Gone with the wind: Tracking some top ex-television executives

Some moved because they weren‘t happy with the way things were going, some to pursue other career interests, some chose to spend time with family and put their careers on hold and yet some were shown the door by the management.

The point here is that quite a few once-upon-a-time television biggies have either completely vanished from the scene or have moved to pursue various other career options.

So where have they gone? And more importantly, does anyone care?

That‘s just the question posed by Sony Entertainment Television‘s ex-programming head Rekha Nigam who is now spearheading her own company Vihan Communications and is also involved in scripting films. When told about the premise of this story, Nigam laughed and quipped nonchalantly, "Who is interested anyways to know where the executives have gone?" So is it a case of ‘out of sight and out of mind‘ for ex-television executives?

To name a few others who were once king of their turf and have drifted away from the medium are Zee‘s Sandeep Goyal, RK Singh, Vijay Jindal and Vinta Nanda, Star‘s Rathikant Basu, B4U‘s Ravi Gupta, UTV‘s Sanjay Bhattacharjee, Sony‘s Kacon Sethi and more recently Rajesh Devraj among others.

Rathikant Basu

Former Doordarshan director general and ex Star CEO and executive chairman, Rathikant Basu established Broadcast Worldwide and launched four regional language channels - Tara Bangla, Tara Marathi, Tara Punjabi and Tara Gujarati. The only legacy of that ambitious endeavor today is Tara Bangla which is just about staying afloat. Basu‘s choice of alternate entrepreneurial endeavour has had much better results though. Basu took over an upmarket eatery in Churchgate, Mumbai called The Tea Centre and it has proved a hit with the South Mumbai crowd.

Former Zee Network CEO Sandeep Goyal who is now totally involved in his dream project Dentsu Communications Pvt Ltd. Goyal, was the president of Rediffusion DY&R prior to joining Zee. From advertising to television and back to advertising, Goyal sure has come full circle. After a less than successful stint at Zee, it was time to move on for Goyal or rather he was asked to move on by Zee Telefilms chairman Subhash Chandra.

Sandeep Goyal

Television, as they say, is a very dynamic medium. So why is there an exodus and that too from top notch positions? Former UTV COO (movies section) Sanjay Bhattacharjee left the organisation after 11 long years and is now a consultant for the Inox group of companies. Leaving prestigious posts in a top company and then being one in the crowd seems to be the order of the day. Of the television medium, Bhattacharjee says, "One cannot be complacent when working in this medium because you are adjudged every week by TRP ratings." Bhattacharjee is of the view that television is a much more dynamic medium than ad films or motion pictures because a person working for this medium is always trying to improvise, meet deadlines and is of course working round the clock. Bhattacharjee is doing other things right now but says that if given a chance he would definitely go back to the television business.

Food for thought: Most executives, who have drifted away from television for whatever reasons, would love to get back to the medium if the opportunity comes up. But then, if one leaves only to re-enter the field in another fashion, why leave at all? Or are the comments while leaving mere platitudes and politically correct statements?

Rekha Nigam

Nigam, who was into advertising before joining television said she was literally dragged from there and pulled into television, but this sway was "more of a move from doing 30 seconds of programmes to 30 minutes of programmes." Television was one area that was unexplored by Nigam as she had dabbled in advertising and scripting films, but after less than a year she moved back to her first love - scripting. She views her short stint at Sony as a ‘crash course‘ on everything there was to know about television.

"I am doing several things at present. I am doing a couple of movies, a few ads and a few television programmes. I have my own company Vihan Communication now, which I am spearheading as its managing director. I am hands on involved in all its creative aspects," says Nigam.

In-house politics has also played a role in appointments and dismissals of people. Soap factory Balaji Telefilms‘ ex CEO Sanjay Dosi put in his papers in May 2002 following which Shobhaa Kapoor took over as CEO of the company. "We parted on amiable terms," says Dosi, refusing to divulge details regarding his departure from Balaji. Dosi then joined rival production house UTV as COO (finance and operations) in July 2002. UTV proved to be a good experience for him but again that didn‘t last for more than a year. On the flight of many professionals from the television medium, Dosi says, "Most production houses have a very narrow place of working. So beyond a point, one does see larger opportunities and hence goes ahead with better prospects that come their way." Remaining mysterious about his present vocation, Dosi said he was not in a position to divulge anything. "It might or might not be related to television," he says mysteriously. We left him to his little secrets.

Vinta Nanda

Another creative-to-the-core professional now wholly involved in making movies is Vinta Nanda. The writer behind the marathon serial Tara on Zee TV, Nanda was roped in as the ideation head of the channel to give the network that programming chutzpah which was lacking in January 2002. She parted ways with the channel by August the same year for a ‘temporary reprieve.‘ Nanda is now involved in making a movie White Noise which she has scripted herself.

Ex Zee Telefilms MD and CEO Vijay Jindal quit to start his own media venture but continued to be advisor to the promoter shareholder of the Essel Group of Companies for three years. Apparently, the buzz was that Zee‘s chairman Subhash Chandra and Jindal had ‘fallen out‘ which led Chandra to place an ad in The Economist and The Economic Times seeking a new CEO. Jindal is now with the Times of India.

Vijay Jindal
R K Singh

Another big name from Zee (there seem to be so many of them!!) who drifted away is RK Singh. The former ESPN Software India head joined Zee in September 1999 as CEO, replacing Vijay Jindal. After two and a half years, Singh was shunted to Essel Group‘s Playwin Infravest and as head of Chandra‘s online lottery business. He quit in February 2002 saying he "wanted to move on and do other things."

Talking about his shift from Zee Telefilms to Playwin and then totally disappearing from the scene, Singh says, "At Zee, I was in charge of the broadcasting. After that, I moved to Playwin. But things didn‘t pan out too well with the lottery business, so I decided to quit. I also felt that it was time that one should work for oneself rather than be under somebody."

Although he is presently involved in media consulting among other things, he says that if something challenging and exciting enough comes up on the television front for him, he would surely consider getting back. Describing his stint with television as ‘rich and rewarding‘, Singh is now in "command of his life" (as he likes to calls his decision to venture into new pastures).

Partha Pratim Sinha

Zee Group marketing director Partha Pratim Sinha, an ally and confidante of Sandeep Goyal, left Zee soon after his mentor to join Publicis India as executive vice-president and also its national strategic planning head in November 2002. Sinha had over ten years of experience in the advertising and marketing industry and had stints with Citibank, O&M and Rediffusion DY&R to his credit before joining Zee.

To move on to other channels. Former MAX vice-president Prashant Sanwal, joined Subhash Chandra‘s Zee group as director of all Zee‘s regional language Alpha channels in June 2002. Sanwal is now an independent consultant after he put in his papers at Zee in March 2003. Disgruntlement with the ways of functioning at Zee or just a quest for ‘fresh pastures‘?

Apurva Purohit

Apurva Purohit quit Zee TV at the end of 2003 after an 18-month stint at the network as president (business). Initial speculation was that Purohit might be going back to her earlier job as media director with FCB Ulka‘s media unit Lodestar but the lady has ruled out any such move. It will be known soon enough where she is going on one count there is certainty. That she will be in media.

B4U Worldwide CEO Ravi Gupta ceased to hold his post in April 2003. The change was instituted "to add a fresh approach, dynamism and vigor to the image and functioning of the network," as the official communiqué from B4U put it. The exact circumstances surrounding Gupta‘s departure were not too clear. The network‘s business strategy was being reshaped to sharpen its on-air content, distribution and brand communication. Gupta is in Mumbai at the moment but the word is that he is planning to settle in Pune. Six months after Gupta‘s ouster from B4U, distribution and marketing head Debashish Dey quit the organisation. Dey is still to decide on the course of his career.

Ravi Gupta

Kacon Sethi, the ad sales head, executive vice-president and general manager of Max was one of those who lost out in late 2001 after Sony‘s top brass descended on Mumbai in October 2001 to institute restructuring. Kacon decided to concentrate on family life after she adopted a baby girl and is currently enjoying parenthood. Sethi doesn‘t seem to be pining for more of the television business. Last heard, she was on holiday in Goa. Another lady, Devika Sharma, who was Channel [V] vice-president bid goodbye to the music channel in April 2002 and has not surfaced in media circles domestically, at least.

Ex MAX ad sales head Kacon Sethi (extreme left), actor Govinda, production head Rekha Nigam & Sony CEO Kunal Dasgupta letting their hair down

Sony Entertainment Television‘s executive creative director Rajesh Devraj, a new entrant to the outfit, quit last month after just 11 months, saying he wanted to return to scripting a film that he was working on before joining Sony. About the learnings he garnered at Sony, Devraj says, "Personally, I‘ve learnt a great deal about shaping ideas. The sheer exposure to a large volume of scripts and ideas, the process of interacting with writers every day, all of this has helped sharpen my own creative skills." About his tenure at Sony, however, Devraj has a different opinion. "It‘s been frustrating, I won‘t deny that, but it‘s been an incredible learning experience as well. So I have no regrets."

Sunil Sahjwani receives the Best Station Jingle award from DD director Mukesh Sharma

Moving away from the visual to the audio medium, national creative head of Entertainment Network India Limited which runs FM radio station Radio Mirchi, Sunil Sahjwani put in his papers in December 2003. Sajhwani had a good spell with radio but said he "started missing the visual medium." He is likely to join Percept D‘ Mark‘s feature film division, the Percept Picture Company after a small hiatus. Sahjwani was also programming director at ETC, apart from his earlier stint in advertising. He also directed the popular countdown show BPL Oye for Channel [V].

One look at the number of people quitting television while they were at the peak of their careers and in the most exalted positions makes one wonder if it really is all hunky dory at the top. The intense deadline pressures, the cut-throat politicking, the daily high stress levels all seem to take their toll.

Many are still hanging in there, seemingly dissatisfied, looking for a change, resisting peer and superior pressure, prioritising family before work, yet unable to take the crucial decision to call it quits.

These few we have highlighted are but examples of those who left (or were pushed out) and went on to do different things. There have been others and there will be more this year as well. Corporate chicanery will continue to exact its pound of flesh!

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