Daily Archives: 19 March 2010

Rajeev Chandrasekhar eyeing ‘Kannada Prabha’?

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Bangalore’s media circles are abuzz with rumours that Kannada Prabha, the struggling Kannada newspaper owned by the New Indian Express group, is being eyed by the Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who also owns the 24×7 Kannada news channel Suvarna News.

Obviously, there are no confirmations or denials of the rumoured deal from either side, but well placed sources say a “strategic investment” is on the way from the cash-flushed former BPL Mobile scion—No. 37 on the India Today powerlist—who has been aiming to expand his print presence in the Kannada media.

Sources in Madras, however, hint at a full-stake sale, rumoured to be in the region of Rs 100 crore.

Those in the know claim a change in the imprint line of the 52-year-old Kannada Prabha could appear as early as April 1, but then it could all turn out to be an April Fool’s joke considering that such rumours have emerged (and died peacefully) several times before.

To be sure, though, Chandrasekhar, 45—who made his pile first in 2005 when he sold BPL mobile after a fallout with his father-in-law and then in 2008 when he sold a majority stake in the Malayalam channel Asianet to Rupert Murdoch—has been looking for print acquisitions in Karnataka and Kerala for a while now.

In 2007, he toyed around with Deccan Herald, till his offer was rebuffed. He revamped the Suvarna News channel largely with print staff who had hopped over from Kannada Prabha. A new paper  with the working title Suvarna Prabha/ Suvarna Karnataka, was on the anvil, till word of a Kannada Prabha buyout broke.

The deal, if it comes through, will be a win-win for both Chandrasekhar and Express bossman Manoj Kumar Sonthalia.

For the former, it will mean one competitor less, a ready network and infrastructure, and a known brand of long vintage but somewhat questionable potential. For the latter, it will mean not having to bleed further in pushing an also-ran product, which has never had a chance, caught as it has been in the crossfire between the Times of India-owned Vijaya Karnataka and Deccan Herald-owned Praja Vani.

The Times of India shut down its translated Kannada language edition ten days ago.

However, both the New Indian Express and Kannada Prabha are published by same holding company, Express Publications (Madurai) Limited, and it is unclear whether Sonthalia has attracted Chandrasekhar’s bulging wallet only in Kannada Prabha or in the English paper as well.

However, there are some who aver that these rumours could just be “dirty tricks” by the Suvarna group—largely comprising ex-Kannada Prabha staffers—to rattle their alma mater. Nearly two dozen KP staffers have left the paper in recent months, many in anticipation of a new paper from the Suvarna stable.

Kannada Prabha was recently in the eye of a storm after it translated and republished a 2007 Taslima Nasrin essay without her permission. Two people lost their lives in the ensuing trouble.

Image: courtesy Rajeev Chandrasekhar


No Holes Barred when Express journalists reunite

The late Indian Express chief sub-editor H.Y. Sharada Prasad—later, media advisor to three Indian prime ministers—wrote famously that “nostalgia is no longer what it used to be”. In other words, there is nothing more tiresome than someone who harks back to the “good old days”.

Nevertheless, journalists coming together is always a cause for much mirth, leg-pulling and tch-tching of how much better things were—although, like much else in Indian journalism, rarely documented.

Journalists of Sharada Prasad’s old paper—of the late 1980s to mid-1990s vintage—met recently at the press club in Bombay, an event captured evocatively by the paper’s former sports editor (and ace Facebook status updater), Natarajan Hariharan.



The Express Reunion scored over the much-anticipated, much-hyped IPL3 opening night—according to media reports!

It was wonderful to see people readjusting their schedules and some travelling long distances to make it for the bash. Manjiri Gokhale came all the way from Pune. Masky, am told, came from Ahmedabad, Jaideep Marar cut short his Dubai trip.

Vijay Singh was planning to come all the way from Times of India next door; he didn’t because he felt it’s the thought that counts!

Many of the journos have meandered into other walks of life… The elusive Nitin Padte finally made an appearance after years in the hiding. Nitin is now an educationist: after a long stint at Kodai international school in Kodaikanal, he is now deputy head of secondary at the elite Ecole Mondiale world school in Mumbai.

Some others were “gainfully unemployed,” as Deepa Deosthale said.

It was nice to see Mrs Shireen Vakil and Mrs Talim–both looked almost the same as they were a decade back! Geeta Seshu, who left Express long before many of the gathering got into Express Towers, came and bonded with the rest.

With the press club terrace, apparently, taken away for screening the IPL game, the Express reunion was scheduled at the conference hall. The first impression one got on entering the hall was that it was a press conference rather than a press reunion party: chairs neatly laid out, with tabla and mike on a dais at one end!

I thought someone was going to get a DJ! But forget a DJ, we did not even have J. Dey!

Sadly, two people in the forefront of organizing the event, Swati Deshpande and Sai Suresh, could not be at the event because of medical emergencies. A few others like Sesha Sai, B.V. Rao, Sandeep Unnithan and Sujata Anandan wrote to tell that they could not make it.

But there were others who neither turned up nor informed us they could not come. Poor Shiv Kumar could not enjoy the party; all he did the entire evening was going around and collecting money like a bhai!

The latecomers walked in nonchalantly as if they were in time to make the dak edition, but within minutes they lifted the mood of the party. Yogesh Pawar was greeted with a roar. Instead of asking him how he was, people were more interested in his pole. No, no, not that pole!!! For the uninitiated, Yogesh is probably more known for his pole dancing than as a television journalist for NDTV.

And when journalists meet, can gossip and bitchiness be far behind?

The howlers of the past that created unwanted history were gleefully recalled. Yogesh related how Pankaj Updhayay asked a new girl to rush with whatever headline she could think of to beat the deadline and the young girl came up with a classic: “No holes barred…”

Yogesh also recalled how a sub-editor had used the spell check to replace the word “Sri” with “Mr” in accordance with the Indian Express stylebook and the next day the entire report had “Mr Lanka” instead of Sri Lanka!

I recalled a headline in the sports page. We had interviewed Rohini Khadilkar at a time when she was aiming to become India’s first woman’s chess grandmaster. The headline error in her interview saw it appear in print as “My ambition is to become a Bandmaster!”

Nilkanth Khadilkar, Rohini’s father and editor of Nava Kaal, was furious after reading the Indian Express. He rang up the sports desk . The chap who committed the mistake was probably snoring at home, but the guy who walked in first at the sports desk the next day was taken to the cleaners by Rohini’s dad.

“Band baja diya!” Well, it was time to face the music, anyway.

Yogesh played the role of a raconteur to perfection. He also recalled the time Chidanand Rajghatta walked in floral shorts a few days before he was to take over as the resident editor of the Mumbai edition, and walked up to where typists Rajan and Salian were sitting and introduced himself.

Rajan extended his hand and said: “U.R. Rajan.”

To which, Chidu apparently said, “No, I’m Chidanand Rajghatta!”

Then he went to Salian, who replied: “U.R. Salian.

Chidu again had to tell him that he was Chidanand Rajghatta. The IE desk within hearing distance was in splits and Chidu’s baptism by fiery madness at IE Mumbai left him wondering if the place was filled with loonies!

Fun and laughter walk hand in hand whenever Rama is around. Subdued by his standards, he still did some fine mimicking of Chandramohan Puppala, of course after he had left! Rama is now a truly multi-faceted personality—writer, author, director, producer, street theatre actor/activist—and “looking to do all kinds of work to make myself and my bank manager happy” as his Facebook profile proclaims.

I also learnt last night that he captained Maharashtra in three sports at the sub junior level: handball, basketball and chess. To the best of my knowledge, he was the only one among those who came for the party who left by his own chauffeur-driven car.

One man who was missed and very fondly recalled by all was the late D.N. Moorthy. He would have been the life and soul of this party as he was in any. The gathering raised a toast to the good soul who, am sure, would be his maverick self in the other world as well.

Photographs: Between 9.05 pm and 10.56 pm, the texture and composition of the Express reunion sees a dramatic  change. Those who made it to the reunion: Mrs Talim, Mrs Sherene Vakil, Vidyottama Sharma, Geeta Seshu, S. Ramachandran (Rama), Manjiri Gokhale, Shiv Kumar, Prasanna Khapre-Updhayay, Jaideep Marar, Anand Venkatraman, Arun Janardhan, Harish Nambiar, Mascarehnas (Masky), Dhaval Desai, Sandeep Sarkar, Yogesh Pawar, Deepa Deoshtalee, Dharmendra Jore, Seema Sinha, Sudeshna Chatterjee, Chandramohan Puppala, Nitin Padte, Kartik Upadhyay and H. Natarajan.