Automobile journalism in Malayalam has a pioneer in Baiju N. Nair. From writing weekly columns on automobiles in a Malayalam daily, he graduated to running automobile magazines. Today Baiju has a bilingual magazine SmartDrive and anchors an auto show of the same name on Asianet (Saturdays, 6.30 p.m.). An accomplished travel writer as well, Baiju speaks about his drive to succeed. Excerpts:
As an automobile journalist
When I joined Mathrubhumi as a sub-editor in 1994, on seeing my interest in automobiles I was asked whether I’d handle a weekly column on newly launched vehicles. When you write an article on automobiles in Malayalam, you can’t escape using English terms, which actually kills the flow of reading. So I came with my own interpretations of these English terms and brought in trivia into my columns. It is a dry subject and with no model to follow, I had to make a place of my own. It really clicked and I started handling another column on automobiles as well. We used to get hundreds of letters with questions. I then started the magazine Top Gear in 2004. I tried to make it as interesting as possible by making actors, writers and other celebrities write articles on automobiles. After four years, I left the magazine. Two years ago I launched SmartDrive, an English-Malayalam magazine, perhaps the only bilingual automobile magazine in the country.
Stint with television
I launched the first automobile-related show on Malayalam television – ‘Auto Show’ on Asianet in 1996 along with Ratheesh Ambat (now an ad filmmaker). It had to be stopped after a few episodes due to various reasons. Later I did ‘Auto Show’ for Indiavision, before starting ‘Smart Drive’ on Asianet. Besides introducing new vehicles in the market, I answer questions related to automobiles on the show. I also do a one-hour phone-in show for Asianet radio in the Gulf countries.
Your take on similar shows
Every channel has an auto show as part of its marketing strategy, but not all of them are successful because credibility counts a lot in such shows. The presenter has to know the product. Some of them just read from the brochures and aren’t interested in knowing more. Perhaps they are just eyeing the perks that come with such shows, such as foreign trip during the launch of a new vehicle.
I’ve travelled all around India and have covered 69 countries, of which some 20-odd trips have been part of the show. Whenever I go abroad, I make it a point to drive around and the experiences go into the travelogue section of my magazine. I’m planning a road trip from Kochi to London along with my friend Suresh Joseph. Preliminary discussions have already been held with National Geographic Channel to this effect.
An ‘auto-crazy’ society
Malayalis are crazy about automobiles so much so that there are people who keep a tab on even the minor product launches. Most interesting is that even children are in on the game. Some of them seem to know much more about automobiles than I do!