How A Chance Opportunity Turned Out To Be A Career-Defining Moment
I woke up one day to find a DM on LinkedIn. It was from Kavin S, a recent connection.
“It would be great if you could share some posts about a few transformative events in your professional life.”
I am delighted to receive feedback from people I don’t know well. Those who know you engage with you for many reasons. But when those connected to your writing on LinkedIn write to you with suggestions, you feel blessed.
They engage with you because they like your content or how you write it. Or both.
They are what you call ‘organic readers.’ They don’t follow your writing because they are your friend, colleague, or relative. They have many worthwhile things to do, but they make the time and effort to read and respond.
Kavin, thank you for subscribing and suggesting I write on this topic. So, here goes:
How the Number Seven Turned Lucky for Me
Seven years after I joined NDTV, something transformative happened.
In 2003, NDTV and STAR TV decided to part ways after five years of partnership. NDTV produced news and current affairs content for STAR News.
Prannoy & Radhika Roy – NDTV’s founders, decided to launch their news channels in English and Hindi – NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India. The existing content teams were divided between both channels. I was assigned to the Hindi channel but was offered an opportunity to produce a flagship weekend debate show for the English channel.
The Big Fight was a popular show during the STAR News days. Anasuya Mathur, the show producer, had expressed her keenness to move to the Sports team. I was chosen to replace her and asked to meet the show’s host & editor – Rajdeep Sardesai.
Reimagining the Future
Rajdeep asked me if I could think of new ways to present the show. In 24 hours, I returned to him with a five-pager detailing how I had envisaged The New Big Fight.
After reading each page, he looked up at me briefly before reading the next. When he finished, he placed the sheets on the table next to him, looked at me longer this time, and asked, “Have you written this?”
“Who else will write for me, Rajdeep, and that too – so quickly,” I replied.
“Great, if we can do even 50 per cent of what you have put down here, we are in for a great show. Start work on this, and let’s prepare for a terrific first episode,” he said.
“I can’t begin unless the Roys sign off on this,” I responded.
“Okay, I will call for a meeting; mail this document to me,” he said before leaving the room.
The Meeting That Mattered
Early in the morning of the day Rajdeep and I were to meet the Roys, I received a text from him.
“Tiger, I have to rush to Mumbai for breaking news. You can meet the Roys and present the new format to them.”
I was unprepared. The wind had been taken out of my sails. I was looking forward to meeting the Roys with Rajdeep. Without him, I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off.
“Why don’t you postpone our meeting for another day?” I called to tell him.
“No, you meet and finish it,” he suggested.
I entered their room that afternoon with a silent prayer on my lips. Mrs Roy was working on her desktop. Dr Roy held my notes when I entered. He read it aloud, removed his glasses, and turned to me. “Why are we changing it,” he demanded to know.
I mentioned that the brief I received from Rajdeep had been a starting point for reimagining the show.
“But why to fix something which isn’t broken?” he asked.
I explained: “Dr Roy, it’s only a reinvention. The crux is still the same. I have reimagined the show format and packaging from what it currently is and added new segments with names I feel will catch on.”
“But why do any of that in a show that’s working perfectly well?” he was still unconvinced.
“It is still the same show with much more added colour,” I said before deciding not to say anymore.
I was livid with Rajdeep for deserting me when I needed him to back me up.
I was now sure the show’s reinvention – as I had imagined it – would be junked. There was a limit to which I could argue in that room. I was close to it.
Just then, Mrs Roy came to my rescue. “Oho, Prannoy, let’s hear him and then take a considered call.
I began to breathe again. Minutes later, I got the clearance I needed.
I can’t thank her enough.
From an Untested Director to a Showrunner
After clearing the first round, I went to my boss to request permission to direct the show.
“But Rajen, you’ve never directed a single camera. How will you manage six?”
“Divya, trust me, I will,” I said with as much confidence as I could manage.
“But Rajen, please understand it is a huge risk for me to put an untested director in charge of a flagship show.”
“Divya, I don’t think any other director will do justice to the blueprint etched on my mind. What’s the point of trying to explain what I have in mind to someone else and for them to translate that vision when I can do it myself.”
Divya briefly thought before responding, “Okay, let’s do it this way. For the first three weeks, I will ask an experienced director to stand behind you with clear instructions to take over if you cannot handle it.”
I understood where she was coming from. I thanked her for her trust.
Gunjan Mehrish sat behind me for episodes one and two. He mostly regaled the crew with jokes. At the end of the second week, he told me, “Rajen, I don’t need to come next weekend. If Divya asks, say I was there.”
What Gunjan said suited me well. I was not going to miss him anyway. Not having him would mean less distraction for my crew. His jokes were funny, but not in the middle of the show. I welcomed his decision🙂
Every episode of the newly reimagined show was pure gold. It helped to have a brilliant anchor who was in top form. The topics were well chosen, and the guest selection was well considered.
We shot five to ten minutes extra each week, and trimming it to the desired duration was an ordeal. What do you cut when every moment is airworthy (which, in broadcasting terms, loosely translates as ‘fit to telecast’) and adds to the overall show?
Rajdeep’s trust in me grew with every episode, and he let me take most of the decisions thereon.
Five months after the reformatted show had begun, he finished recording the week’s episode and left the same night for China. He told me he would return a week later, just in time for next week’s recording. He suggested a topic or two and a few guests but left it open to me to change if news events during the week demanded so.
He told me he would be incommunicado for much of the week and would hardly have time to prepare. He asked me to send background research on the chosen topic to his driver at the airport when he returned. He would read them in the car while heading to the studio to record the show.
The show the week after went exceptionally well. Rajdeep played his part brilliantly. No one would have felt that the presenter and the producer barely spoke before the recording.
That night, when I got into the car at the office parking after the show’s broadcast, I received a call from him.
“Tiger, you pulled it off; well done!”
Something changed then. He began to depend on me, and our partnership became stronger.
Recognition & New Records Followed
I entered The Big Fight that year for three major awards NDTV participated in each year. The show won all three. That was a first. To sweep all three awards for a single show had never happened.
For the first time since the show began on STAR News, The Big Fight won the Asian Television Award. That was HUGE!
And not just that!
The show went on to win the Asian TV Award once again the very next year. Something was going right, and Rajdeep felt I had a crucial role in it.
In 2005, Rajdeep moved on to launch CNN-IBN – India’s second 24-hour private English news channel. He asked me to join to help him achieve for a channel what we accomplished for a show.
The rest, as they say, is history.
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