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Monday, 4 February 2013

13 Until I Die! [Chapter 9: On Air]

Star News in Mumbai kept me there - on air - literally. Flying high and low for I had now joined the circus called TV news. Of meeting hourly deadlines in a 24-hour news channel. Of magically producing news capsules from thin air. Of flashing bright 'Breaking News' banners made from the colours that make a clown's dress. Of cartwheeling mid air while swinging between weekend special packages. Of attending hub meetings on other tricks to up the TRP [applause! applause!]. All this while Mumbai studio insides beat the winters in Delhi. Really! Did TV journalism originate in Antartica?

Dated somewhere in 2002-3 at Star News' old basement canteen with newsreaders... later it got a plush large canteen on the 8th floor from were one could see Makhalaxmi racecourse's beautiful green patch

Before getting that call from Star I was doing something totally different. The contract with an industry event company as their Brand Manager had one last job to be done. The editor’s job on Preview’s debut edition. On March 2002, the first business magazine on printing and packaging industry was launched across the country. It was time for me to pack up.

I had begun to like Mumbai though nothing had changed. Attending interviews kept me busy for a while. Clearly remember that it was while waiting for the appointment letter from Mid-Day after their written assignment... that Star News called - responding to an interview given months back in Delhi.

‘TV is better than print’ a lot of seniors thought so. I wanted to find out if that was true. By now I had a hang of online news portals and knew what the news desks at agencies or papers were like. I did not want to go back to killing time like I did previously at HT and TOI. Nodding a yesss [with a fist in the air] to electronic media was almost natural.

Star’s interview was a tedious one - plenty of rounds meeting people and screen tests... with and without makeup... with and without scripts. The selection process took another month. Ravina Raj Kohli [the lady who changed the ‘face’ of TV news in India] took me in as she mentioned while shaking hands - "you look good on camera and speak clean ‘Dilli’. Congrats!". Is that all you need to be a journalist on TV, I wondered while still shaking hands and smiling jubilantly.

To be bilingual was tougher than I imagined. I had to be the ring master - scripting in English, getting the nod of approval from the shift producer, translating it to connect with various bands of viewers and then typing them out in shudh [pure] Hindi as well as do voice-overs in the ‘shudh accent’ before sitting down with the video editors to cut the package with visuals drawn from OB vans and archives.

Like an angel, a senior colleague Ajit Sahi [a walking talking bi-lingual encyclopedia] walked into my anxious life and spent his t-breaks with me. His influence was huge on me. He helped me understand the Hindi language belt in no time. I soon began to meet hourly news deadlines before shift producer Tasleem Khan yelled out 'RD kya ho raha hai' [what is happening RD?]. Sahiji never agreed that TV was any better than other medium and on bad days I would agree with him. Last when we spoke, few months back, he was busy reporting for Tehelka from Tahiri Square. He is much thrilled to be out of the studio environs - just as I am at the moment.

At Star apart from a fat salary I earned many names. 'Speedy RD' when I ran a flash news before Aaj Tak did and 'Chana jor garam' [hot chickpea] when I lost my temper. Thankfully these are the only two I remember now.

Soon after, NDTV broke off from Star News and was the industry’s new blue eyed boy [fathered by Pranoy Roy]. Many colleagues moved on to ND and were happy even though they paid less. I stayed with mother [Star] to complete 3.5 years there… to 14 hours at work to earn yet another name ‘employee of the year’ [not very proud of this… please take a clue from the McDonald’s billboard].

The channel’s complete transformation to its Hindi avatar had me gasping for air. Recently it gave up its mother [Star tag]. The new name is ABP TV [Anand Bazaar Patrika TV]. Clearly Murdoch’s global appetite could not handle the Mumbai masala for long with many more channels wanting a bite of the TRP pie. Years spent under the Star tutelage reminds me of the nursery rhyme twinkle twinkle little star for no particular reason. Aah may be cos those were days when TV News Channels took baby steps into Indian media.

Inside the studio dressed like an Eskimo I fought bad weather while correcting my accents to deliver perfect VOs but outside I could not escape the very infectious Mumbaiia flu - slangs like kya re... vaat lag gaya...  Plenty of involuntary interjections punctuated my acquired local diction. They slipped out of my pout in a sing-song manner just like in the Aati Kya Khandala Bollywood number. In short, accent ka vaat lag gaya [gone for a toss]. When I came back to Dilli everyone nodded in disapproval to what Mumbai had done to my speech. But I preferred to be bindaas [Mumbai slang for happy] with my newly tweaked self than switch to poised voice and all that jazz my friends wanted to find beneath my old bandana.

to be continued…

General disclaimer: Any resemblance to persons living, dead, or reincarnated is not a coincidence. No animals were injured during the making of this novelog although some monkeys may have their feelings hurt. Sorry.