When Who Wants to be a Millionaire was reproduced in India the globally circulated format was renamed in Hindi as Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). The term “crore” in Hindi refers to ten million rupees and “crorepati” is the person who owns such a spectacular sum of money. Aside from the millions-to-crores or dollars-to-rupees recalculations, the cultural translation of the show provides important insights on how local lives are swept up in the global swirl of reality TV formats. It reveals, I suggest, the underlying ideas, values and meanings that are reproduced around the world, the conditions that favor such reproductions and the mediations that make it possible.
KBC, the Hindi title of Who Wants to be a Millionaire literally translates as: who will become the millionaire? One may ask: what happened to wanting to become a millionaire? The omission is neither necessary nor unintended in the linguistic sense. To erase the part of “(who) wants to be” (or (kaun) banna chahta hai, in Hindi) the title is given a frisky feel that producers spend hours trying to create in the world of pop-culture. There is a taunt of fate and an inscrutable lure tossed in the title: there is certainty that there are millions to be won, and someone will; but there is also uncertainty (who will it be; will he or will she; will you; or maybe me?). But more importantly, the silencing of “want” – and making it implicit, indeed assumed and commonsensical – in the Hindi version must prompt us to ask what are the rules for re-imagining reality embedded in the globally circulated formats and what are the terms of cultural translations?
Attached is a promotional video for KBC 3 (aired on News Corporation’s Star TV). We are introduced to an irrepressible boy with a penchant for asking questions (even awkward ones). When he leaves home (Delhi, the national capital) to struggle (in Mumbai, the commercial hub) and find his place in the world, the voiceover reminds us that “duniya gol hai”: what goes around eventually comes around and if we persist in our ambitions then destiny (“kismat”) may place us where the boy finds himself: the super star film actor who hosts KBC 3. The question is, do we have the ambition, determination, entrepreneurial zeal and individual will to rewrite our own destiny, irrespective of our social-cultural backgrounds?