Television
Report on Shemaroo

Channel V: A walk down memory lane

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MUMBAI: As the curtains draw to bring an end to Channel V, not getting nostalgic is not easy. After years of struggling to find its way out of the rut-in search of viewers and trying to please the bean counters-the time to hang up the boots hasn’t come a moment too soon.

The real joy, however, lies in a good story and the story of Channel V’s birth is as interesting as it gets.

The genesis of the channel is in the falling out between Star and Viacom, which had come together to bring MTV to the country. Star wanted to localise the content while MTV preferred to continue with its focus on international music. Channel V, Star’s response to MTV, began producing original Indian content with a host of fresh faces, such as Sophiya Haque and Kamal Sidhu, as video jockeys in 1994.

What really made Channel V tick were its people. Ed Sharples was the first general manager of the channel while Shashanka Ghosh stepped in as its creative director. The channel’s biggest legacy is that it introduced Indian pop to the youth. It became a platform for home-grown bands such as Euphoria and Uday Benegal-led Indus Creed and was played a big role in them reaching cult status.

When we spoke to Mandar Thakur, who was the head of music and music/talent industry relations, he had many interesting anecdotes to share. Giving us an inside view of the operations, he spoke effusively of the wild ride that Channel V was and why it became an icon for the generation from the nineties.

Quite remarkably, Rupert Murdoch-led Star gave the heads of channel complete liberty to chase creative excellence. Therefore, the period between 1994 and 2000 turned out to be the golden age for the channel. “We never chased money and our complete focus was on the quality of the programming,” says Thakur.

One of the channel’s landmark properties was the Channel V Billboard Awards. The awards saw the participation of the top-flight Indian talent as well as the big international artists of the time such as No Doubt, with a few Bollywood celebrities thrown in for good measure.

“For close to a month before the launch, the channel was called the next generation of music internally,” says Thakur, who was based in Hong Kong in 1994 and was one of the first employees.

The offices of the channel moved around—from Colaba (close to Radio Bhavan) to Lamington to Khar 14th road (the Channel V bungalow, which became a Mumbai Darshan attraction) to Star India’s offices in Lower Parel. The bungalow was the scene of many a loud party.

During its hey days, the channel launched several iconic campaigns. The channel introduced quirky characters like Quick Gun Murrugan—a spoof on Indian western movies, created in 1994 during the launch of the channel—and was featured in its promos. The character eventually spawned a movie in 2009, directed by Ghosh. The Udham Singh Show, anchored by VJ Manish Makhija in Hariyanvi style, with groovy rap and a hip hop rendition of Meri bhains ko danda kyon maara was all the rage in the nineties. And who can forget the much-loved Lola Kutty, Anu Menon’s exaggerated portrayal of a Mallu housewife?

Oh, nostalgia is the drug!

A fight for eyeballs

It was the rivalry between MTV and Channel V that made it all worthwhile. The tug-of-war got the competitive juices flowing on both sides. For instance, when MTV got Ricky Martin to India, Channel V managed to go one up on its counterpart by ambushing the pop star at the airport with welcome signs, following him all the way to the hotel. “It’s what we would call the perfect gorilla campaign. They got Martin to India but we got the mileage,” reminisces Thakur.

Even at the peak of its influence, however, the channel couldn’t quite set the cash registers ringing for Star. In search of the moolah came some decisions that took the channel away from its core audience. As a direct result, some of the sharpest minds left the channel beginning early 2000. In 2001, Thakur himself left citing creative differences.

“The channel was on top because it addressed issues and the stuff that the youth really enjoyed,” says Ghosh. “Television in India hadn’t seen that kind of humour before,” adds Ghosh.

In search of greener pastures, Channel V became youth focussed as Mahesh Murthy, the country head of the channel between 1999 and 2000, made the decision. The channel may not have had as big an impact as it did earlier but it still kicked ass. VJs Andy, Anusha Dandekar, and Purab Kohli helped get the viewers tuned in.

Attempts were made to rebrand Channel V as a reality show channel, moving away from its music-only programming. The plans, however, did not come to fruition as the channel shifted its focus away from music; it lost much of its popularity and TRPs. Therefore, viewership dropped drastically. In 2016, this mistake was corrected: it went back to playing music videos on loop. Nevertheless, it was too late for Channel V to regain popularity, and Star India decided to shut down operations.

Now, the time has come to bid adieu to the channel, which will soon be replaced by Star India’s Kannada sports channel. Nowadays, life is hard to imagine without Facebook, Whatsapp or Snapchat. Well, that’s pretty much the case for the kid from the 90s with Channel V running on fumes.

Goodbye, V. Thanks for the melody and the melodrama.

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