An enduring presence on air

ALL SET FOR THE NEWS HOUR Inside DD Chennai studio   | Photo Credit: Photos: K. V. Srinivasan

How does the DD newsroom work? PRINCE FREDERICK gets behind the scene

There aren’t any youngsters on the payroll at Doordarshan’s Chennai Kendra. Not surprisingly, since the last recruitment took place about 20 years ago. However, with a constant flow of interns, the Kendra is not lacking for the presence of youth. Under its in-plant training programme, college students team up with the veteran broadcasters every day.

Says Deputy Director General Vethamany Senapathi: “We’re glad to have young blood. We feel energised by them.” This attitude is reflected in the training of the students. At the end of a four-day programme on satellite communication, students of Prathyusha Institute of Technology and Management enthusiastically talk about the subjects they have mastered.

With its abundant resources, the Kendra is a great training ground. A studio visit gives me an understanding of the technical edge DD enjoys over private channels. One of the four studios is so big that six elephants can canter around without any difficulty. Overhead, an amazing array of equipment generates diffuse, soft light.

Period dramas used to be staged in this studio, which now plays host to music and quiz programmes that require large sets and an audience.

By now, it’s time for a Tamil bulletin on the regional channel Podhigai, and I proceed to the studio used for live programmes. As newreader Kanaathal readies herself to face two cameras, I watch from above, sitting in a chamber with a panel of experts. Today, Rinku is in charge of vision mixing. Her job involves dovetailing images based on a cue sheet and instructions from Chitra Paavai, who handles news programmes. Veena Rajkumar is overseer for the day. In addition to this main team, there is someone who monitors and adjusts the sound.

In front of us, display screens wired to a teleprompter and two cameras are alive. Another screen shows the final output. As Paavai calls out her commands, Rinku switches to images that go with the story and back to the camera image of Kanaathal. As the programme unfolds, Rinku also inserts commercials into pre-planned time slots.

Watching an interviewer in action, I understand the difficulties of the job. Three cameras are now in action and someone from the panel is constantly feeding her with commands through a wire. To follow the thread of the conversation with the guest and, at the same time, pay attention to the instructions (on where to look and what to do) can be hard to balance for those new to the job. People without enough experience tend to look up at the panel from where the instructions come.

When I shift focus off-screen and try to figure out what goes on behind the scenes, I notice a pattern similar to All India Radio. Programmes that went on air the previous day are reviewed with performance reports filed by duty officers. Programme executives and their assistants create scripts and structure programmes with background material obtained from video archives and the reading library. Audio, compact and digital videos made from tapes of significant programmes are available for sale. As programme executives come up with new ideas, more books are added to the library which already boasts 15,000 books.

Under E. Mariappan, Director of News, there is an editorial team, which, as part of its routine work, produces eight news bulletins during the day for Pothigai. In addition, the team contributes a capsule in English to DD News for a programme called Metro Scan. The DD editorial team can make use of news gathered by AIR reporters. Apart from lensmen who are part of the team, stringers from other parts of the State provide images of important events. The DD news team is also expected to look beyond the routine when events of national importance break.

One of the best in the television industry, the DD make-up room, however, has seen busier days. During the 1980s when DD served up a surfeit of plays, the team found work more challenging. Gayathri Swaminathan, the senior most DD make-up artiste in the country, and her team express a wistful longing for those days but make the most of the present. Even recalcitrant guests are persuaded to have a light make-up. They ensure that hosts are treated to an elaborate corrective coat. “After all, they are the face of DD.” Even as she dabs at presenter Anuradha’s face, she talks about the strict rules on dress and jewellery. Ostentatious jewellery is not allowed.

After an eventful day, I come out realising that DD has the resources to take on the best but keeps away from the fray because it places values above viewership figures.