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The referee in town

News gatherer, Rajdeep Sardesai is in the city on a holiday. PRIYADARSSHINI SHARMA catches up with him.

Photo by Mahesh Harilal

WONDER IF fighting comes easy to him, but refereeing certainly does. Rajdeep Sardesai, whose telly show, The Big Fight makes politician, young and mature, new and old fight like cats and dogs, lose their cool, apologise, yell, scream and smile, said, while on vacation in the city," I am on a pure holiday after three months of work. The elections were just fantastic." With son Ishaan, daughter Tarini and wife Sagarika Ghose, Sardesai said, " My wife and children are my biggest critics. The world of my kids is far remote from my world of news."

And yet untouched by the holiday spirit at his suite in Taj Malabar, an introspective managing and political editor of NDTV news channel, having received both bouquets and brickbats for the coverage, said quite humbly, " From a personal point of view, this election coverage has been a wake up call for me. There was the obvious disconnect between urban and rural India which gave us the numbers wrong. We got confined to studio debates. Elections are not won or lost in the studio. If so, the NDA should have won. Why couldn't we represent the farmer in AP who was contemplating suicide? This is my personal inference. My own home State goes to the polls in September. A drought has affected rural Maharashtra. Television should penetrate there. Media cannot be disconnected from people and the real issue."

And Rajdeep who has an opinion on everybody said about himself, "Frankly, my opinion of myself is one of a journalist. Essentially one is a news gatherer. That gives me a high and I am passionate about news. I entered the field 15 years ago in print. NDTV happened at the right time and right place and television gives recognition, which is nice. My wife is a senior editor with the Indian Express and she is a writer." Chipped in wife Sagarika, "Oh! He is the rock star." With, `The Gin drinkers' and `The lover' to be released later this year, writer Sagarika confessed that he did make it to the PTA's but, "is a better father than a husband."

And why no cricket for him, like his illustrious father, Dilip Sardesai? " Cricket is still a passion with me. All journalists have failed in some areas in life, so end up as a journalist. And though I played for India camp under 19, but at the end of the day, I was just not good enough. Cricket is purely meritocratic."

So, with cricket ruled out, Sardesai began in print media and moved on to TV. " The fact that I did print is very humbling. But television requires numerous other strengths. It is unfortunate that both mediums look at each other with hostility for there is a huge space for both to co-exist. In fact, my best interview was with Muhammed Ali in print. Television has some tricky situations. Like with Vajpayee you never know when he would pause and for how long. And you would start speaking when he was in the middle of a pause." Recalling such on-the-job hassles, Sardesai said that Narendra Modi grew inimical and threatened them. But it is Laloo Prasad Yadav who is a delight for the Television channels. " He is a very clever politician and uses the media to the best possible effect. My technique is to ask him questions in English, not to make fun of him, but he likes it that way. He is a charming, natural politician."

With the tag of personal prejudices coming to the fore while reporting, analysing and commenting, said Sardesai, who was in the thick of the elections, " Sometimes it becomes difficult to be objective. Television is in danger of trivialising news. That is why we missed the big story. The entire media did. Print has become Page three. This election coverage has made me realise to stick to pure news. Some channels had election quawwali. There is the danger in this competitive world for everything to be breaking news. I try to avoid speculation."

He reads TheIndianExpress, said Sardesai, because of an interesting first page, The Hindu for factual news and TOI and HT on grounds of old loyalty. Backin Delhi, he plans organisational work. " Our first aim now is to make our Hindi channel number one. It is six points behind Aaj Tak." And though at present in the ringside, in Kochi, Rajdeep Sardesai is readying himself for what he loves to do most: Make politicians fight. And so begins another episode of the Big Fight.

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