She’s one of the most recognised faces on television. She has interviewed the who’s who of Indian business and then some. She was voted FICCI Woman of the Year in 2005 and has been oft described as one of the few TV journalists to add a touch of glamour to the field. She’s CNBC anchor Shereen Bhan.
In an e-mail interview with Rediff.com’s Shifra Menezes, Shereen talks about her career in the television news industry and what it takes to make it big in this field.
To get started, tell us a bit about your background.
Being a fighter pilot’s daughter I grew up all over India. Living on an Air Force base meant being away from big cities and the rat race — life was simple. I spent most of my time doing crazy things like building tree houses, skating till my knees bled, theatre, dance and music.Being on the move every two years helped me understand some very important lessons in life, never take anything or anyone for granted and nothing lasts forever not even success.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a TV journalist?
I think I began to consciously think about a career in broadcast journalism while I was doing my masters in Film and Television from the Pune University. I had a chance to intern for a couple of months with Sidhartha Basu and Vir Sanghvi for a current affairs show on Star TV and that’s when I made the decision to move from filmmaking to news.
I graduated from the Department of Communication studies, at the university of Pune.
What was the course like?
The course was fun. It gave us an opportunity to actually understand what the craft is about. But it was the short internships we did that really helped hone our skills as media professionals. Theory is very different from being on a live set, doing a show in real time where there is no margin for error. I don’t think I had a favourite subject, but I enjoyed our sessions watching and discussing cinema.
Were you a star student?
I don’t know about being a star student! But yes, I graduated top of my class and actually the university. I was a very active student right through school and college and yes I didn’t get into trouble very often!
What was your first job and how did you land it?
My first job was with UTV’s Current Affairs division in Delhi headed by Karan Thapar. I had sent my CV and they called me for an interview. The next day I started! I worked as a producer on several current affairs shows anchored by Karan, Tavleen Singh, Nafisa Ali. We were producing HardTalk India for the BBC and We the People for Star.
Tell us a bit about your career before you joined CNBC.
At UTV, I had to look after the shows that I was producing from start to finish. So right from organising the panelists for the debate, to interviewing them before the show, research, post- production, I did it all. I would never have it any other way.
Was it a struggle breaking in to the TV journalism industry?
I don’t mean to sound vain but I didn’t have to face disappointments when I started. I was lucky to be working with some of the biggest and brightest names in the business. I learnt a lot from them. They were very supportive and encouraging. It did take a couple of days to get used to the insane deadlines, the long hours, staying up at night editing etc but I suppose that’s part of breaking in.
How did you land the CNBC job?
This is my seventh year at CNBC. I had been called in for an interview for some political shows that CNBC was planning to start. I gave my first interview to Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who was working with CNBC at the time. He said the launch was a while away and he would get back.
That same evening I got a call asking me to come down and meet Raghav Bahl and Sanjay Ray Chaudhary, the founders of TV18. I was a bit surprised. We met and they asked me to audition. I remember doing a mock discussion on swadeshi economics and that was it! I was nervous as I was going to move from politics, which at that point I had experience in, to business.
You’ve interviewed a number of India’s business moguls, which one has been the most memorable?
Several, Benazir Bhutto [Images], Richard Branson [Images], Bill Gates [Images], Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji [Images] to name a few.
You have often been described as being one of the few TV journalists to bring a touch of glamour to the business. What do you have to say to that?
Well, I don’t know about much about the glamour game! I make an effort to be well turned out because I think that is important. But I don’t spend too much of my time worrying about it. I wear what makes me comfortable. I am a no-fuss person and that’s my sense of style as well.
What is a typical workday like?
My day start at 9 am and wraps at 11 pm — so it is long! Mornings are spent with reporters as I head the bureau. Some days I have interviews and events. Afternoons are spent editing scripts and planning. Later, 8 pm to 10.30 pm is time spent in the studio for CNN-IBN and CNBC.
You are one of the most recognised faces of Indian news today, what do you credit for your success?
Hard work, commitment and perseverance. I have very rarely said no. I have worked for almost every channel on Network 18. CNBC, Awaaz, CNN-IBN, South Asia World. I have tried to be as versatile as possible. So business, politics, feature programming, I have done it all. I have also stayed away from positioning myself only as an anchor. I have always produced my shows and I will continue to do so. I have also tried to be a nurturing team leader and take people along, which help our shows look better.
Did you have a mentor, and if so, how did he/she help you to steer your career in the right direction?
Several people have helped shape my career, Raghav Bahl, my boss is right up there. He was most forthcoming with his feedback and always believed in me.
That one needs to be outgoing for a career in television goes without saying. What are the other personality traits you think an aspiring TV journalist needs?
The ability to handle pressure is a must. It is a tough job, both physically and mentally taxing. You have to be on your feet for long hours and mentally alert every second. Operating in a live environment means reacting to news as it breaks, making sense of it in a few seconds and adding value in a couple of minutes.
Good communication skills, comprehensive knowledge of current affairs, writing are important as well.
What advice would you have for aspiring TV journalists?
Don’t do it for the glamour. There is nothing glamorous about it. A large chunk of a TV journalist’s job is donkey’s work. Standing around for hours to get a 20-second sound bite is about perseverance not glamour.
Be prepared to say goodbye to your social life and get ready to be on call 24×7. Ignite a fire inside you, not just to do big stories and interviews but also to do good quality work, that’s fair and honest consistently.
What do you think is the most common mistake newcomers make? What advice do you have to give them in this regard?
Wanting to taste success without doing the time — you have to be patient. You have to get your hands dirty. Don’t box yourself into roles and responsibilities. Learn to multi-task. Learn to work in a team. TV is all about teamwork.
Do you believe in ‘lucky breaks’ or do you believe that one makes one’s own destiny?
You do get lucky breaks but what you do with them is what counts. I am an existentialist and I do believe we chart our own destiny to a large extent.