Published October 27, 2011
NEW DELHI – 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.
Kumar's 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 five 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 on the show.
"You have created history. Your grit and determination has made you come so far in this show," Bachchan said.
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, 26, 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.
Kumar had 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 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.