"Contacts are very necessary to get work in private channels": Madhumita Chakraborty Newshound Prod. and Sujit's Vision Comm.

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They had cushy jobs as print journalists, but gave it up to start their own production companies. Meet Madhumita Chakraborty and her husband Sujit - the unusual couple, who say they much rather work from their own separate companies than together.

And so we have Madhumita's Newshound Productions and Sujit's Vision Communications (both in Delhi), two separate entities dealing in news and current affairs programmes and making corporate and ad films, interspersed with some fiction-related work. They do collaborate on assignments when the need arises, but choose to be on their own at most other times.

The couple has managed to do well in the business - albeit some complains from employees regarding delayed payments, and of course, the perils of working with the national broadcaster Doordarshan.

Madhumita is impulsive and spontaneous. "Sob! I don't have a programme on air now," she'd wail mockingly, while being interviewed. Her husband, Sujit, on the other hand, is the sobering factor in the relationship as well as the business.

But one cannot just help noticing the business savviness of Madhumita, who incidentally got into TV productions much before Sujit. She is the director in Sujit's company, but the arrangement does not work vice versa.

Indiantelevision.com caught up with the enterprising Madhumita Chakraborty, in Delhi, to know about the work the couple have done, are currently doing and their future plans. Excerpts:

Why did you quit journalism and enter TV production?

When I left print journalism, I didn't realise I was actually leaving journalism!

In retrospect, I think it was an impulsive decision. I don't regret the decision, career-wise, but I have fond memories of working in newspapers. In fact, I might start writing again. I miss writing, I miss the thrill of seeing my byline in print and I miss the atmosphere of newspaper offices.

TV was a new medium then, and I wanted to explore it. However, I decided start my own company, although I had job offers from several channels. I thought, I'd have better control over my time by being independent. It is very difficult for women - after marriage and having a kid - to continue working in a TV news channel, especially if she does not have good support system at home. The timings are irregular and I certainly don't want to leave my kids at the mercy of nannies.

What kinds of programmes do you produce? Do you specialise in news and current affairs only?

We (Newshound productions and Vision Communications) do all kinds of programmes. I haven't done a lot of fiction in the past because, being a journalist, it was easier for me to do documentaries and current affairs programmes. I guess, I used to think along those lines. But I have experimented with a few serials later, and now want to do more.

I've got a fiction series on the northeast, based on stories from a Sahitya Academy award winning novel. I'll start shooting it after the rains. The northeast gets heavily flooded during the monsoons and it is not a good time to shoot at all.

My production house dabbles in almost all genres on TV - including fiction, ads, corporate films, documentaries and current affair films.



Sujit and Madhumita Chakraborty
"I haven't done a lot of fiction in the past because, being a journalist, it was easier for me to do documentaries and current affairs shows"

A majority of your show are for Doordarshan. How is it working with DD? One hears that corruption is rampant and nothing moves without bribes there.

DD has given Sujit and me a lot of work, and all without any bribe. I've also heard about producers paying bribes to air programmes, but I have neither been asked nor given any money to any official to air a programme.

Doesn't that seem to be an Utopian situation?

Making programmes for DD has been a mixed experience. While the higher ups are very polite and give producers prompt hearing, files (pertaining to programmes) do tend to get stuck at the lower levels.

Clerks are, at times, very careless and lethargic. Mercifully, now with computerisation, things are a lot better. However, I still wish things moved faster in DD.

What would be DD's biggest drawback from an outside producer's point of view?

A major drawback with DD is that it doesn't advertise or give any publicity to programmes on its channels. You would see big hoardings about programmes of other channels, but almost never about DD show.

Secondly, DD should also stop changing the time slots of shows without prior notice. It has happened with our programmes and at times it is disconcerting.

But the best thing about working for DD is its reach. I've had people coming up to me in remote villages of Nagaland and saying that they've seen my programme. It gives a great high.

Have you thought about tapping the private satellite channels where, one is told, the big moolah lies?

I have not tapped private channels yet. I've been very laid-back, I'm afraid. But now, we have decided to go out and tap more channels.

Contacts are very necessary to get work in the private channels. It is very difficult to even get appointments if you do

not know anybody in the channels. It is not as though people would see your work and give you projects.

With news channels mushrooming, do you think there would be plenty of work for independent TV producers?

No. Growth of news channels does not signify more work for private producers because most of the channels get work done in-house. They only give out a few programmes to the likes of Vir Sanghvis and Karan Thapars for face-value.

Besides, DD has a few unsaid guidelines - it is not keen on telecasting sensational news. On the other hand, the private channels want sensationalism for the purpose of television rating points (TRPs).

Consequently, the channels are scared - and perhaps rightly so - that outside producers or sources might give them erroneous news. That is why private news channels prefer to lay their bets on tested soldiers like Sanghvis and Thapars. This way, the onus is on the anchors.

"If Delhi producers are given budgets similar to their Mumbai counterparts, the work would be just as good... or perhaps better"

Do corporate and advertising films fetch good money?

My clientele for corporate and ad films include Indian Airlines, National Book Trust, HFCL, Rajdhani Tea, Ministry of Power ( on energy conservation), Ministry of Welfare, Lok Sewa Sanchar Parishad, Anmol Washing Powder among others.

Corporate films and ads don't fetch a lot of money for producers based in Delhi. Companies and organisations, ironically, have a different budget for producers in Mumbai and Delhi. This is unfortunate as I feel that if Delhi producers were to be given the kind of budget Mumbai producers are given, the work would be just as good... or perhaps better.

As a woman have you ever faced the casting couch situation? It is alleged that quite a few Bollywood starlets have lucrative programmes on TV channels just because of the casting couch?

Casting Couch? Oh, most of DD's rooms don't even have decent chairs! (pauses and continues)... Just joking.

No, I think I missed out on this one too. Maybe because of my past as a journalist, or maybe I'm not attractive enough, nobody has even hinted anything…

Since you as well as Sujit keep such hectic schedules, what is your idea of an ideal holiday?

Holidays are mostly an extension of work. If one of us likes a place we are visiting, we just ask the other one to join after work. Or, maybe, we stay over for two extra days after the production team packs off.

We recently went to Sikkim. It was work around the clock with shoots in the villages, but as both of us had gone along with the kids, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

Sujit and I love going to the northeast. It's not only because Sujit comes from there and has countless relatives there, but because the region is breathtakingly beautiful with lush green meadows, meandering streams and gurgling waters. I wish more channels devoted more hours of programming in the northeast.

Where do you see the TV industry five years from now?

I see some channels closing shop and others fighting for turf - just as they are today!

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