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Archive for Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Millionaire’ hooks India

Television game show sweeping the globe

September 5, 2000

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— It's hard for anyone in India these days to state a simple fact their name, address or the day of the week without a friend asking, "Are you sure?"

That's the catch phrase of the newest Indian TV hit: a Hindi-language version of the American quiz show "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire."

The show, hosted by the country's all-time top movie star, Amitabh Bachchan, is India's most popular TV program ever. Millions of Indians are hooked, dreaming of winning the rupee equivalent of $219,000. The stock phrases used in the show, "Who Will Become a Holder of 10 million?" rupees, that is have become part of the culture.

And in a typical local reaction to the chance to win loads of money, Indian viewers are trying to figure out who to bribe to get on the program.

Indians are not alone in their obsession.

Versions of the show are licensed and on the air in 31 countries, from Finland to South Africa, and 19 more companies have opted to start local versions soon. In most places it's a big hit.

The show's set, music, question format and contestant qualification process are set out in a 169-page guide that the creators, Celador Productions Ltd. of Britain, provide with the license. "The show is pretty much the same the world over," said Colman Hutchinson, executive producer of the original British show.

But there are local variations.

It's called "Oh Lucky Man!" in Russia. In Spain, it's "50 for 15," meaning 50 million pesetas for the 15 questions it takes to win the grand prize.

Japanese audiences didn't take to "Millionaire" because of a cultural bias against individuals who flaunt wealth.

Swedish authorities banned the show, saying it violated laws against lotteries.

Many candidates in the last Russian presidential race went on the program, though eventual winner Vladimir Putin wasn't among them.

After the show became a hit in the United States, it spread fast.

"None of us thought it would be the global success it has been," Hutchinson said. "It's like when the Beatles went to America. They became a global domination."

Launched on July 3 by Rupert Murdoch's Star TV, the Indian version, called "Kaun Banega Crorepati," was an instant hit.

Just as Regis Philbin, the host of the American show, tortures the audience and contestant with "Is that your final answer?" the Indian show's host asks squirming, would-be millionaires: "Are you sure?" "Confident?"

As viewers sit with bated breath in front of their TV sets across India, movie star Bachchan twists the knife, raises an eyebrow, offers an enigmatic smile. "Shall we lock it?" he asks the contestant. And finally, "Computer, please lock the answer."

The highest amount won so far in the Indian game was $110,000, collected on Aug. 23 by Ramesh Dubey, a clothing store owner from New Delhi. It's enough to pay his business' rent for the next three years, even after a 60 percent tax bite.

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