...and journalism just happened to Bhupendra Chaubey

Sometimes the best things in life which make you stand out are unplanned. Mapping his way from a postgraduate in films to senior journalist in CNN-News18 is Bhupendra Chaubey. Set out to become a filmmaker in life, journalism just happened to him. Being good at theatre, public speaking, essay-writing and elocution, etc, cinema is something that still excites him.

The Delhi-based graduate heard about Dr Prannoy Roy looking for bilingual people to come on board. Although not too excited by the news to boost his friend's confidence who was applying for a job at NDTV, Chaubey went along and dropped his CV as well.

As they did not know anyone working there, the duo randomly dropped their CVs a couple of times at NDTV and forgot about it.  After a few days, not the other guy but Chaubey received a call from the HR for a meeting scheduled with Dr Roy. Declining to meet would have looked mean, and so Chaubey decided to meet him just to convey his regards. The co-founder of NDTV, after going through Chaubey's CV, immediately offered him a job right there. But, Delhi was not the place where this young budding journalist's heart was. He wanted to work in Mumbai.

Bhupendra Chaubey's resume

Chaubey has been a TV journalist since 2000, when he started his career with NDTV. In 2005, he left NDTV and was a part of the team that started CNN IBN. As a political journalist, he has travelled the length and breadth of the country and has covered three general elections and assembly elections in a majority of Indian states.

A graduate in Mathematics and a postgraduate in films, Chaubey has been among the finest political journalists of his generation. He has that unique ability to grasp things at a micro level, and then present them with a macro-level understanding. He is amongst those journalists who depend more on (political) awareness on the ground supplementing it with academic awareness of issues that confront the nation.

Chaubey moved up the ladder by becoming the executive editor of CNN News18. Today, he hosts the prime-time broadcast Big5 at 10pm. He also hosts a weekend interview show Hot Seat where he puts tough questions to key newsmakers and regularly writes columns for various English and Hindi newspapers, magazines and digital media. He lives in the national capital with his wife and two children.

Chaubey till date remembers what Dr Roy told him that day: "I think I am seeing a journalist in you. You should give it a shot. If you think you can't fit in, there is always an option to leave".

Thus started his journey with New Delhi Television. One thing led to the next which caught Chaubey's interest and there was no stopping, then. Dating a girl then who is now his wife, going to Mumbai was still on the cards. "Working with NDTV was phenomenal and an enriching experience. Imagine a newsroom working alongside Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt and Arnab Goswami under one roof. Today, they all are in different companies but I have learnt a lot from them," shares Chaubey.

Chaubey preferred putting himself as the third generation of TV journalists in India considering Dr Roy and Vinod Dua as the first generation, and Rajdeep, Barkha, Arnab and Ravish as the second generation. "The beauty of entering a different profession is that you start as a novice. As I did not know what was coming my way, each day was a new day. Barkha was an outstanding scriptwriter, and I also learnt a lot about storytelling formats from her. Arnab was a great political mind; all the conversations with him were enriching. Rajdeep was a big superstar even in those days."

Remembering his tough days and working in various shifts, the curious reporter credits three people in his life. His wife, who knew a bit about journalism, the one who trained him to think in 10 different ways. "In school, you debate at an elementary level. But, the ability to speak on a topic in multiple ways is something I learnt from her. (The second) Prannoy, the head of NDTV, was my ideal, but I made it a point to hang around Rajdeep (Sardesai) to see what he was doing". Rajdeep handheld Chaubey and was always a dear friend and editor to him.

Mentioning the time of during the Coffingate, the then defence minister George Fernandes was the main target of the critics accused in supplying coffins to the Indian army jawans. "One fine afternoon, on a weekday, as I was climbing down the stairs of NDTV office, Sardesai was seated in his car heading to some place". He asked Chaubey to join him. In the next few minutes, they were right in front of Fernandes's house opposite to Arun Jaitley's place without any camera. Sardesai, being a star at that time, the duo was allowed to enter the minister's house. Fernandes was not giving interviews to anybody because of the heat around the allegations. Sardesai, positioning himself completely on his side by saying a few things about Fernandes which made him feel very comfortable, sectretly messaged a cameraman. While, he was having the conversation with Fernandes, the man with a single camera entered. Sardesai convinced Fernandes to be patient with only five questions and got a 25-minute interview with him. "Rajdeep was sitting behind the camera. So, after George answered his last question, the cameraman was asked to focus only on Rajdeep and he repeated the questions which he had put to Fernandes. He was blessed with a photographic memory. That was my first encounter wherein I learnt how to convert a single cam entity to two cam entity".

"He has always motivated and helped me. There is a certain kind of bond and friendship that I have with him. He made me understand the nuances of journalism. That is why when he left NDTV, I too left."

"Bhupendra is a dynamic and bright journalist. I wish him all the best for whatever he does in future," says Sardesai.

Right after that Arnab Goswami made an exit from NDTV. "Arnab was very keen on me working with him. But, I joined Rajdeep. So, for some time, he was not happy with it."

"Now the person who is really helping me and encouraging me to create, enhance and carve a niche for myself is Rahul Joshi. He is an absolutely great guy to work with completely different from any TV editor. I am enjoying working with him."

With Google not being efficient in those days, on several occasions, Chaubey has worked under pressure. Not knowing where political parties office were, he used to often dial AskMe service at that time to figure out addresses. It has led him to several wrong addresses, nonetheless. "Pressure and dilemma are there in every work life, every profession, and journalism is no different. The only point is that journalism allows you to take decisions completely on your own. What you do in your journalistic career, only you are accountable for that.  While it is a team game, it is often enormously an individualistic game where it enables you to own your individual skills".

One crazy experience that Chaubey cites during his tenure with NDTV was back in 2003 when Uma Bharti was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. The day he was supposed to meet her for an interview, Bharti resigned as she wanted to surrender herself in the court of law. She decided to undertake a train journey from Bhopal to Hooghly; it was a two-day long journey. While preparing to return to NDTV, he got a call from Sardesai asking to interview her during the jounery, and there was no option but to accept. "Rajdeep has a peculiar way of talking. I got on the train without a ticket. I remember, at some station, Bharti wanted to take a bath. Being in an express train, one of her followers came arrived with two buckets full of water for her. She simply took the buckets, went inside the loo and poured it on her person and came out in the same clothes".

At the Jim Corbett National Park, there was a story of dying elephants which smacked of corporate poaching. Chaubey was asked to follow up, and he obeyed. On reaching there, he recorded an interview with the forest conservator who game some interesting viewpoints. "At that time, we did not have OB vans. The park is 300 kms from Delhi. In my great enthusiasm, I sent the tape back to Delhi with the driver and asked him to return. Rajdeep got so angry with me for this two-way journey."

Chaubey's journey with NDTV was full of twists and turns. He left the network in 2005 and was a part of the team that launched CNN IBN. He joined CNN-IBN (now, CNN-News18) as the chief political correspondent. Before joining CNN IBN, he got a call from Prannoy Roy. He said, "Only a stupid person would think of leaving The New York Times to join The Tribune hinting that NDTV is the NY Times and CNN-IBN is The Tribune."

"He comes with abundant energy to work everyday. His energy is infectious and sometimes gets transmitted to those working with him," says IBN18 Network chief executive producer Rajen Garabadu about Chaubey. "You tend to work harder when you see him work so hard. He reaches on time for an early morning shoot even if he has worked till late the previous day. He remains fully charged and his energy does not fade through the day. Having spent more than two decades in news television, I can say there aren't too many journalists who can match his energy," Garabadu said.

Always hoping to anchor ‘The Big Fight' which Sardesai used to do, it was a difficult task for Chaubey to leave NDTV. "Prannoy Roy did not like it when I bid adieu to him. But, that is the way some of our media barons are. They expect extreme loyalty, and he thought it was disloyal on my part to be moving away with Rajdeep".

Chaubey went back and told this to Sardesai, to which he replied, "One day, we will make it bigger than the New York Times".

"Bhupendra is good for his place. There are few editors who can decide and put entertainment in primetime slots which Bhupendra understands well. Earlier, Rajdeep's blue-eyed boy and now Rahul Joshi's lad," says a senior media expert.

Chaubey has been termed as Rajdeep's blue-eyed boy on various occasions. Contradicting this remark, Garabadu says, "I don't think he is. I have worked very closely with Rajdeep for more than 11 years. The editor-in-chief of a channel will work closely with his senior journalists. Anyone who breaks big stories becomes the editor's blue-eyed boy. And, in that sense, Bhupen did break stories from time to time".

Leading a team of bright reporters, Chaubey recollects how challenging it was for him to work with his peers. But, it came out well for him. Always believing in leading by example, he does not consider himself like a studio anchor. "I cannot sit in an AC office and ask everyone else to do the job".

One more instance that comes to his mind is when Sardesai wanted Ram Jethmalani as a guest for a primetime show. Chaubey barged into Jethmalani's car without his permission. "I was not permitted to talk on the phone. So, I went to a place where he was a speaker and parked myself next to his car. When he arrived to board the car, I opened the other door and got inside his car. I requested him to speak to me".

On one occasion, Chaubey caught hold of Murli Manohar Joshi when he was passing by, at which he got furious. "Today, he is a good friend of mine. These events toughen you, and CNN-IBN has toughened me even more. Through the years, one improves through the experiences of various kinds," he observes.

Chaubey believes that there has been a complete change in the approach to journalism. The entire concept of journalism has been turned upside down. "News has been replaced by views, and the feeling right now is like views are news. Some channels have converted it into a fine art wherein you can just say what you want to and will present only one side of the truth. You would convert it into an opportunity, a scenario where no one else can question you which is a dangerous trend and should not be taking place. These dangers are the result of falling standards of journalism reflected in various forms now".

Chaubey himself became news after his CNN IBN interview with the Bollywood star Sunny Leone for which he received a lot of flak. After the drama post telecast, he explained that he was simply doing his job by questioning her. "If anyone felt offended, I am sorry. That was not my intention. My focus was to get, try and figure out who the real Sunny Leone was. In this country, people can object to anything. Viewers thought that my tone was not in good taste but this is the way it is. They just expect filmstars to be treated differently."

"In my opinion, he spoilt the interview with Sunny Leone. It was a bit awkward and in bad taste. But, soon enough, he felt it and apologised which was appreciated. The interview was certainly a miscalculation and he realised, adds a senior journalist.

"The interview became more than what he said. His manner of asking questions, his expression, the tone, etc., made the issue bigger than its actual content. I am sure he did not mean to offend Sunny or belittle her. It was just the manner and a few wording which upset some people. In hindsight, he could have chosen his words better," adds another senior reporter.

For people who admire Chaubey and want to be successful, one thing that he follows is "be patient because if there is any profession that will check your patience, it is journalism." Making a film is definitely on the agenda that Chaubey wishes to pursue. Writing a book is also his plan going forward.

"Journalism should not be restricted to one platform or source, it should be across sources. I will be very keen if it works out well," concludes Chaubey.

"For Bhupendra, keep up the same level of energy as you bring to the newsroom everyday. Keep rocking. For others, there is much more to Bhupendra than what you see on screen. He puts in a lot of hard work which might not be visible on TV," voices Garabadu.

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