drivers!
Apart from a car or engine driver, I’ve gone through wanting to be pretty much everything. The easiest way to get to be different people is to be an actor, which is inevitably what I wanted to be for the longest time. Once, when I was around 12, on a rare consultation with an astrologer, my father was told that his son would make a mark in an unusual field. He wishfully noted down “Nuclear physics, neuro-surgery ”. Conducting quizzes was not in anyones’s wildest dreams, least of all mine.
Babu, you are tall, dark, handsome, and sexy. How many girl friends you had in college?
Thanks for being generous, but I’ve never thought of myself as rating anywhere in the looks department. I had crushes through school and college, but my first girlfriend was pretty much the only one I’ve ever had. I wound up marrying her.
You mean Mrs. Anita Kaul Basu. You met her in Delhi? Who was besotted first? Who wooed whom?
If anyone’s ever been besotted by me, I’ve never known about it. When it came to Anita, I flipped first. I guess she sort of gave in and has kind of tolerated me ever since. So from when I got to know her, the Miranda House back gate became my daily check point for some years, followed by wherever she stayed or worked.
Please throw more light on the life of that aashiq?
I recall doing the Naraina run by bus or borrowed 2-wheelers, when she was with a newsmagazine, This Fortnight, and often at the India Today offices at CP, where she worked as a sub.
Delhi men are supposed to be very macho. Were there major adjustments on your side to have Mrs. Basu working on an equal footing with you? She is the Managing Director of your company.
I like to think our strengths complement each other at the work place, though the equation has its challenges and ups and downs. I don’t think there’s such a thing as absolute equality. It’s a dynamic thing. I usually take the creative lead. She normally takes charge of things organizationally.
Babu, you were living in Delhi before you shifted to Bombay in 2007. Do you still see yourself as Delhi walla? Anyway, what stuff is a typical Delhi walla made of?
What mainly makes me a Dilliwalla is that I’ve spent most of my life in the city close to 40 years, and that’s where home still is, though for the past year I’ve mostly been living in Bombay, the city of my childhood, and now my karmabhoomi.
I was in middle school in Delhi for 4 years, which was a pretty hateful time for me, and then from the age of 16, since college, I’ve been in the city continuously. Abiding friendships have been with college contemporaries, or with colleagues, or neighbours. I have the sanskar of a certain kind of Dilliwalla – suburban South Delhi raised, north campus university educated, drawn from all over the country, bred in theatres and coffee houses, addicted to addebaazi, fed with Dilli ke swaad and aab o hawa...I married here, became a parent here..
Is a Mumbaikar’s life more exciting? What do you miss about Delhi while living in Bombay?
More than ever, Bombay’s now the only place to be if you’re in entertainment television. The work culture is dynamic, the city is the most cosmopolitan we have in the country today, and despite its awful congestion and squalor, is relatively civilized and safe. Young people, particularly girls and working women love it, because this is a 24x7 city where you can live and move more freely than in any other Indian city.
I enjoy the creative energy and charge of Bombay. The prospects of a decent livelihood and thriving entertainment industry draws so much fine talent here from everywhere. I’m at odds however with the overwhelmingly commercial mindset that prevails.
Oh, so Bombay wins over Delhi...
Please do not see it like that. For the sky, and space, and seasons, and trees, and green; a sense of history, an awareness of the nation and world beyond; for yaar dosti, khaana peena...I head for home in Dilli.
[In the second part, Mr. Basu discussed his life in St. Stephen's where "the sweet smell of hashish seemed everywhere". He also looked back to Mandi House days. In the third part, Mr. Basu talked about Kaun Banega Crorepati. Plus what disturbs him most about Delhi. Watch this space.]