In Chennai, from 1994 to 2019, Independence Day was synonymous with Landmark Quiz and its superstar Quizmaster, Dr. Navin Jayakumar. Thousands of people would take part in Landmark’s preliminary round quiz, and the majority of them would stick around for the finale to witness the magic of creative quizzes designed by none other than the superstar himself.
In a one-on-one with Hindustan Times, Dr Navin Jayakumar talks about his journey as a quiz master and Smartacus Senior, the adult open quiz to be held on August 14 from 2pm at Chinmaya Heritage Centre, Chennai . You can sign up for the quiz here.
‘dr. Navin Jayakumar’ is a household name across India. Many of today’s prolific animators are your proteges. Tell us about your background as a quizmaster.
Generally, quizzers become quiz masters. But I started as a quizmaster when I was studying at Madras Medical College. My supervisor asked me to prepare questions for a quiz and present it to the participants. It was my very first quiz as an animator. Later, I conducted the quiz at the Madras Book Fair which was noticed by the famous historian S. Muthiah. He asked me to participate in the Madras Quiz commemorating 350 years since the founding of Madras (now Chennai). This is the first quiz for which I have been paid!
Independence Day in Chennai, especially among millennials, was associated with the Landmark Quiz. People lined up on Cathedral Road to get a seat in the auditorium. The foyer and parking lot were packed with people hoping to get a seat in the auditorium. How did it happen?
In 1987, I started a quiz group in Chennai called ‘Quiz Foundation’. Around the same time, Hemu Ramaiah started Landmark Bookstore in Chennai. In 1948, we wanted to celebrate the first anniversary of Quiz Foundation. It was decided that we would host a quiz commemorating the one year anniversary of Landmark and Quiz Foundation. Interestingly, this was not done on Independence Day, but in November. In 1994, we decided to organize a quiz every year and chose August 15 as the date.
In 2009, when the national anthem played at the start of the event, the audience was sure that at least one question would be based on the anthem (and rightly so). The excitement was evident when the question was asked. How do you keep the audience glued to their seat?
The crowded auditorium with me coming on stage and asking people to stand up for the national anthem became a ritual. I hadn’t realized it, but Samanth Subramaniam, a quiz enthusiast, told me that Landmark Quiz was part of school and university life for many students. There was an edition where more than 900 teams participated and only 8 teams reached the final. The remaining 892+ teams sat and watched the final, and many returned the following year. The key to this is giving the audience something to look forward to. Whether it’s an interesting question or an interesting answer, we need to find agreement with the audience and keep that in mind when we ask a question. This is the secret of Landmark’s success!
How does it feel to be back on stage after a 3 year hiatus from offline quizzes?
You must be asking me how I feel after the quiz is over, but anticipating it is one of my biggest thrills. Currently, I am preparing the questions and the slides. It’s like mixing the paints, rubbing the canvas and so on. The quiz is the painting that people interact with. When I present the questions on stage, the questions come to life and the magic happens. The quiz comes to life when it’s running, and I can’t wait to be there!
What was your favorite quiz moment?
I was once conducting a quiz in Bengaluru and asked a question about an initiative on CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Humming the song “Another one bites the dust” by Queen helps the CPR practitioner correct chest compressions, as the beats in the song are similar to those of the human heart. As the song was playing, I remembered that the person who started this CPR initiative in Bengaluru was Dr. Murali, and I remembered that I knew a Dr. Murali who was a quiz enthusiast. After confirming with another participant that the person leading the initiative and the quizzer were one and the same person, I announced it to the public. To my surprise, Dr. Murali was sitting in the audience!
You have often mentioned that your style of presenting issues has changed dramatically over the decades. Could you tell us a bit about how and why this has changed?
In the 1980s and 1990s, in the very first editions of Landmark Quiz, I had to rely on newspapers and books. We didn’t have many pictures either. If we needed to present a visual question, we would have to take a picture of a book after masking some areas. It was hard ! The questions were then very short because I could only question the audience based on the information I had.
Nowadays, this is no longer the case. I can access information about anything in minutes at my fingertips. I can watch videos, see images and prepare questions more easily. Consequently, the format of the questions has also evolved over time.
Public tastes and interests have changed over time. What are some of the expectations of today’s audiences that were not common in years past?
You have to keep up with the times. Today’s quizzes have anime, video, esports, and other areas of interest. I have to prepare questions to answer several quiz generations, including my contemporaries. Also, while some questions are timeless, others become outdated and change over time. I have to make sure the questions are relevant, up-to-date and interesting for today’s audience.
Often the process of creating a quiz (including compiling and presenting) is more difficult than participating in it. How do you prepare for a quiz?
I usually make a list of eight subjects: History, Geography, Science, Sports, Literature, Arts and Entertainment, Culture and Lifestyle, and ensure that there is an even distribution of questions between these eight subjects. I also incorporate several clues into the question to help participants deduce the answer. I am a curious cat who will dig into things to extract facts and construct questions for my audience.
What tip or advice would you give to budding quizzers taking part in Smartacus Senior?
Quoting legendary quiz master Neil O’Brien, I suggest that quizzers adopt the 3Rs: Read, Record and Recall to hone their quiz skills. You may be reading something today, but unless you cement it in your long-term memory by recording it in a notebook or on an app, and recalling it before a quiz, the information you read won’t help you unless you have a very good strong memory.