From covering wars and conflicts to anchoring debate shows, he has done it all. Speak of NDTV and one of the names that instantly spring to mind is that of Vikram Chandra. His simple, elegant and understated style of delivering news has struck a chord not only with Indian audiences but also with global viewers.
Armed with a Bachelor’s in Economics from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, Chandra went to Oxford for further studies on an Inlaks Scholarship. He also did a course in mass media from Stanford University. In the profession, Chandra’s rise has been steady. With two decades of journalism behind him, this charismatic journalist is now the Group CEO of NDTV.
Chandra started his career in 1991 as a correspondent with Newstrack, India’s first video news monthly. He joined the NDTV ranks in 1994.
Chandra has been named a “Global Leader of Tomorrow” by the World Economic Forum in Davos. He has won many awards and accolades, including the Indian Television Academy Award 2008 for “Best Anchor for a Talk Show.”
Chandra gravitated towards journalism because he had no appetite for a regular office routine. “I never wanted to do a 9 to 5 job. I wanted some exciting job that would allow me to travel and explore the world around me. So I opted for journalism,” says Chandra.
Moreover, he had inspiration at home. His mother, Nandini Chandra, was a journalist who worked with Barkha Dutt’s mother, Prabha Dutt in The Hindustan Times in the 1970’s.
Life as a journalist taught him the virtues of time management. In his younger days, Chandra tended to tie himself up in knots as a result of letting his tasks linger until the eleventh hour. He says: “I was slightly disorganized when I was young. I used to scramble to wrap things up at the last minute. Now I am quite organized.” Describing his work schedule, he says: “There are two different days in office: one is when I am anchoring and the other is when I am not. The days when I am anchoring, I look into news flowing in, management, and things like that.” And when he is not anchoring, he is busy in meetings, chalking out future plans, and attending office gatherings.
Nevertheless, he always finds time to spend quality time with his family. “Primarily, I would like to describe myself as a family person. I love spending time with my family at any point of time,” Chandra says. It was during his stint at Newstrack that he found his soulmate, Seema Chandra.
Chandra anchors ‘The Big Fight,’ a top-rated news and current affairs show. He also presents ‘Gadget Guru’ and several other special shows. As a special correspondent, he has covered conflict and wars in Kashmir extensively. However, when asked what excites him the most, he replies: “Time moves on in life, right? But I must say that I particularly enjoyed the early days of my career. I enjoyed reporting the most. We were lucky that at that time we were often given a month to work on a story. So I would visit different places, mostly the interiors of the land. I would disappear for a month or a half at times to do a story.”
Covering Kashmir was the toughest assignment I have ever done, he declares. And the documentary that he made on Siachen was the most memorable experience, he says. “We were dropped in Siachen by a Cheetah helicopter and they told us that the chopper would come back to pick us up in 15 minutes. But due to bad climatic conditions, the chopper could not come on time and we were asked to go to the base camp. It was a blessing in disguise as we could take a few exclusive shots of the camp where soldiers were putting up. It was truly inspiring to see the brave soldiers on duty in freezing conditions where there was hardly any oxygen. We were the first one ever to make a documentary on Siachen.”
When asked whether a structured journalism course helps a media person, Chandra replies: “Yes and no. Yes, because one gets proper training through a course which is a real advantage and if one does a course in an institute where you get internship and training then it’s always a good thing. However, if someone is doing well in journalism without a course then I don’t think there is a need to rush abroad and do a course in journalism.” About NDTV, he says, “We hire people who are really bright and who have a passion for news.”
Chandra is upset that the youth today wants to take up journalism because they are obsessed with glamour and want to see themselves on the screen. “God knows what journalism has to do with glamour,” he says.
He says that the minute when these people are sent outside for an assignment, say to some politician’s house for a sound-byte, and when they are made to wait in the sun for hours, they realise that this is not a glamorous profession! Even if one becomes an anchor, the excitement of ‘O! my face is on the TV’ lasts for only a month. “So eventually what keeps you going is the love for your work,” he says.
Asked how aspirants should be groomed in an institute, he says: “The mass media institutes should equip you with the basic things of journalism and basic awareness of all the aspects of the business. For instance, if you want to become a reporter you must understand how important visuals are!”
Chandra does not consider himself a star. “Don’t embarrass me by calling me a star, I am just a journalist,” he says. Chandra is also a published writer. In 2000, he wrote a book titled ‘The Srinagar Conspiracy.’ “There were things that I could not report. So I decided to write fiction. I found that there were a lot of things that were not known about Kashmir at that time,” he says.
Chandra says the secret of his success is “hard work and luck.” Asked if he has a message for young journalists, he says, “Every day when you wake up, you should think about news. For instance, even when Barkha or Nidhi (Razdan) are on leave, they keep sending several mails saying that there is a breaking news, this is important, this is what is happening in this place or that, we can run this story, etc. They just live, eat and breathe news.
This is a must for any journalist who wants to be successful. You must have passion for news.