NEW DELHI (AP) — A poor government clerk from a desolate region of eastern India has become the first person ever to win $1 million on an Indian game show.
Sushil Kumar’s staggering win on the popular Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” has transformed him into a role model for millions of aspiring youth yearning to escape from lives of poverty and find a role in India’s burgeoning economy.
His win echoes the plot of the 2008 Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire,” whose impoverished protagonist won the grand prize on the show.
Kumar and his wife of four months wept when Indian movie legend Amitabh Bachchan, the show’s host, handed them a check for 50 million rupees (just over $1 million) after the contestant gave all the right answers.
“You have created history. Your grit and determination has made you come so far in this show,” Bachchan said.
“We’re happy of course but mostly we’re just really stunned,” Kumar told The Associated Press.
Before Kumar went on the program, which was taped Tuesday and will air next week, he earned $120 a month as a government office worker and supplemented his income by working as a private tutor in the small town of Motihari in the eastern state of Bihar.
Kumar, the 26-year-old son of a farm laborer, told viewers his family was so poor they couldn’t afford a television set, forcing him to go to a neighbor’s home to watch the quiz show. Watching him tick off correct answer after correct answer, his neighbors persuaded him to try out for the show, he said.
The trip to the Mumbai studio where the show is taped was his first ride in a plane and his first visit to a big city, he said.
Before arriving on the set, Kumar was confident of winning $50,000 or $100,000, but the jackpot seemed like a distant dream.
Just before the 13th question, he considered walking away with the $200,000 he had in hand but decided to take advantage of the option to peek at the final question.
“When I looked at the question, I didn’t think I knew the answer but I kept staring at it for a long time and suddenly I knew that two of the four options were definitely not correct,” Kumar said.
Kumar still had one of four lifelines granted on the show — the convenient double dip option that allows a contestant to offer two possible answers to a question.
The show’s organizers declined to reveal the final question before it is aired next week, saying only that it dealt with history.
Kumar has clear, if modest, plans for the money.
He said he will use some to pay for a preparatory course so he can take India’s tough civil service exam, which could lead to a secure and prestigious lifetime job.
He said he will also buy a new home for his wife, pay off his parents’ debts and give his four brothers startup cash so they can set up small businesses.
And he plans to build a library in Motihari so the children of his village will have access to the books and knowledge he so desperately craved, he said.
The show first started in 2000 with a jackpot of $200,000, which was won twice. The prize money was hiked to $1 million last year.