Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The making of "Balls, Ballots, Bollywood" - 1

It may be a tad conceited to write about the making of a quiz, but since this was the hardest quiz that I have ever set, I thought it would be interesting to write about the lessons learnt and decisions taken along the way.

The genesis of this quiz was in a bad cricket quiz that I participated in with Harish and others earlier this year. I hadn't been to a good cricket quiz in a long time and felt it was a pity this was such a bad quiz that taught me nothing new or interesting. I had the idea of a "Religions of India" quiz, about cricket, films, and politics. I had never participated in a formal quiz about Indian politics. The closest was a lovely BC quiz by Ganesh Hegde (always the quizzer, never the dancer). I pitched the idea to Harish, but soon, I had begun to form some strange ideas about the format. I requested him to let me go ahead with this alone.

I was wary of doing it alone because I did not (still don't) know a lot about Indian cricket. I had a reasonable interest in politics, but only of the last two decades. Hindi films was much easier (or so I thought). In the end, I estimate it took me about 100 days worth of reading, thinking, and setting to come up with the quiz. I have always been over-enthusiastic about setting quizzes, perhaps to the point of obsession. I spent a great deal of time coming up with my last BC open quiz last November. I guess I like the creative elements of the setting: the anxieties of not having quiz-worthy content, poring over formats and presentations, composing the written parts of the question to be both devious and subtle, and so on.

This time, I had decided not to simply dip my toes into subjects (as sometimes happens in general quiz-settings). Rather, I would try and dive deep by reading as many original sources as possible in the three topics. Setting general quizzes is easier because I collect little nuggets of possibilities each day, from just keeping my eyes and ears open. Come general quiz time, I always have something to begin from. In this case, I was starting with the tank on empty.

My last BC open quiz was hugely complicated - each of the 42 questions seemed to be made up of 2-3 sub-questions. In addition, my experiments with the elims format, a semi-final for the draft picks, elims scoring etc. seemed to make matters worse. I labeled it the "No Smoking" quiz, in reference to the then released Anurag Kashyap film of seemingly equal complexity! I had not intended it to be so much of an indulgent trip, and it provoked some soul-searching. Using the feedback from that quiz and other experiences, I decided the following:

1. Content: keep it as simple as possible, especially since the themes are off-beat. Will stick to post-Independence India.
2. Format: continue to experiment

As a quizzer, each year, I'm astonished at how much we don't know. As a quiz-setter, I'm astonished to discover newer quiz-worthy things to ask. If we ever feel that we've run out of questions, then we're just not looking hard enough. I hoped to convey this very feeling to anyone who came to this quiz wondering what could be asked in these three topics.

I did not want to refer to any specialist quiz books for inspiration. The only option was to read and to do so in copious amounts. I had about three-four months left for my quiz, so I began with the topic I was most ignorant of: Politics.

Long before I planned my quiz, I had bought Ramchandra Guha's India after Gandhi. It is a bit of a tome, but it told me a lot about post-Independence India. Definitely recommended for everyone, especially since we have very few books about 1947 and later. I also read a book about Kashmir Frontline Kashmir by a former BBC correspondent and Cutouts, Caste, and Cine-Stars (by Vasanthi), which is about TN politics. I re-read parts of Vaibhav Purandare's book about the Shiv Sena. Using some hooks from these books, I read a lot of articles online. I had a little bit of a 'quota system' in order to represent both different eras as well as regions, so based on what I already knew, I looked up articles about specific people and groups.

I've come to realise that even the good cricket quizzers don't seem to know a great deal about Indian cricket. Admittedly, it is a very niche topic and potentially, a dry one. Hence, I chose to primarily go for interesting anecdotes rather than stats. A failing of sports quizzes is that they become too personality or stat-oriented. I tried to avoid these. Despite that, 7 of the 8 elims questions on cricket were answered by cricketer's names! I let that be because most of these questions were largely about anecdotes.

BTW, I also did some reading about cricket. Some sources for these: Spin and Other Turns (R. Guha once again), Sandeep Bamzai's book on Bombay cricket, books by Sunil Gavaskar, Tendulkar's biography (Purandare again), Indian cricket controversies - a bitchy book that I found via Google Books, and of course, the dependable Cricinfo archives.

Thankfully, teams on stage could grapple with questions on both politics and cricket.

Hindi films, something that I'm interested in, turned out to be very slippery at the end. I had left it for late, since I thought I had enough resources and jottings to see me through. I was mistaken. I wanted to ask mainstream Bollywood, so few or no questions on parallel cinema (which has been an easier quizzing fount). I looked at some of the books I owned on this topic, looked at my notes from the Encylopaedia of Indian Cinema, foraged around online, and in the end, just thought of films I owned or had seen. I wanted to have a fairly high percentage of A/V (a first for me, since I am never confident that the supporting audio/visual technology at the quizzing venue will hold up). In the end, I just about made the minimum cut.

This is already a big post, so jottings on the format in a following article.


Karthik Narayan said...

Loads of gyan - thanks a lot for sharing ur experiences... wud be very useful.

BTW Hi - I am karthik narayan from Chennai.

Ramanand said...

Hi Karthik - thanks. Keep coming by.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ramanand,

Is there any way we can view the questions?


Anonymous said...

Wah ! I thought I was the only person in the whole word who reads Kailash Wadhwaney's books (I own three !). All of them have the same tone, mostly bitching about most people, and some praises about random, insignificant guys.

Ramanand said...

T: there is. I'll be putting up the quiz somewhere soon. It needs some editing.

Anon: laziness on my part not to mention KW's name. He's a gossipy read, isn't it?

(Who are both of you, btw?)

Ramanand said...

T: there is. I'll be putting up the quiz somewhere soon. It needs some editing.

Anon: laziness on my part not to mention KW's name. He's a gossipy read, isn't it?

(Who are both of you, btw?)

Ganesh Hegde said...

'Always the quizzer, never the dancer' :) True, to a large extent. I think I enjoy the process of setting quizzes far more than before, though. I've done two BC quizzes and one Open Quiz so far (not counting the quiz I did here at Purdue). I am gathering material for a Religion, Science and Philosophy BC quiz that I plan to do in Jan, when I come home.

Arkus Caesar said...

Hi Ramanand, it's been so long since I've attended any quiz that reading this blog has started to depress me nowadays...I did my fair share of Biz quizzes when at IIFT, but I think it's been easily 5 years since my last good general quiz of the BCQC pedigree...and a politics quiz by you is severely and violently missed by me

Anonymous said...

Shockingly little quality literature on Indian cricket available on bookshelves today....When i was younger, my granddad had copies of a newspaper magazine called "sport and pastime"-40 odd pages of sporting news!imagine bill tilden on the cover selling in Chennai!then there was the Indian cricket almanacks by raju bharatan...very good before he bowdlerized it with bolly-lit/hinglish... sadly apart from Guha and Mihir Bose, there seems to be nothing.
Since u like anecdotes,,, would recommend Clayton Murzello's book,although...the best source of 'fundaes' in cricket are bios and autobios...Ex- mushtaq ali's autobio covers so much indian cricket in the 30s and 40s that u needn't look elsewhere!
interestingly, and thankfully,,wikipedia SUCKS for all three of the subjects- cricket, films and politics!!
- Pradeep

Ramanand said...

Ganesh: the "coming soon" sounds interesting!
Arka: I think we need to start a BC alumni support chapter!
Pradeep: thanks for the pointers. Raju B can be a little trying with all his nudge-nudge, wink-wink insider stuff. Your observations on Wikipedia are right, especially in the case of politics. I know Salil has been trying to add some stuff and I think more needs to be done.