International Women's Day Special Feature

The Indian television industry would just not be what it is today without the women who have helped shape it. Karuna Samtani, who headed programming at Zee TV in the initial phases of the channel's meteoric rise; Ravina Raj Kohli, first with Sony Entertainment as programming head and then as CEO of Kerry Packer's Nine Gold; Sunita Rajan, who headed Channel [V]'s ad sales in the heady days when it was identified as the channel with attitude and pizzazz. These are just some of the names that immediately come to mind.

Fast forward to today. On screen, there is a no-nonsense Neena Gupta who has no time for the lily-livered on her Kamzor Kadii Kaun game show. Off it, there is Ekta Kapoor dishing out TRP-buster after TRP-buster as if off an assembly line.

But the roll of honour does not stop at these glamorous queen bees of the small screen. There are myriad women out there in the industry, all of whom are making a difference to the programming, marketing and technological standards of the field. As producers, they have brought in concepts that appeal not only to female audiences, but have men eating out of their hands. In effect, the stereotypical portrayal of women on TV is slowly changing - from the weepy mothers of Hum Log, we have come full circle to the conniving mamma of Kaahin Kissi Roz.

Behind the glamour and glitz, there are the women execs who slave 14-18 hour days, plotting and planning programming FPCs, airtime sales strategies and event promotions. Then there are the ladies who are not content being seen just as newsreaders, but need to be out in the field during war and riots bringing the true picture home to the viewer. Are you listening, Barkha?

A University of Pennsylvania study last April showed that in media, telecom and high tech companies in the US, women make up only 13 per cent of top executives and fill just nine per cent of the seats on corporate boards. The figures are bound to be far lower in India, yet reflect the fact that this industry has more than its fair share of women in plum positions. On the occasion of International Women's Day, Assistant Editor Aparna Joshipresents a few names distilled from the many that stand out - in no particular order, it must be noted.

Shobha & Ektaa Kapoor

If daughter Ektaa is the face of Balaji Telefilms, Shobha Kapoor could well be termed the backbone. This is one company that owes its all to the two women behind it.

Ektaa Kapoor is one star child who has excelled behind the screen, rather than on it. Perhaps the youngest among those who wield power in the Indian television industry, Ektaa Kapoor is also one of the very few producers who have a serial on each satellite channel. "You have to make an impact in the first five minutes before your viewer flicks the remote" is her credo.

The Confederation of Indian Industry roped her in to head its entertainment industry committee last year. Only 19 when she started out in the industry, she now has veteran producers and directors following her every move and coming up with imitations. Apart from the addictive Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki which have helped Star Plus to retain the number one position, Kapoor has consolidated her grip on the satellite channel market, by ensuring that each channel has a Balaji offering. Sony's two top grossers are Balaji fare. Ditto with the two top Zee soaps. She is now eyeing the telefilm market. And knowing the homework the lady puts behind every venture, this exercise may well turn out to be Balaji's new jackpot.

Her dictum: "I'm successful because I'm a woman. We can handle 800 million things at one time. Men tend to get completely stressed if they have to do more than one thing at a time."

As for Shobha Kapoor, she oversees the day-to-day operations of the company, including matters financial, leaving Ektaa hassle-free to handle the creative side.

One aspect that has not got enough media attention is Mama Kapoor's role in the production process. She has final say on how the sets are organised and the look of the shows on air, right down to the costumes that the actors wear.

Overall company strategy also comes under her purview. This includes negotiations with the channels.

It may be mentioned that in the few years of its existence, Balaji is already poised to cross the Rs 1,000 million turnover mark this fiscal. A huge part of the credit for the success is owed to its young creative director and her mother.

Sushma Swaraj

B.A., LL.B.; BJP (Haryana); daughter of Shri Hardev Sharma and Shrimati Laxmi Devi; born at Ambala Cantt., February 14, 1952; educated at SD College, Ambala Cantt. and Law Department, Punjab University, Chandigarh; married Shri Swaraj Kaushal, July 13, 1975; one daughter.

That's how the official government site describes Sushma Swaraj. To those in the entertainment industry, Sushmaji denotes a powerhouse of ideas and intent. The industry appreciates the kind of sincerity that she puts into her position. And one thing that people across the board are willing to give her credit for is that she gives a patient ear to the industry. And if she is convinced of something, she goes that extra mile to get things moving.

A Supreme Court lawyer at the beginning of her career, Swaraj is credited with being the youngest cabinet minister in the country when she was elected to the Haryana assembly in 1977.

During her first stint as I&B Minister, Swaraj pushed through uplinking by Indian-owned channels, re-jigged the Prasar Bharati Act to its 1990 status. Additionally, she allowed TV software companies foreign equity up to 74 per cent, but barring them from getting into broadcasting; fine-tuning a proposal to allow foreign broadcasters to set up their uplinking infrastructure in place and taking to Parliament the issue of mandatory uplinking from India for all, and 100 per cent foreign equity be permitted in advertising companies.

She also managed to get the go-ahead for cable operators to enter Internet services, and forced advertisers and private channels to draw up a code for tobacco and liquor advertising.

During her ongoing tenure as I&B minister, Swaraj has initiated several measures, prominent among them being: giving the entertainment sector industry status; she led the first-ever entertainment industry delegation to Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha in the lead-up to the budget presentation. Her latest initiative could well be the launching of the DTH era in India.

Swaraj may look the quintessential Indian woman, but don't be fooled by it.

Sunita Rajan

As BBC World's deputy airtime sales director (a position she was promoted to in March 2001), Sunita Rajan provides the strategic direction for the 24-hour news and current affairs channel's commercial growth in the region. She overseas BBC World's operations in Asia and the Middle East.

Rajan heads the region's six BBC World offices - Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and the three India offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore - and is responsible for spearheading the channels' airtime sales through the Asia Pacific footprint. Her experience in satellite television spells she is completely clued in on what goes where when it comes to Asia's cable and satellite revenue models for news networks. Rajan takes credit for BBC World's strong showing in 2001. Previously regional sales director Asia, Rajan now has a wider role, which includes global issues relating to the development of business relations in the Asia Pacific as well as handling BBC's staff development internationally.

She joined BBC World in 1999 from Star's Channel [V] where she headed the channel's sales, marketing and distribution. Rajan was part of the start-up team that set up Star TV in 1992 and in 1994, moved on to head Channel [V] when it was launched in India. Rajan's career in media sales began in 1989 with Time Inc in India as a media concessionaire for Time and Fortune. Rajan holds a Masters degree in Economics from Bombay University and speaks eight languages.

Neena Gupta

Actress, celebrity single mother, producer - Neena wears several caps at the same time with panache. A talented actor, she got into TV serial production with Dard. This was the time she launched Neena Gupta Productions.

The 42-year-old actor has also made some documentaries like Bazaar Sitaram, which won a few awards. But it was Saans on Star Plus that gave her the cult status, leading to Pal Chhin and later Siski, which did not do half as well. Gumraah, which she made for DD, was yanked off air midway, after which Neena has not looked at DD. She now has Saanjhi airing on Zee, a well crafted soap on extramarital relations and marital tensions, which however, has not tempted the ratings to soar.

One cannot miss out on the show that has allowed her full freedom to get out the cat's claws as it were. Kamzor Kadii Kaunhas them all hot and bothered as to how such meanness is so "un-Indian".

Says the actor producer: "Shooting can be quite stressful. In comparison, acting seems like a cakewalk."

Monisha Shah

The youngest director at BBC Worldwide, 31-year-old Monisha Shah finds herself amid some major projects.

As director of BBC Worldwide India, she now joins representatives of BBC World on the board to formulate and implement BBC Worldwide's strategy for India. She has earlier served BBC Worldwide as territory manager for South Asia.

The last feather in her cap has been the tie-up with Penguin India, who distribute her five-book series of Ji Mantriji (a Hindi version of Yes Minister) and Ji Pradhanmantriji and many others. Mumbai-born Shah, who's been with BBC for the last four years, has been responsible for introducing Teletubbies on DD Metro, which was hugely popular among children. Also involved in plans with Star TV for light entertainment programmes and introducing Enid Blyton's Noddy to Indian television, Shah was the brain behind the production of Ji Mantriji on Star Plus and conducting a feasibility study on digital terrestrial transmission for Doordarshan.

Her latest high-profile offering is of course Kamzor Kadii Kaun - the licensed version BBC's hugely popular The Weakest Link.

According to her, "It's an honour to be at this position but it also makes me aware of the responsibility that I have."

Natasha Malhotra

Natasha Malhotra, vice-president, executive producer, MTV India is a part of the strong, bold and vibrant team that makes the channel retain its hold on Indian viewers. She is the one behind the programming and vignettes on MTV besides handling the recruitment of VJs.

Shows such as MTV Bakra (the channel driver), MTV Filmi Fundaas, MTV Chito Chat, MTV Most Fashionable and others have been her babies. She is said to have brought two crucial aspects to her job - her own sense of fun and her considerable marketing and advertising skills.

After studying TV Commercial Direction and Production at the Film and TV Workshops, Rockport, Maine, US, Natasha started her career in advertising working for Rediffusion and, later, for Trikaya Grey. In 1996, she also won the Best Debut Director Award at the 11th Annual IAAFA (The Indian Academy Of Advertising Film Art) Awards for Thums Up.

Thanks to her advertising experience, Natasha knew that you "have to work to a brief and to a target audience". Advertising also taught her that you must communicate quickly; you have 30 seconds to tell your story. "Young people have a short attention span, and you have to make your point fast," she says.

MR Radikaa

Radaan Studios is her brainchild, a venture that she runs singlehandedly.

In her own way, she is the Ekta Kapoor of the south, being as she is, the daughter of well- known Tamil actor MR Radha. But there the similarity ends - Radikaa is an acclaimed actor herself - Chitthi (aunty) to Tamil television viewers across the subcontinent and among the Indian diaspora.

Along with husband Sarath Kumar, Radikaa produces most of the serials appearing on Sun TV, and the couple is loyal to the DMK for which they have campaigned during the last Assembly elections.

R Radikaa started her career in 1978 as an actor and has to her credit more than 230 films in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada with big banners like AVM, Satya Films, Manoj Creations and BMB Productions. She has produced six serials, most of them on Sun TV.

Chitthi, which completed its run recently, hit the kind of high on the TRP charts that makes it an almost impossible cat to follow up on but who knows what she may come up with.

Chitthi was considered the benchmark not only for TRPS but for superior quality production and strong story-line. In fact, Chitthi was the first time Sun TV, which has its own in house productions and a host of vendors, paid out a marketing advance of Rs 6 million to Radaan.

Hema Govindan

The vice president of marketing and public relations for Turner Entertainment Networks, Asia, Govindan has been instrumental in crafting and steering the Hindian-isation (localisation) strategy for Cartoon Network in India, a strategy that has contributed in no mean measure to the viewership and increased ratings for the channel.

She oversees all trade and consumer marketing as well as public relation activities for Cartoon Network across the Asia Pacific. Earlier, Govindan was executive director of marketing and public relations for Turner Entertainment Networks Asia where she was closely involved in the launch of HBO in India and the relaunch of TNT and TCM Turner Classic Movies. Before joining Turner in 1996, Govindan headed the New Delhi operations of Burson-Marsteller, an international perception management company. Born and raised in India, Govindan completed her postgraduate work in mass communications in Mumbai.

Vinta Nanda

This lady has a tough job on her hands. To turn around the flagging programming fortunes of Zee TV, that is. And the outspoken Vinta Nanda, the newly appointed head of its ideation cell certainly is ready for the challenge. Nanda is not new to Zee - the zesty Tara that redefined the urban woman in the early nineties on Zee was her baby.

Coming to Mumbai from Chandigarh, Nanda started off as an assistant director on Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, the zany sitcom that drew viewers to DD like honey. Tara happened a long time later, between which she did several documentaries. Her portfolio includes Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Athwan Rang, Umeed, Shatranj, Agnichakra, Rahat and Sansar for various channels. But Nanda is not your typical television scriptwriter, content with writing syrupy storylines and contrived plots. She has made documentaries and socially relevant films for UNESCO and Johns Hopkins University.

Through SMITA (Social Mobilisation and Information for Timely Action), a project she founded in 1990 to utilise the power of film and TV to promote messages that bring about social change, she has produced films for the government, UNICEF and USAID.

Says she, "The subjects that I would like to dwell on are the status of women in our society, what role religion plays in their exploitation, status of law and human rights, the tragedy resulting out of the criminalisation of society."

Shruti Bajpai

The director, marketing, HBO south Asia, Bajpai is responsible for the marketing activities for the region and the general management of the India Liaison office. An economics and statistics grad from St Xavier's College in Mumbai, Bajpai joined HBO in November 2000, prior to which she was in the brand management function at Nestle India.

She has been the initiator of the in-your-face promo campaigns that HBO has been conducting to get top of the mind viewer recall. HBO is ready and able to shake up Star Movies, appears to be the message that is going.

Vandana Malik

Vandana Malik's tryst with the television industry started when brother Raghav Bahl formed TV18 nine years ago. Malik got into the picture as editorial coordinator for Business India Television in 1992-94 to look after the Mumbai operations, and went on to become the whole time director for TV18.

Malik says she learned the ropes by actually being on every shoot and learning on the job, handling the creative and administration departments simultaneously. She adds that the company stepped into television at just the right time - when the entertainment sector in the country was opening up. TV18 made its mark with features and magazine shows like the Amul India show, and later by pioneering business television in the country. Today, she produces several shows including Kya Masti Kya Dhuum for Star Plus and believes that the Indian television industry is ideal for women, with its ' young approach' and combination of creativity and glamour.

Ravina Raj Kohli

She's not in the spotlight currently but no list on women in media could be complete without this creative powerhouse in the frame.

With Nine Gold, she emerged as a strong contender in the primetime viewership band. Since it began airing on DD Metro in September 2000, the three-hour block of programming was instrumental in the resurrection of the otherwise nondescript state owned channel. Ad revenue jumped fivefold, ratings tripled and Metro's image did an about turn in viewers' eyes.

With DD pulling the rug from under her feet, though, Kohli found herself in the wilderness.

Kohli earlier was senior vice-president, programming & marketing for Sony Entertainment Television, where she oversaw the development of content, and was instrumental in starting programmes like Movers and Shakers. Prior to joining Sony, Kohli worked for a number of years on the creative side of international advertising agencies in India and Singapore.

The latest on Kohli is that she has launched Sundial Communications, an independent media firm. She still has several aces up her sleeve, and don't be surprised if she turns out a bigger winner than before!

Rena Golden

Thirteen jobs in 16 years, and all with the same company. That's Rena Golden's bio till date.

The vice-president of CNN International, Golden left graduate school in 1985 to join the relatively new CNN network for a position she classifies as "just above entry-level." Her rise in the organisation has, to use a cliché, been meteoric, becoming one of the highest-ranking women at the network, responsible for creating one of the most diverse newsrooms in the world.

Golden was six when she migrated to North Carolina from north India in the late 1960s. A stint in radio and a course on Middle Eastern issues was the raw matter, armed with which she took up the position offered her by CNN.

Within a year of arriving at CNN, Golden was writing newscasts, and a year later, she was producing shows. A passion for international news was what made her the perfect choice for the relaunch of CNN International after the Gulf War. Since becoming the vice president and general manager of CNN International, Golden has helped guide the regionalization push, which resulted in five different channels focusing on different parts of the world.

She is married to a former CNN colleague and has two young children. Indian culture, she says, instilled in her the desire to excel on the home front and the front line of 21st century broadcast journalism.

Barkha Dutt

Hers was probably the most famous face on Indian television during the Kargil conflict. Barkha Dutt has been into hardcore news reporting for well over three years now, and anchors a weekly news show and a talk show for NDTV. Her work during the Kargil conflict in 1999, which she covered from the battlefront, earned her four journalism awards and made her the subject of several positive reviews in the press.

She has earlier covered everything from politics to Indo-Pak negotiations, interviewed prime ministers, Nobel prize winners and other newsmakers. Armed with a bachelor's degree from Columbia University, she returned to India to report for the Star network from various cities and villages across India and has also filed stories from New York after 11/9. Says she: "I am proud that I still believe passionately in the integrity of my profession. I am proud to say that I haven't take my television persona too seriously."

Anita Kaul Basu

When she married Siddhartha Basu in 1983, she gave up her job as journalist with India Today and put her amibitions on hold. Anita Kaul Basu admits to raising her children single handedly while hubby chased his dreams. She returned to the spotlight as producer of the fanatically popular Kaun Banega Crorepati, about which she says: "Working on a show with mass appeal was a challenge." Though not many knew about it, she has been involved with most of Synergy projects, including Mastermind India.

As director of Synergy Communications, Anita has waited in the wings for her children to grow up and then decided to reshape her life and destiny, As husband Basu states: "She's an efficient administrator, manager and organiser."

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