Television needs variety, says Siddhartha Basu

In an interview to CS, he chats up about his myriad passions.

Multi-cultural upbringing
I was born in Kolkata and raised in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. There were adjustments to make, switching between cities while growing up. This was because schooling systems and cultural scenarios were quite distinct in these three metros. But overall it was great because you learn so much about cultures.

Fascination for quizzing
The first quiz I hosted was on the national channel way back in 1985. The show came to me via theatre and emceeing. It was well accepted, and for one year, 9pm every Sunday, became quiz time on the only channel in the country. Later, I went on to take charge of the content as well as the direction and production of the show. I tried to make it as informative and entertaining as possible.

Acting bug
At 17, during my summer break I met Barry John who had come from England with exciting ideas for theatre. That formed the core of Theatre Action Group (TAG). It went on to become a leading group in Delhi. At that time, we developed avant garde as well as mainstream content. We worked as an ensemble, doing anything and everything related to production. Among the roles I’ve done in TAG are of Oedipus, and Mozart in Amadeus.

Journey in films
I hadn’t looked for films but I am glad my Bollywood debut was with Shoojit (director Shoojit Sircar), who had begun his career with us. I suspect Shoojit wanted me to do the role in Madras Cafe because of the sense of authority and control he thought I exercised as a quiz master. As far as Anurag Kashyap’s film is concerned I have a small role but it’s shaping superbly. Anurag is from theatre, grounded in realism, so it is good for an actor to feed off. The shoot is half done. It resumes after a break in February, and is expected to release late next year. 

A ‘Big’ partnership
The association with Amitabh Bachchan has been a productive one, but I take no credit for his so-called resurrection. We’ve all been part of a historic game-changer called KBC, and each has played his or her role in making it happen. Amitabh Bachchan is a colossus on the large screen, with his talent and charisma. He was able to make the adaptation to the small screen on a winning show very well.

Knowledge on the backseat?
I believe in balancing what is purely popular with public service television, catering to tastes which are not merely populist. Sadly the baggage of bureaucracy has undone the potential of Doordarshan. Television of course needs variety. We’ve produced big ticket entertainment shows and tried to do them with quality. I wish TV could have space to accommodate a purist quiz like Mastermind. 

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