is the second installment of Anil Wanvari's three-part interview
with Sameer Nair, executive vice-president, content and communications,
Star India where in a really free-flowing account, he talks
about himself and the life he has led.
has bounced around doing umpteen things before settling into
Star India. He traces his journey through the by-ways of life,
right from his college days when his mother worried over the
prospect of having an "unlettered son" in a family
of academicians to where he is at now.
full account of some real Nairspeak:
What's your background like ...are you an MBA type?
No, Full failure type ...I finished class 12th, wanted to be
a scientist and all. HSC from Wilson. I joined Xavier's to do
B.Sc and stay relatively on track.
I did two years of that (1982-84) and lost complete interest..
you know it's in old story.. Physic-bysics...everything became
a real pain. I used to stay in the hostel. In 84 I decided that
this science and all was not happening.
wanted to get into advertising but they would not have me. There
was a problem there: they said you're not qualified properly.
It's just then that my family moved to Chennai. My father was
in NFDC and my mother a teacher. My mom's full family is in
education, so naturally they were much stressed when I told
them that I wanted to leave studies and join advertising. My
dad is very cool. So then I went to Madras (now Chennai). But...there
was always this drama about how I would be an uneducated and
'unlettered' person when I would grow up without a degree in
hand. They then suggested that I give an entrance exam for hotel
management. Which I did.
was the first year when the Institute of Hotel Management and
Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Dadar was having
all India entrance exams. Up until they were working independently...
It unified into one central board. After appearing for entrance
exam I took off to Assam. My uncle has a tea estate. I thought,
I'll hang around there and see what happen. Then I received
a telegram stating that I had stood all India second in the
exam. That was a real shock... but then the questions were very
stupid - what is the colour of emerald... those kind. I did
the three-year hotel management course. Along the way I also
did a BA in Economics (correspondence) from Madras/ Chennai
University. Quite difficult but I did it.
completing this I wanted to get back to advertising. But again
it wouldn't happen here. Now it turned out that I've got the
wrong qualification. Diploma in hotel management for advertising
...they said it is all wrong.. not happening. I came to Leela
for an interview but it kept on getting delayed... I never joined
the hotel ... I was quite impetuous those days and could not
friends and come down to Mumbai so we started a business. They
stayed on for a month and during that time we started a small
business - prepare and cater chicken rolls. When you go down
the Bombay House road, there was a shop called Grub Corner,
it's very close to where the Hong Kong Bank is, V.T. stands
(possibly Fountain but not sure) It was run by Parsi. After
a month my friends went back. I continued doing that for three
wanted to get into advertising but they would not have
me. There was a problem there: they said you're not
was fun, no profit though, but I did a good turnover. I was
staying at Juhu and used to make 250 chicken rolls a day, initially
before that I used to stay with my sister. But I was all alone.
Worked 20 hours. Woke up at 4 am, prepared the rolls, delivered
them and on the way picked up 20 kgs of chicken from Crawford
Market. Got back home. After my afternoon snooze I would be
back again - boil, shred, make mayonnaise. It was good fun:
the fact is I make good mayonnaise.
was a catch-22 sort of situation. If you wanted to grow then
you've got to invest more... if you got to invest you've got
to have the money and the only way to have the money is you've
got to grow the business, so it goes round and round. And I
don't come from a business family so it was tough. After three
to four months my mom came down and gave me a nice hearing.
"You must be completely nuts to be doing all this nonsense"
and she asked me to stop this at once and find a "legitimate"
occupation? What kind of a deal is this? (laughs)
time the Yellow Pages had just been launched. My cousin
was working there. He suggested that I apply there. I gave
two interviews one at Eureka Forbes and another at Yellow
Pages and got a call from both the places. I chose Yellow
Pages over Eureka because it was paying Rs 1100 while
the Eureka Fobes was paying Rs 1000.
So I thought
it was a better deal to get into Yellow Pages and also
that Yellow Pages was a little more interesting since
there was some connection with advertising, selling space
and it was a brand new concept... unheard of, in that, you
had to go and speak to people about it so I thought "a little
bit creativity ho sakta hai".
to have 200 people then. Man! I have walked all the streets
of Mumbai house-to-house, shop-to-shop, door-to-door.
used to happen. Major concept selling... it was quite difficult.
They used to sack people on a daily basis. Its focus was more
on sales. I wasn't good at being a salesman, I must tell you.
I couldn't sell! But I had good funda of the logic about what
we were trying to sell.
I wouldn't meet my targets, the territory manager would pile
on and pull me up saying: "Man you aren't meeting your targets,
you got a problem."
despite my logical approach, the consumers were not willing
to buy. So I asked them (my managers) to accompany me and
tell me where I was going wrong. We used to go together and
because invariably my pitch wasn't bad... in fact they thought
it was impeccable. "This guy is not bad," they said.
those days, many of my colleagues, used different sales techniques.
I used to tell them you guys are not convincing them, you
are conning them. These guys would tell prospective advertisers:
"Phone line Kaat Denge agar ad diya nahin toh."
were the pioneering days when company executives got scared
of you when you walked into a place with a Yellow Pages
visiting card. The normal introduction was: "I am representing
MTNL." They would get full tension and immediately respond:
"Hamne phone bill pay kar diya hai."
six months of my not getting much sales, they promoted me.
Yes, they promoted me to take charge of national accounts.
That's the big guys like Bajaj Electrical etc. But there's
no point yaar. The whole pitch changed. It is easier
to talk to a marketing person of a large company than a restaurant
also got Gujarat as a territory and had quite a good exposure.
Two years after joining Yellow Pages and doing all
that, I got married to Jaya (her father is the big director
P.N. Menon) who was in Madras. There was full pressure; her
dad wanted her to get married and all that. Since I was getting
married, there was no point staying in Mumbai. In order to
get married, we relocated to Chennai.
Aubrey asked me
whether I had any idea about programming,
and at best the only thing
that I knew about programming at that time was computer
So I applied
for a job at Aubrey Sequiera's Goldwire Communications. One
of my father's friends, Pratap Kauttar, an actor, had done
some TV commercials for Aubrey. So, he said why don't you
meet Aubrey, I will put in a good word for you. So I met Aubrey
Sequiera. And Aubrey asked me whether I had any idea about
programming, and at best the only thing that I knew about
programming at that time was computer programming. So I said
yes I know about programming (EDP department.) I got into
servicing. I thought first lets get into this field first
then we'll get into the creative part of it. So I joined.
out that at that time Goldwire was going through a rough patch
(1989). There was no work for me. They were anyway people
in servicing. I used to hang out with a guy at work Surya
Rajkumar who used to handle Goldwire's DD interests. By default
I got into something to do with TV. I think within three days
of joining, we did Filmfare Awards South for which
Goldwire had signed a five year contract. Additionally, it
had MRF as a client which is a very sports heavy company.
It was into buying sports on TV and sponsoring them.
I was into heavy 8 multi-camera shoot, doing editing. I had
never been to a studio before. But good fun. Then for some
amazing reasons the entire creative department walked out
of Goldwire. We had got quite pally and they asked me also
to quit, but I said give me a break, I don't even know what
you guys are fighting about. So after they quit, I inherited
the films department.
took me to a big cupboard stack with tape and said here are
the tapes; MRF needs a DD copy of some film. I took the register
and found the film. I went to the editor and asked him how
do I make a copy for DD. "You got to put those stupid stack
mark, time code and colour-bar." And I said cool, cool.
in those days it was linear editing, Low band and High band
and beta had just arrived in Prasad Studios in Chennai and
it was all very very fancy. So then I took over the films
department and ya it was films and television mostly. I stayed
there for four years and made ads. Did a lot of work, made
lots of ad films for Maatrubhumi calendars also did
an ad for Jayalalitha's Jawaharlal football Stadium.
was a major dreamer, huge dreams. We did a TV guide, quite
interesting, got a taste of publishing. We got in this big
project of hotel cable. As you know then hotels played pirated
movies so he came up with this idea of legitimising running
movies in hotels. So much time was spent on how to buy movie
rights and understand how to run the whole operation, but
we couldn't do it finally.
for me what used to happen was the way MRF uses advertising.
It used to do 4-5 commercials in a year. Then an annual season
arrives in their life where you have to do a whole set of
corporate videos, R&D video, marketing videos, opening session,
closing session... so I have done zillions of those videos.
was that we should do the Gulf war that had just happened.
So Aubrey had this idea that we should make this essentially
the basis of the Gulf War and make it into a Gulf War theory.
Post production by Prasad. It was a really nice piece with
some 800 odd cuts and finally music by A.R. Rehman. He doesn't
generally do this. He was into jingles. But I believe they
kept using it for four, five years.
At one point we were wanting to start
a TV channel.
made a presentation to Richard Li and David Manion.
Additionally, we pitched for a big presentation to Asiasat.
It was quite ironic we wanted to call it G-TV (G for
him (Rahman) Dilip then. He is a south Indian Tamalian. His
dad's name T. Shekhar. He has this belief. They have faith
in a Baba, when he was doing Roja, the first movie he got
to do. So according to the numerology and star his name came
out Allah Rakha Rehman - A.R. Rehman.
to come back. I quit Goldwire in 92 because...
you got bored...?
Just towards the end, Aubrey was getting into television.
I had produced two shows, one the original magazine format,
much before these Hindi channels had started to do it. At
one point we were wanting to start a TV channel. Much drama
had got into that. In fact we even went to Hong Kong. Met
the Asiasat people. We made a presentation to Richard Li and
David Manion. Additionally, we pitched for a big presentation
to Asiasat. It was quite ironic we wanted to call it G-TV
(G for Goldwire) but finally what happened was Zee TV.
I was getting to a point where... not much more nah
now. Actually, when I left Goldwire one of my ex-colleagues
of Yellow Pages was in Dubai. "This is an advertising
company. We'll give you good money ...this ..and that." I
had nothing else to do. And also Aubrey was quite an isolationist
kind of person and I really took after him, that one attribute.
So I wasn't much into social networking and those kind of
things. No parties, no peers. So normal logical thing to do
was to set up an independent business which is what I really
wanted to do. So I took it up. Left my wife, son, parents
in Chennai and went off to Dubai in April 1992.
there turned out to be quite a surprise actually. There was
no advertising agency. The only reason I was taken there was
for this lady. Basically my former boss in Yellow Pages
was unable to get a license and had got into partnership with
an Arab sponsor who was in the police department. He wasn't
giving her the license. So there was some sort of quid pro
quo between them: "That, I'll provide you with a real smart
guy to work for you provided you help me get the license."
I couldn't believe it! But anyway I had arrived there. I stayed
there for six months.
plan of setting up an ad agency ... it was connected to an
alimony settlement of hers. And I couldn't believe that after
all this my career had got connected to somebody's alimony
had no money. So I told those guys. You guys have no money
and I have arrived here. I have a wife and kid back home.
So we did a settlement. Give me some money to send back to
my family. We'll manage the way it is here.
they wanted me to work on was a tourist guide. Something along
the lines of the Yellow Pages. Since there wasn't enough
to pay, there was an understanding. They gave me a certain
amount per month to send back home. As far as my expenses
went, things could be managed. And they had basic facilities
there for six months, and returned back to India since filmmaking
is what I wanted to do. I set up my own company called Imagine.
The I got a call from MRF and was asked to work in tandem
with a Belgium crew for Sriperembudur. They were a group of
three guys and had covered Formula One races and things like
that. I was the producer from India. They had this nine-camera
set up and they taught me, the placement, the classic frame...
about how to shoot a race basically.
1994, Sunita Rajan (currently with the BBC), a dear friend
called up asking me to give Star TV a try. One month after
I applied there was no response. Then later I got a call from
a STD booth saying that a fax has come for me. The letterhead
of that fax was from Hong Kong Star TV. From a guy called
Tony Watts asking me to meet him in July or August.
thing I did when I joined Star was blow up a bus. It was a
BPL promotion for Speed the movie that had a contest.
to do 15 minutes of interstitials for each month. We
finished that job in two days or so and I had a lot of time
on hand. We had to do a lot of those programmes which were
in line with Bajaj Ki Lehren for Star Movies. Basically,
behind the scenes or interviews.
almost everyone. And Amitabh Bachchan quite a few times. We
did Bol Bollywood. We covered the Dubai Shopping festival
and then went for a four-day shoot to Jordan for a film called
Passion in the Desert. This was a freaky thing. Shooting
behind the scenes for Passion in the Desert sounded
fun. It was being shot in the middle of Acabar on the shores
of the Red Sea. The movie was set during Napoleonic times
when the soldiers are moving towards Egypt. The storyline
was very weird. It was about a soldier who, while heading
towards Egypt along with some others, loses his way in the
desert, and in the process proceeds to have a love affair
with a leopard.
so dejected. But it was good fun.
also covered Dev Benegal's English August and Bobby
Deol's debut film Barsaat which was being done for
the first time. We even had a tie-up with Mrityudata.
I was on Star Movies for which I had grand plans, I made a
deadly 10-page document detailing the plan. It came back to
me with a line scrawled: "Seen. We must stop all Indian production
with immediate effect R. B."
when I got to meet programming head Basav Raaj. That's when
I suggested that we have a 'Saptahiki' sort of a programme
which will showcase the forthcoming Sunday movies for the
week. Pretty impressed with the idea he praised it and said
that Bhaskar would be the right person to go about this project.
That got me pondering. I was wondering who this Bhaskar Ghose
was. He turned out to be Basu's boss. I had to head for Delhi
and it all got approved and I began with four episodes. We
had a launch function in Delhi. Basu was very happy with it,
he applauded, and handed over the mike to me. And I began
with Mukul Anand, my good luck charm.
over acquisition of movies for Star TV. Then in November 1997,
Mr Basu gave me Star Plus promos and presentation to look
after. Then in 1998, another interesting thing happened in
December: The Big Blast. I bought nine movies in two
day. Satya, Ghulam, Pardes, Raja Hindustani, Hero No, 1
Coolie No 1, Gupt...
the industry's five year window then. Ghulam we put
on air within five months after its release, Satya in
six months, Pardes in one year.
Star Plus from very close quarters. But to give Basu his due,
he made the transition of Star Plus from an English channel
to a Hindi English format. It was 50:50, 24 hour and prime
time, that's what led to those talk show and programmes like
Tu Tu Main Main, Saans, Chandrakanta. Chandrakanta did
not do well but that's what programming is all about. "Hit
hai to fit hai types".
1999 and February 1999, I was getting closely inducted into
programming. Everything went upside down and Basu and his
team all suddenly vanished one day. Mr Mukerjea called me
and said that he is going to make me the head of programming.
I was taken by surprise.
I have always wanted to head programming and
here I was doing it. But
what took be by surprise
was the way everything
gave me some insights into television and I always believed
in what he had to say about programming. He says at a TV station
you are an invited guest in that person's home, so there is
a certain amount of courtesy and decorum that are required
of you. That social responsibility you are aware of. With
this medium you can reach a lot of people quickly and actually
influence them. The awareness of that has to be kept in mind
in whatever you do. So that is what I believe. It is an extremely
powerful medium and has to be treated with a certain amount
of respect. Got to be careful with what you do.
always wanted to head programming and here I was doing it.
But what took be by surprise was the way everything happened.
was called where about 40 people gathered. Announcements were
made, there was loads of applause. The next moment when I
got to the room and I had a call asking what should Star do
with Asha Parekh who had been calling up.
So I took
off from there and got completely immersed in the work. You
really can't afford to have a blank on air. With hundreds
of producers calling in saying you had promised this and that...
Two-three months zoomed by quickly.
advantage is that it has a single unified vision'