true blue Mumbaiite, Hungama TV chief operating officer Zarina Mehta
is one of the three founder members of United Television (UTV).
Her child like enthusiasm for her work is contagious but at the
same time, there is a fiery temper lurking behind somewhere. With
no formal training in the media and television space, Zarina has
come a long way from her early days of being an edit person.
Economics graduate from Mumbai University, challenge is what makes
her tick. "The minute everything goes smooth, I am bored to
death. I don't live for the result. I live for the actual act of
fixing the problem. If there are no problems, I create one,"
year, from being programming head of UTV's kids channel Hungama
TV, Zarina was made its COO. Kids' programming is what she is most
passionate about and it also came through her shows The Mathemagic
Show, Hip Hip Hurray and Shakalaka Boom Boom for Doordarshan,
Zee TV and Star Plus respectively. Hungama TV under her stewardship
has recently touched the number two position in the kids' channels
space and the lady can't stop gushing about it.
being a shy, terrified and retiring young girl, who used to get
bullied in school, Zarina has evolved into a confident media savvy
woman. And the change came about when, as an eight year old, she
came back to India from Washington (where her dad was posted). "The
American system of education in school is so pathetic that when
I came here, I did not know how to read or write at eight. I was
enrolled in JP Petit High School for girls and that is where I changed
completely. It was the most nurturing, fun and fabulous place to
be in. Our principle, Shirin Darasha (she's still there), was the
most fantastic principle anyone could ever ask for. She taught us
to question everything. She opened up education for us and made
it meaningful," reminisces Zarina.
contrast when she went to Xavier's, she hated every second of it.
"It was complete rubbish. I studied Economics and if I asked
a question in class, the teacher would throw a piece of chalk at
me and ask me to get out. I believe English was really good because
Rajdeep's (Sardesai) mom used to teach it. But I did a terrible
mistake by taking Economics," she says.
in her mind after graduation was what took her to Xavier Institute
of Communications (XIC). There she studied advertising and marketing,
only to realise that that was not what she wanted to do.
turning point in her life actually came in school, where she met
Pearl Padamsee, who used to do theatre with them. "We used
to do these magnificent school plays with her. That is what really
became a career for me. It took me right through college,"
her younger years...
an independent person by nature, she was loathe to take money from
anyone even when she was young. And as soon as her studies got over,
she started giving English tuition to kids and also approached Pearl
Padamsee for a job. "I asked her to give me some work and she
made me a production manager in one of her plays. Right through
college I did a lot of theatre and that was my best training. Theatre
teaches you discipline and also what the audience likes because
you are an actor on stage and you get the reactions right there,"
points out Zarina.
was here that she met Deven Khote and Ronnie Screwvala. UTV, which
is today one of the most respected film and television production
companies, was born "out of fun." Reportedly, the trio
started out with Rs 37,000 in their pockets to float the company.
three of us decided to start this company just for fun called UTV,"
recalls Zarina. The first show they did was a television quiz called
Mashoor Mahal for DD in 1989, which was hosted by Raman Kumar
and created by Alyque Padamsee (who was the head of Lintas at that
point in time). This was India's first independent production as
all the other shows prior to this were produced only by DD.
for Zarina, her first tryst with the editing machine came with Mashoor
Mahal. What she had to do was mundane but she was hooked and
how. Zarina recalls with much enthusiasm, "Raman used to host
Mashoor Mahal and when he used to start speaking, he had
a habit of taking big breaths in between words. My job was to edit
Raman's breaths! I used to come in to work at 7 am to Western Outdoor
Media Technologies Limited (WOMTL) and learnt editing from someone
there on a small machine with four buttons. I was so excited that
I had learnt how to edit that I ended up spending the entire night
at the studio. And much to my horror, my parents were frantic at
home because they didn't know what had happened to me.
I was totally hooked. Although now when I look back, I don't know
what I was hooked on to, because all I did through the night was
editing Raman's breaths!"
with her husband and UTV CEO Ronnie Screwvala and Madison
Communications CMD Sam Balsara
rest as they say is history, but it's still good to relive and recall
history. Path-breaking shows that poured out of the UTV stable were
Mashoor Mahal, Lifeline, Contact, Shakuntala and The Mathemagic
Show - all for DD, since those were the good old days when the
pubcaster ruled the skies. But the problem in those days was that
DD did not allow any producer more than 13 episodes in a year. So,
through the year, there were these "no work" periods as
in those early days no one had heard of UTV. "No one recognised
us when we told them we were from UTV. Only when we mentioned we
were a part of Western Outdoor, did they recognise us," says
used to be one of the oldest and most experienced players in the
area of post production in India. In order to strengthen its presence
in the post production business, Screwvala's United Studios (USL)
acquired WOMTL in March 2003, post which the brand name was changed
these days, when production houses have been rightly named "soap
factories" as they churn out more content than one can ever
imagine, two decades back it used to take producers one and a half
years to produce one show. "A whole of research used to go
into our shows. Lifeline was shot on film and its music was
done by Vanraj Bhatia and it was directed by Vijaya Mehta. I still
remember shooting on location at Nanavati Hospital. Now we look
back at those days with nostalgia but the fact was that we were
very bored half the time because DD would not give us more than
13 episodes a year. You put in all your love and energy into those
13 episodes," says Zarina.
with Group M's Pat Vinayak and Doremon
came the satellite boom in the early 1990s. Channels like CNN and
Star Plus entered Indian skies. CNN broadcast the Gulf War of 1991
live on television and the face of Indian television changed. In
August 1991, Richard Li launched Star Plus in India, which was the
first satellite channel to be beamed in the Indian subcontinent.
The year after that in October 1992 Subhash Chandra's Zee TV hit
the airwaves. That was when UTV really burst forth.
Zarina, "After producing 13 episodes a year, we produced 208
(52x4) episodes for Zee TV that year. We created blockbuster shows
like Snakes and Ladders, Junglee Toofaan Tyre Puncture
and Chakravyuh for Zee TV."
variety of programming was offered to Indian viewers. One thing
that Zarina always did when she went to any channel was to offer
them kids programmes, since she is most passionate about them. "The
first show I ever did was Mathemagic, and then came Hip
Hip Hurray and Shakalaka Boom Boom. Every time I used
to go to a channel, I always had one kids' programme for them but
very few of them wanted it. The first one to really recognise the
power of kids programming was Star when we did Shakalaka Boom
Boom for them," says she.
the 10 years that followed, Zarina was involved in an array of shows
like Shanti, Parivartan and Saaya amongst others.
One of them also happened to be the mega flop show - Kahin Na
Kahin Koi Hai on Sony with Madhuri Dixit as the host. Zarina
is smart enough to admit her mistake and sees this show as her biggest
NA Kahin Koi Hai was my biggest failure ever. It was very difficult
to recover from it and it was a public failure and I'm glad it happened
to me because it definitely helped me. One tends to get a bit arrogant
in life and Kahin NA Kahin Koi Hai brought me down a lot
and that was good," admits Zarina.
queried as to where she thinks she went wrong on that show, she
says, "I know exactly what I did wrong and I will never repeat
it again. The only reason it didn't work was because it just wasn't
real enough. It is as simple as that. You can't have an unreal reality
show. And there were other problems too, which I don't want to get
into. At the end of the day, we did put our hearts and souls into
it and at that time nobody knew how to make a reality show so we
should have recognised and fixed that problem. That was a mistake
and the biggest failure of my life."
March 2005, Zarina joined Hungama TV as head of programming and
introduced local shows like Hero and Sanya at a time
when the kids' channels space was dominated by international animation
and live action shows. Hero became instantly popular among
kids and also was amongst the top rated show on the channel. Sanya,
on the other hand, was India's first interactive daily show for
kids, wherein at the end of each episode, Sanya faces a dilemma
and has two options to get out of it. At the end of every episode
Sanya turns to the viewer and asks for help. Viewers can then vote
via SMS, telephone or on the Sanya website www.sanya.hungamatv.com.
UTV made two versions of each episode's ending and aired the version
that garnered most votes from the audiences.
also introduced the Hungama TV Captain's Hunt, wherein the
channel looked for kids to be on their board of directors to provide
suggestions on what was right and wrong on the channel. The Captain's
Hunt has received a hearty response from kids all over. Then came
the Hungamathon - one of a kind mini-marathon for kids, which
was held in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. All these initiatives have
made Hungama TV a truly home grown kids channel.
from local shows, some smart international acquisitions also helped
the channel in a big way. Doremon is one of the most popular
international shows on the channel.
& John Abraham at the launch of John Aur Kaun? talent
Zarina has another ace up her sleeve -- a first of its kind reality
show for kids. In what can be called a coup of sorts, Hungama TV
has roped in current Bollywood heart-throb John Abraham for the
John Aur Kaun? talent hunt where two kids who win the hunt
will get a chance to star opposite John in a UTV produced movie.
John will also be the brand ambassador for the channel for the next
two years and will be involved in some innovative projects with
the channel, which at the moment, Zarina is tight lipped about.
queried as to what she thinks is her biggest achievement, she says,
"I think my biggest achievement is the way I work with people.
I need them to have the same mindset as me which is hard working
and go kill for the product - whatever it takes - if I may borrow
hate hearing 'No' from people and that they 'can't' do something.
Because the fact of the matter is that if you can't find a solution,
I know I will. That's the way I work. I hate people coming to me
with small irritating problems. There is no such thing as an insoluble
problem. That's what I believe in and thankfully, all the people
I work with also believe in the same," she adds.
like Kahin NA Kahin Koi Hai aside, what from her vast portfolio
is her biggest achievement? "My biggest talent is to bring
out the best in people and also to recognise a good idea and make
it happen. And my biggest achievement is Hungama TV. I think whatever
I am doing now is my biggest achievement. I never look at the past
because that has gone by. I have enjoyed my failures as well as
my successes," she says.
queried as to what she thinks about the future of the television
and media industry in India, she says, "The television industry
space is really going to boom now. India is booming. Why is everyone
going on and on about India? It is because it's going to boom. Look
at any industry - the stock market, the media space, advertising
spends... it is all on the rise. The only problem in this space
is pay revenues, which seem to have got stuck and it is irritating.
After becoming COO, I realised what a huge impediment it is to growth.
If that were to happen, there will be massive growth. So I have
the most fantastic sense of excitement. I don't think we have seen
anything yet. It's still all to come."
note that the order of appearance of women featured in this section
is not a ranking or a countdown)