Women who have shaped India’s TV landscape

MUMBAI: Diversity. That has been the buzz globally as the entertainment industry seeks to right the female-to-male ratio in the power structure of corporations that define it. In India’s large organised entertainment sector, most companies have had men in senior executive positions for  a while. But with the entrepreneurial fever running high and funding available, an increasing number of women have been setting up ventures operating in this space.

Entrepreneurship aside, women have, over the past few decades, played a critical role in the evolution of the television industry. Right from the black and white television days, they have been involved in programming as well as content production. The credit to set the ball rolling for the TV revolution goes to late prime minister Indira Gandhi, who steam-rolled her way into launching colour television in 1982 around the time of the Asian games.

But before that, in the era of  black and white TV, DD Mumbai Kendra’s Shukla Das was behind such iconic shows as Young World, Rich Heritage, Spotlight and Magic Lamp—shows that were way ahead of their time. There were other iconic figures like Luku Sanyal, Jane Swamy, Rini Simon and Usha Alburqueque who became the face of news in India when the only channel around was Doordarshan.

public://karuna samtani_0.jpg Karuna Samtani

Then came the satellite TV revolution and in came Zee TV in 1992, created by a rice and toothpaste tube manufacturer Subhash Chandra. And he hired an army of women to help him churn out TV shows that shook the nation. Among the first of them was Karuna Samtani, an ad-film maker, who was hired as the head of content at Zee TV.'She roped in unknown creators who produced content at Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 an episode that went on to redefine the viewing habits of Indian TV audiences, sparking off the satellite TV revolution-which had been initiated by Star—in India.

public://meenakshi-madhvani_0.jpgMeenakshi Madhvani

Chandra had the uncanny ability to pick the right women: his hiring of the then media whizkid Meenakshi Madhvani, now Menon, helped give the fledgling broadcaster a solid foundation to generate ad revenue from by creating an advertising rate card.

Urmila Gupta

Even as this was going on, at public broadcaster Doordarshan, a programming explosion was being set off by the team of DD director general R Basu and deputy generals RK Singh and Urmila Gupta in 1994. Reeling from declining viewership following the onslaught of Zee TV and a few other private TV channels, the government-owned TV network also got into entertainment and openness hyperdrive by launching a separate channel called DD Metro and revamping DD National. In charge of the news and current affairs division, Gupta brought in private producers like Prannoy and Radhika Roy, Raghav Behl, Nalini Singh, Madhu Tehan to churn out news programmes that, at times, were critical of the government at that time. DD Metro became a success and helped spawn a clutch of producers.

public://tata_0.jpgMegha Tata 

Around the same time, Star was going local and Monica (now Megha) Tata joined the sales team of Star India as vice president advertising sales in 1992. At Star, she was responsible for advertising revenue for Star Movies, Star World, Channel V, National Geographic Channel and History Channel. Tata subsequently joined Turner International in 2004 where she served as general manager, entertainment networks South Asia. She was responsible for steering and overseeing all network initiatives across Turner’s brand portfolio in South Asia and was overseeing the advertising sales, research and marketing communication functions. In 2016, Anil Ambani Reliance group-owned business broadcast network appointed Tata as chief operating officer to manage the relaunch of its 24-hour business news channel following the exit of Bloomberg News from the venture. Bloomberg TV India was rechristened BTVI, which is helmed by her.

public://manisha-sharma-colors_0.jpgManisha Sharma

When Manisha Sharma joined the team in 2012 as head of the non-fiction category, Hindi GEC Colors was in its initial years. At Colors, Sharma brought out some distinctive, out-of-the-box reality programming and contemporary dramas, exposing the Indian television audience to a whole new world of entertainment. She created some of the most critically acclaimed properties that Indian television ever witnessed including shows such as 24, Comedy Nights With Kapil, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, Bigg Boss and Khatron Ke Khiladi.

Prior to joining Colors, she was the non-fiction head at Sony Entertainment Television and was responsible for shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati, Dus Ka Dum, Comedy Circus, Crime Patrol and fiction properties including Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi and Kkusum.

public://supriya sahu_0.jpgSupriya Sahu

Supriya Sahu has been credited for giving a shape and direction to India's community radio movement. It was under her leadership that community radio was included in the 12th Five-Year Plan of India and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) opened its doors and increased engagement with the community radio sector. Having worked as a joint secretary at the MIB, Sahu has extensive experience in the ministry; she had earlier served as the director at the ministry. In February this year, she was selected by Prasar Bharati, India's public service broadcaster, to be the director general of state broadcaster Doordarshan after which the broadcaster had recommended her name to MIB for approval.

public://Smriti Irani 3x2.jpgSmriti Irani

For many years, Smriti Irani along with Ekta Kapoor and Star India contributed to the rise of Indian television thanks to the hugely popular Kyuunki Saas Ki Kabhi Bahu Thi–a series in which Irani played the role of a dutiful Indian daughter-in-law, who had sanskaars yet was willing to stand up for herself when she was wronged. 

Now, 17 years later, Smriti sits over the entire broadcast sector as India’s TV content regulator as Minister of Information and Broadcasting, a position none of the executives or professionals in Indian television even envisaged she would one day hold.

Irani acted quickly following her appointment: she put a halt to the process of e-auctions of DD’s free-to-air direct-to-home platform DD FreeDish.  She even stopped the privatisation of time slots on national broadcaster DD National and even said no to two productions (one by Gajendra Singh and the other by Balaji Telefilms) that had got the go ahead. That did not augur well for at least Singh as it allegedly caused him grievous losses.

Then, under her watch, the ministry has been demanding that the world’s most valued cricket league, the IPL, is of national importance and that Star India needs to share its feed with DD, something which the Fox group company sees as not being fair. Additionally, the ministry has also raised the fees for live uplinking–a move that many see as targeted at making things dearer for Star India as it is going to have a summer packed with several days of IPL cricket matches in six languages.

Irani also left her stamp on this year’s IFFI, which was probably the most glamorous in its history with A-list Bollywood stars winging it to Goa. Her ministry lifted the bar for the festival in terms of scale and quality. She also clamped down on steamy condom commercials that were flooding TV channels during the day. They were ordered to telecast them only between 10pm and 6am.

public://swati mohan_0.jpgSwati Mohan

Swati Mohan, business head – India, for FOX Networks Group (FNG) is one of the youngest faces in the industry to head such a large and profitable broadcast network. She is a seasoned professional with over 16 years of experience across a wide spectrum ranging from television content and Programming, to film and TV production, content marketing and advertising. A literature graduate from Lady Sri Ram College, Mohan has a master's degree in Film and Television from Goldsmiths College, London and a diploma in film making from the New York Film Academy.

Prior to taking on the role of business head for India, Swati led the programming and content portfolio for the National Geographic and Fox Networks Group.

Before her time at FNG, Swati spent five years at Group M leading the brand content and  partnerships piece at Mindshare Fulcrum, post which she set up the division in Maxus. During her time at Fulcrum (2007 – 2010), at a time where branded content was still fairly nascent, she led the wave of strategic brand building through content and was responsible for award winning work both in India and the region for brands like Wheel, Sunsilk, Ponds etc. She was then elevated to a national director ESP at Maxus where she was tasked with setting up a division from scratch and also ensure a healthy revenue stream. Within 12 months of setting up this division, she not only managed to grow advertiser demand in the area, she managed to make it one of the most profitable non-core revenue stream for the agency.

Prior to Group M, she had had successful stints at Endemol and FBC Media as executive producer, and started her career in advertising and worked in Ogilvy and Red Ice Films.

public://Anurradha prasad_0.jpgAnurradha Prasad

Anurradha Prasad is the owner of BAG Films and Media Ltd that owns news channel News 24 and music entertainment channel E24. Prasad launched the news channel in 2007 and recently repackaged and revamped the channel in February. Although she does not have any formal education in journalism, she began her anchoring career as early as 1990. Her company BAG Films and Media has been credited with pulling off shows like Poll Khol, Red Alert, Kumkum, Khullja Sim-Sim and Khabrein Bollywood Ki on Doordarshan.

Ritu Dhawan

India’s veteran anchor Rajat Sharma of Aap Ki Adalat fame is the public face of India TV. But the backbone of the channel is his wife Ritu Dhawan as she runs the business with Sharma helming the editorial. The duo launched the channel in 2004 just as the BJP’s tenure at the Centre was ending.As managing director of the Independent News Service, Ritu has played a key role in taking the company’s valuation to an impressive Rs 1,000 crore.

Fazilla Allana and Kamna Nirula Menezes

This one  is a great example of how business partners can also be good friends! Fazila Allana and Kamna Nirula Menezes - the duo who founded and run Sol Production From boss and subordinate, to business partners and now family, their relationship has moulded into many shapes over the years. However, none of it has affected their friendship.

Kamna and Fazila met over fifteen years ago, when Kamna was working in UTV and Fazila was her boss at the time. The duo then decided to launch their production company Sol in January 2003. In a short time, Sol was recognised as a producer of high quality non-fiction programming as well as live and televised events.

Sol has been one of the pioneers for non scripted shows in the country, very often starting trends and blazing trails for people to follow and winning many awards in the process. In 2007, Sol became part of the Zodiak group. Today, Sol is a well established and respected producer of high quality shows, producing in multiple genres, including, reality shows, talent shows, talkshows, kids programming as well as drama and daily soap.

Ravina Raj Kohli

Ravina Raj Kohli started her career  from an advertising firm called HTA (now known as JWT) in Singapore. At that time, advertising was a field not very conducive to women. But Ravina took up the challenge bravely and excelled. She worked in advertising, radio and television all over Asia Pacific region during her stay in Singapore from 1990 – 1996. She went on to join Sony Entertainment Television as Programming Head – God seemed to have crafted her destiny. She was holidaying in Lakshwadeep Islands with her friends, Mitali and Prahlad Kakkar where she was introduced to one of the directors of the channel just as a matter of chance. The rest is history and soon, Ravina was offered the position of programming head with Sony. She had limited idea about the needs of the Indian television viewers, but she took up the challenge. She was given single handed responsibility of the programming department with the authority to take decisions. Sony was ranked 56 in the charts at that time, and under her able leadership, the channel shot to the top slots.

She decided to launch her own production house cum multimedia company by the name of Sundial. Hardly had she got things going, her paths crossed with Rupert Murdoch, who placed the daunting task of converting an English news channel, Star News into a Hindi one, and that too, in just 11 months. At that time, the channel had absolutely nothing, not even a screw. So it was literally like launching a new channel for Ravina. She hired the team, trained and oriented them towards the goal and embarked on taking up the challenge thrown at her. And she did complete her task within the stipulated and the channel was aired on the penultimate day of the deadline. She worked with Star News for about another year till 2004, hand holding the channel to become one of the most successful news mediums in the terrestrial space.

She is motivated to contribute her bit to the benefit of society at large, having founded Jobcorp Company., a company dedicated for empowerment of women. She has also been actively involved in th education space  by setting up chools and educational institutions.

Sneha Rajani

A Sony Pictures Television Networks India veteran Sneha Rajani has been working with the firm since 1999, probably the longest tenure for a woman television professional at a single company. Sneha has  previously been business head, MAX, which she launched and led for 10 years, before assuming responsibility of the flagship GEC, SET. She has played a key role in MSM’s movie buying strategy and was also instrumental in leading its cricket properties, such as, the ICC World Cup and IPL.

Following that she was appointed deputy president & head, MSM Motion Pictures.  She made her debut as a producer with the film Piku  that got audience an critical acclaim.

Early on in her career, Sneha worked with the Star India DTH venture iSkyB and for the Asia Television Network.

Ekta Kapoor

The Czarina of TV – Ekta Kapoor – has played a key role in the evolution of content on TV, film and OTT. Her shows have contributed tens of thousands of crore to the top line of TV channels such as Star India, ZeeTV, Sony Entertainment Television, DD Metro, and Colors. The  Mithibai College alumni has reshaped the Indian television industry with shows like Kyunkii, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, Kasuati Zindagi Kay, Naagin, Jodhaa Akbar, etc.  She also has a few box-office hit films like Shootout at Wadala, Half Girlfriend are from under the Balaji banner. Her latest initiative OTT platform AltBalaji is what is keeping her preoccupied these days having got in Reliance as a strategic equity partner, her group can only head further north.

Ashvini Yardi

Ashvini Yardi is a producer of Bollywood movies. After having a 20-year-long career in television, she formed Grazing Goat Pictures with actor Akshay Kumar in December 2011.

She produced the films like OMG – Oh My God!, 72 Miles, Bhaji in Problem, Fugly and Singh Is Bliing. At Zee TV she conceptualized the cult singing reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge and Lil' Champs before leaving to join Colors. At Colors, she brought in path-breaking shows such as Uttaran, Balika Vadhu, Bigg Boss, Khatron Ke Khiladi, Veer Shivaji, Laado and took the new channel zooming to the No 1 spot.

Sapangeet Rajwant

Sapangeet Rajwant, senior vice president of Viacom18,  joined as head of marketing in Viacom18 media after quitting ng as a marketing head of Zee TV. She replaced Rajesh Iyer who quit to join ZEEL as business head, new initiatives, Hindi broadcast in March 2014. She has around 17 years of work experience. She had joined ZEEL in 2004 and worked with various brands of the company since then. She has also worked as the brand head of the Hindi movie channels of the network - Zee Cinema, Zee PAC.

Rashmi Sharma

Writer and creative director Rashmi Sharma, launched her production company that bears her name, around a decade ago and has not looked back since. A darling of most channels, Sharma has been known to consistently deliver block busters on TV.   Among them: Saath Nibhana Sathiya, Sasural Simar Ka. This apart, she has been a producer of films like Pink and Days of Tafree..

Shashi Mittal

Born and brought up in Gujarat, Mittal has completed her bachelors from Ahmedabad. Mittal is an Indian TV and film producer and founded her own production house with husband Sumeet Hukamchand Mittal. At Shahsi Sumeet Productions, she is pivotal for the creative of the various fictional content shows that the production house delivers. She started her career in TV production in  2009 and produced numerous soap operas including Sajan Ghar Jaana Hai, Haar Jeet, Main Lakshmi Tere Aangan Ki, Dil Ki Nazar Se Khoobsurat, Kairi, Punar Vivah and Punar Vivah - Ek Nayi Umeed, Tu Mera Hero, Muh Boli Shaadi, Dream Girl — Ek Ladki Deewani Si, Tum Hi Ho Bandhu Sakha Tumhi and Diya Aur Baati Hum.

There has been a galaxy of women in the television business that has helped set up the platform for rising stars. With the stage set, radical strides by a bigger number of passionate men and women are on the horizon.

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