I recently saw the first episode of “Khatron Ke Khiladi ” – “Fear Factor” Indian style (lit: Dangers’ Players). The show is a little different from the American version, which I vaguely remember from a brief time that – God knows why – I got into it in the early 2000’s. The American version was hosted by a “comedian” who seemed to delight in the failure of the contestants to be brave or to compete. The show hyped up the bitchiness between contestants, often cutting away to one or the other of them trash talking while someone was at the challenge. Why I watched this show more than once is a mystery to me now. Maybe it was on just before bedtime?
In KKK, host Akshay Kumar works with two groups, the female contestants and the Indian Army officers (male and female) who are their trainers and cheerleaders. As with the American version, all contestants watch each other try the stunts, which in the episode I saw included jumping to a water target from a helicopter flying by, and bobbing for plums in an aquarium filled with snakes. This version, though, has a very different feel from its US cousin. Akshay talks about the contestants as they go out to their tasks, saying things like “She’s very tough and I know she can do it.” After each stunt is completed, the contestants clap for the person as she comes back – whether she made the target or not. Kumar salutes them, says “great job!” & he’s proud of them. Their Army buddies say great things about them. It’s with a palpable sense of reluctance that he counts up who has the most points and who has the least and will have to go.
“Unfortunately you have to return home,” he tells the loser, and gives her a little gift. Akshay thanks them for playing, and they thank him too.
I can’t help but think about another summer game show, “Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain,” the Indian version of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” Despite being hosted by Shah Rukh Khan, also one of the biggest film stars, the show had bad ratings almost from the start. Some said this was because it was up against the newly-launched Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket games, but my sense was that no one felt this was anything but an excuse. Something went wrong that couldn’t be predicted. As he often does when things go wrong, SRK took all the responsibility, and had many celebrity guests towards the end of the run that I can only guess helped the ratings.
But what sticks with me in thinking about this show is commentary I read that part of what hurt Paanchvi Pass is that it was seen as mean. Required to stick to the US format as part of the franchise, KAPPSTH did not offer multiple choice questions (at least at first – I think it added them in later) like “Kaun Banega Krorepati” (Who Wants to be A Millionaire, also hosted by Khan) had. You had to know the right answer off the top of your head or use up one of your three cheats off the smart fifth grader.
And worse, contestants who got a question wrong and had to leave the show were forced to face the camera, recite their name, their accomplishments, and then say “I am not smart enough to pass 5th grade.” This was a tough one for many. Some would forget to do it, and have to be prompted by Khan walking them through each of the three steps of the admission:
I, (insert your name), PhD in Economics, director of a school, winner of such and such award ….. am not smart enough to pass 5th grade.
After a show full of SRK’s graceful hosting, joking, and kids helping, along with gift giving and the occasional song, dance, hug or kiss as the show went on, many guests were choking on their emotions, and Shah Rukh seemed to try to make their speech more of a laugh, sometimes to weak effect. If they resisted saying all the speech parts, he would draw them back to repeating each one.
The format of reciting all your accomplishments, followed by the admission that you can’t pass 5th grade, seems like a weird class resentment holdover that comes from the US but may not be too logical in the Indian context, where being educated seems to hold more regard (from my own anecdotal research).
I note here too that in America “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” was hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, who’s built his career on using the working class as protagonists, even if to a sometimes pejorative effect. What Cheech Marin does about Chicanos, Foxworthy does for rednecks. With America’s general animosity for “intellectuals,” the show’s talk of shame makes a little more “sense” to me, though I think it’s lame in any context.
I’ll probably keep watching KKK for morale reasons – I’d rather hear Kumar tell contestants “I’m here to give you encouragement and to tell you to never fear anything in your life” than watch most of what’s around on US terrestrial. Colbert Report and The Daily Show excepted. Oops- those are cable.