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Updated: May 12, 2013 13:18 IST

Her career was catalytic. Everything she was assigned to was a first

Sevanti Ninan
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Jai Chandiram.
Jai Chandiram.

JAI CHANDIRAM 1937-2013 Educational television bug stayed with her through her career

Jai Chandiram had more than half a century of professional life behind her by the time she succumbed to cancer on Saturday, and the operational word to describe her career would be that it was catalytic. The woman, who came to Doordarshan within two years of All India Radio’s TV division starting in 1959, began as a temporary hand in charge of setting up the country’s school television broadcasts.

In 1961, independent India was young, television was young, Doordarshan as an institution not yet born, and she was in her first job after studying theatre and television abroad, and excited about everything she did. Later she would describe the extent of improvisation which was the norm: figuring out the exact 20-minute period when the light coming through the studio window was just right to go through the prism and demonstrate VIBGYOR, and supplementing studio lights for other programming with lights borrowed from her uncle’s car workshop.

Her career was catalytic, because everything she was assigned to thereafter was a first. She went to work for the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment in Ahmedabad (SITE) which took television to India’s village classrooms in the mid 1970s. She became Director of the Pune Institute of Television at a time when today’s channel heads and leading TV professionals were being trained.

And later she headed the Delhi Kendra of Doordarshan in the late 1980s in the pre-satellite TV days when people wanting to make TV programmes had to be able to get on DD to do so. As one of the people helming NDTV today puts it, having her there meant there was a professional with an enabling attitude who encouraged private producers in every way she could.

She was also called upon to decide how much to bend when the Government of India made demands. Such as the endless requests for Doordarshan to cover mundan ceremonies of politicians’ grandchildren. Asking for written instructions earned her first punitive transfer.

But she was back in Doordarshan as a deputy director general by the time DD 3, ‘the channel with a difference’, was thought of. Bhaskar Ghose, who was DG Doordarshan in Rajiv Gandhi’s time and Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting during Narasimha Rao’s tenure, says there were two things which made her different: she was the first TV professional in DD with no radio background whatsoever, which meant all her programming instincts were visual, and she was “totally and completely non negotiable on quality.”

With DD 3, she had the freedom to bring filmmakers like Kundan Shah and Ketan Mehta on board to produce serials, as well as financial sanction to source good international programming. Until the then Prime Minister changed his mind and ordered the channel to become past tense before it took off.

Jai Chandiram’s early stint with school television meant that the educational television bug stayed with her through her career. She devoted energy to develop the use of media in education at Central Institute of Education – NCERT, Indira Gandhi Open University (IGNOU), and the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting and Development (AIBD) in Kuala Lumpur, among other institutions.

Post retirement, she set up the Indian chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio & Television (IAWRT) which conferred on her a lifetime achievement award, two weeks ago. She lay in bed wide-eyed and silent while emails were read out and the speech conferring it was made over Skype. All around her cutting cake and feting her were some of the country’s fine documentary makers, people whose professional instincts she had helped shape. She knew that she did not have much time, but it was a good way to go.

*An editing error that turned 'mundan' -- the North Indian ceremony where a young child's head is shaved clean -- into 'mundane,' has been corrected.

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Posted on: May 12, 2013 at 09:09 IST
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