No Skirting Of Issues
She works in a world that is exciting and fast-paced, often gritty and sometimes gruesome, filled with issues and happenings that she is required to deal with and analyse on a day-to-day basis. In the course of her small screen programme, Left Right and Centre, voices are raised, tempers rise and the drama increases. Through all the daily ‘news-rama’ and exchange of opinions, when celebrated news anchors tend to add to the hullabaloo, senior editor and senior anchor, NDTV, Nidhi Razdan prefers to remain calm and soft-spoken, yet firm and focussed. Totally in control.
I catch up with her at the NDTV office in the capital, on what is a regular day for her – in between her meetings and research over another political issue that has blown up. As we talk for the better part of an hour, founder and executive co-chairperson of NDTV, Prannoy Roy peeps in to make a quick remark and exits just as quickly. For the rest, we remain undisturbed.
For Razdan, news has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, growing up as she did under the eye and tutelage of her father, Maharaj Krishan Razdan, the editor-in-chief, Press Trust of India, the country’s premier news agency. During her school days at Apeejay School, New Delhi, she recalls, “I didn’t really think that this is what I wanted to do. Initially, I wanted to be a doctor. But my father told me that would involve a lot of time and years – and asked me to look at something else. For a while, I was also interested in fashion.”
Her father’s influence has significantly shaped her life. Though born in New Delhi, she grew up in London and lived in New York. She admits, “I realised much later that he had influenced me in a way I didn’t even know. We grew up watching the news, reading newspapers; it was just a part of life. We always had to watch the evening news. It was a given that I had to read, I had to know what was going on in the world. It only struck me later that this was a very useful tool to have.”
Shunning the world of print, Razdan opted for the then mushrooming domain of television. “I probably realised exactly what I wanted to do, when I was 18 and in college. I thought I would get into TV because it was new, interesting and exciting and different from what my dad does. I wanted to create my own distinct identity. This was the perfect choice – it was essentially the same profession but a completely different medium.”
Certain diktats ingrained in her over the years hold her in good stead in her present position: “I am very idealistic about the profession even though I hear a lot of criticism about the way the profession has become today. I get my idealism from him. He’s still an old world journalist –he always believes in getting both sides of the story. He says, “Don’t editorialise, and get all your facts right; check with more than one source. Get it right, do not get it first. Even today I discuss stories with him; it’s interesting to get his feedback. Everything I am covering today, he has covered as a reporter for more than 40 years already!”
Although it is her mind that drives her show, since she is on camera, the way she looks is an important part of her persona. Razdan emphasises, “People love to pay attention to women journalists and women reporters much more than they would to a man. Whatever a woman anchor wears, people will notice that first. It is just human nature. I’ve been doing this job for almost 15 years, but you do not survive that long in this profession without there being some substance to you and your show.”
And yet, the importance of dressing cannot be dismissed. She states, “True. That is the way television is around the world. American anchors look almost perfect. I think a certain well-turned out look is important, but ultimately I don’t think it is so much about appearance as it is about your credibility and your experience. People have seen you on the field, they have seen you reporting. They know that you know what you are talking about. That makes a big difference in the way people perceive you. The kind of guests you are able to get on the programme and how they perceive you also matters and all that comes together with time and experience.”
But planning her outfit on a daily basis is one of the first things she probably does in the day. “When I get up, I read the newspapers; check the mails and all the news feeds that are now available in different media. I don’t spend too much time planning what I have to wear. I have hangers with different kurtas, jackets and saris. I just pick out something that I would like to wear that day. I am not stereotyped because I do not only wear saris or only jackets. I mix my looks up. I enjoy clothes, I enjoy wearing jewellery and I don’t like to be stuck in one look.”
Today, she is in a pair of jeans and a shirt. I ask her how often she changes her outfit in a day, and she replies, “At home I am very casual. I am in pants or jeans, which is something that I often wear to work as well. The way we dress while in office is laidback. And when I go on my show, I change. Today, I am going to wear a T-shirt and a jacket which is hanging over there. My look will be more formal from the top. You won’t see the jeans because they are under the desk.”
It is the challenges of the job that make every day so exciting for no two days are the same. As Razdan points out, “There is always this uncertainty. You wake up every day and you really don’t know what to expect – you don’t know where you will be, who you will be meeting, what interviews and stories you might end up doing. There is no routine. Right now I’m juggling the role of an anchor and a reporter – and that is always a challenge, you know, to do a programme and a story at the same time.”
Like Barkha Dutt – her senior colleague at NDTV – Razdan too has had her fair share of living dangerously. Admitting that this is all a part of the territory, she adds, “I used to cover Kashmir for a very long time. I’ve been to Pakistan, to Afghanistan and Iran – there are many memories. For instance, on the eve of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, a fire-fight broke out between the terrorists and the security forces. It all happened before our eyes. Among the other memorable incidents was the time I went to Kashmir and interviewed people who had crossed over from the line of control. I did not seek them out; it was a story that came my way. But that story put me on the blacklist and Pakistan did not give me a visa for five years. Fortunately, that is in the past now. But, I do not think I have been unnecessarily adventuresome. You do take a certain amount of sensible risk when covering a story, but nothing you should be stupid about.”
What sets Razdan apart from other anchors is her relatively calm demeanour even when the fur is flying in the studio. “Everyone is different. I’m firm with my guests. I ask all the questions, but I’m never rude. All of us have been around here for so long, I’m the youngest – I’m 36, and I’ve been here since I was 21. Everyone is at peace with their own individuality. I have got the feedback from our guests and viewers that they like a show that is not constantly argumentative. We do have fiery exchanges but you can have impassioned debates without necessarily shouting at the top of your lungs.
And when the guests go out of control and the debate runs amuck? “You just have to control it and them and tell them that this is not happening. The only really bad incident I can remember was when two politicians almost hit each other on my show many years ago. I took a break and asked them to leave because it was quite ugly. One of them never came back on my show after that – it’s been 10 years, but it’s okay!”
So what’s her secret relaxation technique? “I play with my dogs!”