Vanita Kohli-Khandekar Column: Real stories from the world of media

The columnist bids adieu with a few funny, honest and touching anecdotes about Indian media

Shah Rukh Khan was speaking at FICCI Frames, the media and entertainment industry’s annual convention in Mumbai in March 2010. His comparison of working styles in Hollywood and India was well done — especially since he was fresh from making My Name is Khan with Fox Star Studios. I have heard him speak on two occasions. He is erudite and witty with a self deprecatory humour. And he is Shah Rukh. So the huge jam-packed convention centre at the Renaissance in Mumbai was listening with rapt attention. While peering down from his glasses at the pages of his speech, he suddenly spotted Leena Jaisani, FICCI’s senior director coming up on stage. “Are you going to throw me out?” he asked looking seriously worried. We laughed. Jaisani simply smiled and went on to say something to a FICCI official onstage.

Whether it is washrooms, air conditioners or simply working spaces, you could say that English journalists are positively pampered considering how poorly the ones in other languages are treated in India. Representation pic/AFP
Whether it is washrooms, air conditioners or simply working spaces, you could say that English journalists are positively pampered considering how poorly the ones in other languages are treated in India. Representation pic/AFP

This among others are some of the funny, honest, mean or touching stories from my years of reporting on the business of Indian media and entertainment.

>> In the Delhi offices of a largish Hindi paper, just after my meeting, I asked the way to the washroom. It took me five minutes to find it. It was behind a room full of old files and all sorts of junk. The actual washroom was a chipped, dirty pot, with a wet, slimy floor — the sort you would see in public toilets across India. And this was the only toilet on a floor teeming with journalists and editors. While I did not use it, it simply reminded me, once again, how poor the facilities are in most non-English language media offices. In the offices of a non-English language magazine, I remember the owner sitting with three air conditioners on full blast while the staff outside, housed on one entire floor, was sweltering in the 45-degree heat, without any air-conditioning whatsoever. Whether it is washrooms, air conditioners or simply working spaces, the non-English language media has always had a raw deal compared to English. You could say that English journalists are positively pampered considering how poorly the ones in other languages are treated in India.

>> Speaking of which, NDTV, The Times of India and English news media, are obsessions that haunt most media coverage in India. When you mention that you cover media, most people expect you know who moved to and from TOI or NDTV — not the big trends that will shape the future of the business. The rest of the country — East, West, South — doesn’t matter. Even the fact that Star India or Zee are now way larger than The Times Group, or that English news media is not the biggest miracle on earth doesn’t seem to hit many editors and reporters. Yet, all you need to do is look at the numbers. Hindi and Telugu dominate news television. Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, Malayalam, among other languages, dominate print. And in films, while Hindi is the biggest by revenues, the Telugu industry makes more films. Much of this will start becoming even vaguer. That is because dozens of mainstream papers do not cover media, as a policy. One of India’s largest English papers only does negative stories on television, doesn’t name any website, radio station, TV channel or newspaper that is owned by rivals. So its media coverage is zilch. Now others are following that.

>> About five years ago, while waiting in the guest area of (the then) NDTV Profit’s studio, I was chatting with another panellist. We were discussing the topic that we had been invited to debate on air. After about five minutes, we moved into the studio, the discussion began. My co-panellist, the person I was chatting with outside, went on air first. This person then proceeded to make the same points that I was making outside in the guest room with no value addition whatsoever. It was as if everything I had said outside was this person’s opinion. This person has since gone on to write columns on media, take part in expert committees and speak at forums. For obvious reasons, I will not mention the topic or the person involved in this brazen act of intellectual plagiarism. But it taught me an important lesson — to keep quiet while waiting for any discussion to begin!

These anecdotes are a goodbye note for my readers in mid-day. This is my last column for this paper, though I continue to write elsewhere. Ciao!

The writer is a media specialist and author. She tweets @vanitakohlik

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