Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Prannoy Roy: From a barsaati to being a media tycoon

Even as the media world is agog with the news that giant Adani group has acquired 29.18 per cent stake in Radhika and Prannoy Roy promoted NDTV, I am transported back to 1984. Those were the days when India was still many years away from the din of private TV channels. Nobody knew that something like Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms would invade our world soon. Telecom revolution too was far away.

Those days I was a student of Delhi University and during the summer vacation, I was working in a huge TV showroom of my friend’s family in the then Archana Cinema shopping arcade in Greater Kailash-part I. That TV showroom belonged to Weston Company and it also had a huge video Library too. Those were the days of VCR. Movie buffs from across South and New Delhi used to throng there to take video cassettes  on rent. While I was not involved with it even remotely, I used to see people coming there all the time.

That video libaray was handled by some employees of Kamal Vachani, son of Weston company’s founder Sunder Vachani. I vividly remember Kamal bhai was a very polite guy and used to strike up a conversation with his customers. Among the regulars at the library was none other than Radhika and Prannoy Roy. They lived in a Greater Kailash barsati and visit in their chocolate-colour Fiat car.

That he was Pranoy Roy, I came to know only when he was handling perhaps the first live election coverage that India had seen in 1984. He was there with Vinod Dua. That 24×7 election coverage was mind-blowing experience for Indian TV viewers.  By that time I had already quit Music Nest job even though respected Sunder Vachani has promised me to give key responsibilities in his Weston Company. I and his son once again joined our studies and remained friends.

Prannoy Roy in his younger days.

Of course, that election coverage of 1984 had changed the face of Indian TV forever. Lok Sabha poll was held after the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi and gory anti-Sikh riots. Post 1984 election coverage, Prannoy Roy became a regular face on Doordarshan with his weekly show ‘The World this week.’ That show made a deep impact among the discerning viewers keen to know the major events of the world. With his very dignified and superb anchoring, Prannoy Roy was a household name in India and arguably the face of Indian TV news. Even before NDTV was launches, his company was providing content to various channels. 

In 1986, I had joined Hindustan Times group. Those were the days when the part of buzzing HT sports desk was converted as the office of Sports Apartments that was coming up in IP Extension. Veterens of HT like M. Madhavan, Vinod Varshney, Aroon Kumar, Dr. Kailash Papne used to work there after finishing office work. And we sports lovers too dropped in often to discuss the latest in sports with giants like PC Nigam, CS Rao, Jaideep Basu, Sandeep Nakai and others. Anil Saari joined us often as HT Sunday room was next to HT Sports.

And one day as we were discussing some issue there, We saw Prannoy Roy standing there and talking to Vinod Varshney. Actually, he had come to hand over the quarterly installment of his flat in Sports Apartments. That was late 80s and Prannoy had already become a star of Indian TV news. Vinod Varshney had introduced all of us to him. He was with us for couple of minutes. Even had the kadak chai of HT House with us. I remained him that I was working for Music Nest where he was regular. We shared notes of those days briefly and then he left. But I used to see him from to time.

As Music Nest and HT House are a distant memory, I still think as to how the likes of Prannoy Roy grabbed the opportunities that came in their way and became a formidable name in India. He started his venture from the same place ( Archana Cinema complex) where he used to visit to take video cassettes, his preference being for thrillers. He has now come to own the complex which initially belonged to Atma Ram Chaddha, a big businessman of Delhi. 

A few decades later, Prannoy and Radhika Roy have an empire worth hundreds of crores. They no longer lived in Barsati and have also sold off their IP Extension flat. Even if Mr Adani manages to pull the rug from under their feet, the Roys are too big entities to disappear from the media landscape in a hurry. 

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