If you haven’t seen an episode already, I suggest you push aside all appointments for tonight. Get to the television set at 10.30 pm and watch the all-new reality show on Star Plus. It has the usual ingredients: a cash prize at the end, a celebrity host… but with a difference.
It’s got invited guests to confess all on camera. Before the show is recorded, a contestant is asked some 50 questions while being monitored by a polygraph machine, or what’s better known as a lie detector. The guest is unaware of the polygraph results until the show is canned and the answers on camera to the 21 of 50 questions are then compared with those on the detector. An incorrect answer knocks out the contestant from the game.
The questions are very personal, and some of the participants are celebs. There’s a Rs 1 crore prize and the money starts going up from the first question onwards, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’-style.
I’ve just seen two airings and have got to say that it works. The format isn’t new, it’s based on ‘Nada más que la verdad’ or ‘Nothing But the Truth’, that was originally made for Colombian television. The show has been exported to over 50 countries by its owners, Lighthearted Entertainment, since it started in mid-2007. It’s called ‘The Moment of Truth’ in most of its avatars, and in India, the Hindi version on Star Plus is ‘Sach Ka Saamna’ (Face the Truth).
There is another reason why ‘Sach Ka Saamna’ is very important for Indian television. Although it is meant for adults and comes on at a rather late hour, it could well mark the return of Star Plus as the clear leader amongst general entertainment channels (GECs). And by leadership, I don’t mean just ratings. Save a few weeks where Colors was ahead and that one week when Zee was No. 1, Star Plus, too, has scored the highest GRPs in the weekly rankings in the last four months.
I found the Rupert Murdoch-owned offering lagging in the perception battle: as the channel of choice amongst GECs and leading to maximum discussion on social media, local trains the next morning and lunch time chatter in offices. It cut the clutter last year with ‘Aap Ki Kachehri’ with supercop Kiran Bedi, but that seemed like a one-off. With ‘Sach Ka Saamna’ and television-turned-film star Rajeev Khandelwal as its understated presenter and a slew of smart programming at prime time, Star Plus could well reclaim its status of No. 1. Not just in ratings, but also the mindspace of viewers.
It could also see more of such extreme confessional talk shows… with an international format like this one or free-flowing like an Oprah. Remember Kapil Dev sobbing on Karan Thapar’s talk show after his name was drawn into the match-fixing controversy? It worked for Kapil with the masses believing in what he said and as a man who could do no wrong. I’m sure there are various celebs and politicians who’d love to sob and bare all.
This is not to say that Colors and Zee are going to sit pretty. Colors celebrates its first anniversary tomorrow. The entry of the Viacom18 channel has been a huge moment of reckoning for GECs: first Sony, then Zee and eventually Star Plus… all of them were forced to face the truth. The channel bosses – Rajesh Kamat and Ashwini Yardi – were their rising stars not too long ago. Kamat was ex-Star and Yardi from the Zee stable. Other than the return of Akshay Kumar with ‘Fear Factor’ and ‘Bigg Boss’ with its Season 3, there is ‘100 %’, based on the World Wrestling Entertainment-inspired Argentinian format titled ‘100% Lucha’. I won’t be surprised if Colors, too, comes up with some confessional television stuff. In fact, in an interview to ‘impact’, Kamat said that he wished he had done a show like Star Plus’ ‘Aap Ki Kachehri’. “What it showed to me is the tolerance level of Indian viewers,” he said.
The fact that ‘Sach Ka Saamna’ and ‘Aap Ki Kachehri’ were conceived and aired indicates that the Star leadership is willing to innovate and take a great deal of risks in its nightly programming. The challenge is to get to know when viewers tire of a certain genre and are willing to switch loyalties. It happened with the saas-bahu shows and saw people willing to make a switch. It requires a combination of vision and guts to face the truth and experiment. ‘Sach ka Saamna!’
(The views here are my own. Now, you can also tweet me your comments @pmahesh and catch random jottings through the week at #MixedMedia at http://www.twitter.com/pmahesh.)