Anirban Roy Choudhury
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“Coming up with a better version of KBC campaign is writer’s nightmare”: Nitesh Tiwari

Director of 'Dangal', 'Chhichhore' continues with his association with Kaun Banega Crorepati, speaks after releasing part-1 of season 13-campaign.

Eleven years ago, Sony TV approached Leo Burnett with the aim of reviving a globally hit concept that had failed to click in India - ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ (‘KBC’). Star India had given up the rights to broadcast ‘KBC’ and, after a hiatus of three years, Sony picked it up in 2010. Star had to replace Amitabh Bachchan as the host as he fell ill in the middle of the second season. Shah Rukh Khan was appointed as the host, but the likes of ‘Shukla Ji’, ‘Sharma Ji’ and ‘Verma Ji’, or the Hindi heartland, didn’t connect with the show with Khan as the host.

The show became more urban-skewed and didn’t work as well as it did earlier. The bold step by Rupert Murdoch-owned Star to have Rs1 crore as the prize money and then Rs 2 crore, lasted only three seasons aired over a period of seven years.

Then came ‘Koi bhi sawaal chhota nahin hota’ campaign. ‘Akbar ka baap kaun hain’ film of the campaign connected with the heartland immediately. Followed by ‘Tum mujhe khoon do, mein aapko aazaadi dunga kisne kaha’ and 'Samvidhan Kisne Likha'. The job of connecting the dots was assigned to Nitesh Tiwari, who was then the executive creative director at Leo Burnett. “The creative director, who worked on the campaign, was Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, who I am married to,” he recalls.

Adding, "I am otherwise a cool person, but before presenting Koi Bhi Sawaal Chhota Nahi Hota to Amitabh Bachchan, I got very nervous. I am his fan and it was the first time I was presenting an idea to him."

Now, 11 years on, the Sony-Tiwari association on the campaign continues. The first part of Season 13’s campaign was released a couple of days back. The two-minute-40-second-long film ends with “To be continued”. “I thank Sony as the client was gutsy to buy something as radical as this,” says Tiwari.

But what made him take the shortfilm route, instead of a traditional 30-second or 90-second film? “At the very beginning, we decided to breakaway from the conventional way of doing things. Then my writer Nikhil Mehrotra and I sat to pen it down. That’s how we got to this. We are launching the campaign in three parts,” shares Tiwari.

The 2021 campaign is called ‘Samman’. The first part that has been released, was shot in a village 15 km away from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. It features a community that is struggling to raise funds for a school and so, resort to registering for ‘KBC’.

Community television watching, the lifestyle, etc. - it reflects the heartland of India,alongwith middle-class sensibilities. The announcer urges the intellectuals to registerfor ‘KBC’, but the man who is the least respected and called ‘brainless’,ends up registering. This is where the first part ends.

‘Samman’ is multidimensional and so is ‘KBC’, thus, the connection, says Tiwari. He is of the view that ‘KBC’, as a brand, is well established and so, the challenge is to come up with a campaign that is better than the last one.

“When you have worked on a brand for 11 years and every year, you have to up with a different idea that is true to the essence of the show, it is a writer’s nightmare. But after hours and hours of brainstorming, eventually we feel confident that we have cracked... This year, too, we feel the same.”

Around 20 characters feature in the film and, Tiwari says, each one auditioned multiple times. In fact, the casting director turned to the theatre groups in Bhopal to find the right mix of people. Few also travelled from Mumbai to Bhopal. It took around five days to wrap up the three-part campaign, unlike a commercial, which gets done in a day.

Nitesh Tiwari at the set in MP
Nitesh Tiwari at the set in MP

Maker of 'Dangal', 'Chhichhore'... National Film Award winner Nitesh Tiwari says, “I don’t see filmmaking and ad filmmaking differently. I am a student of life and all I want to do is tell stories. For me, it is just the duration that is different. In both cases, we borrow a lot from our real life experiences…,” says Tiwari.

The fact that he grew up in Madhya Pradesh did come in handy. “How people sit and gossip, the body language, the lifestyle…Life out there is a little laid-back… My own experiences of growing up in Bhopal helped me make the film look real,” he signs off.