"Today's students have mastered life skills"

Aug 02, 2013, 13:24 IST | Fiona Fernandez

After 40 years of giving India's brightest students a stage to showcase their skills, the Bournvita Quiz Contest is still going strong. Derek O'Brien, who's been helming the show for 21 years, is gung-ho about a new season, a new bunch of young, smart minds, and new set of questions. One-time research team member from the show, Fiona Fernandez throws back a few at the quizmaster

Looking back, what were the biggest challenges for the Bournvita Quiz Contest (BQC) in the 1970s and 80s, when quizzing was in its nascent stages?
BQC was presented in radio format in the 1970s and 80s. There was a team of researchers led by Ruth Deshpande who provided content for the show at the time. The radio show was first presented by Hameed Sayani and after his demise, by his brother Ameen Sayani. When we took charge, in 1992-93, there was no radio or TV version and for those two years, only ground events were held.

Derek O’Brien with the winners from 2012 and co-host Saumya Tandon

1994 saw a two-pronged approach where the show made its TV debut and the ground events were held across 90 Indian cities. The biggest difference that the show underwent then was that while the radio event only went to metros, the TV avatar saw it reach homes across India. Also, the radio show was conducted in English. Now, we have bilingual versions for Hindi and Tamil audiences that will air this weekend. Nisha Krishnan (Tamil) and Saumya Tandon (Hindi) are my co-presenters for the shows. I even learnt some Tamil! It was wonderful to work in this new format.

Forty years is a long time for any show, let alone a quiz show. What, according to you, are some of the factors that have kept the BQC ship alive?
There are two factors that have kept BQC alive after all these years. Firstly, our message, which is about the show's content -- making knowledge interesting and helping young minds grow. Our message has always been a constant. The second factor is the medium, which has evolved over time. We've ensured that the show has not got left behind: from live shows, books, radio to television in English, bilingual format (Hindi & English/ Tamil & English) and now, the new social media space including Facebook, Twitter and a new app (read review).

How much has the BQC quizzer changed since you took over as quizmaster?
I’ve been attached to the show for 21 years now…so, I am an adult! Two big forces have emerged. When we started, the recall of knowledge was what mattered. Now, the focus is on self-improvement -- the development of soft skills and source of information. In the 1970s, schoolchildren looked to books and libraries for information. Today, the search for knowledge is not just ephemeral but more solid. It's more about the application of knowledge. Content in this age must be relevant, and knowledge, more enduring.

With reality shows, are today’s children better equipped to handle the spotlight?
Well, good luck to reality shows! But today’s students are definitely equipped -- to soak in the pressure, be more resilient; they’ve learnt how to accept winning and losing, better. Of course, on BQC, we don’t show footage of participants in tears. Overall, today’s students have mastered life skills.

Winners across decades of the show

What other plans for Derek O’Brien?
Derek’s Challenge is a ground event show that we’ve just kicked off. It’s focus is on students’ soft skills, covers 14 lakh students across 1,500 schools in 40 Indian cities, making it India’s largest relationship programme. It will help students think better, be creative, ideate and speak better. The Mumbai rounds begin on August 19.

Finally, your favourite question?
Never ask a quizmaster about their favourite because he/she believes that every question is brilliant!

My favourite guest moments
Aamir Khan: I’ve never met another person with such attention to detail. He invited the team to visit his home, to discuss the format and questions. Later, he came by the studio to watch the shooting of an episode to get an idea of the real deal.

Sunil Dutt: Duttsaab had arrived at the Nanavati Studio for his slot at 11 am. His round began at 11.30 am sharp, and wound up on time. However, he had sent his car back home and our production car, which was meant for guests, was stuck somewhere. He told us, “No problem,” walked towards the entrance gate, hailed an autorickshaw and was off, much to the surprise of the autowallah!

IK Gujral: All our guests appear voluntarily on the show, not a paisa is exchanged. Mr Gujral was invited to the show and his slot was first up in the morning. As I made my way to host the show, the security stopped me from entering the Nanavati Studio. So, I had to actually tell them, “Boss, I am asking the questions!” It was all very amusing.

IndiaplayBQC App
From a radio show to your mobile phones -- BQC has come a long way. Watching quiz shows and guessing the answers as Derek O’Brien grills students might be fun. Now, flaunt your General Knowledge skills from your couch by participating live through an app. All one has to do is download the app (available on both Android and iOS) and log in using your Facebook or Twitter account.

Did you know?
Derek O’Brien hosts a quiz on Twitter, India’s first, which he started two years back. Every Sunday, at 11 am, he plays the quizmaster. Answer questions and play for prizes.

The viewer needs to submit his/her selection before the contestants on TV respond, post which the options for the question will be disabled. The names of the winners will be published on the leaderboard on their Facebook page, their website and during the next episode of the show.
-- Dhara Vora

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