Sunday, February 12, 2012

Anchoring news programmes, documentaries, travel shows, youth shows, lifestyle shows... and covering the Grammys in Beverly Hills


On May 8, 2010, I watched Commitscion Priyali Sur (Class of 2005) in action as she anchored a documentary on CNN-IBN [TV grab below] that exposed the controversial cervical cancer vaccine trials being conducted by some well-known pharma companies in the rural areas of Andhra Pradesh. It was an investigative report of the highest standards, standards that we have come to expect of Priyali since her first year at Commits when she and her group members put together a news bulletin story on Bangalore's bar girls. This story received a lot of praise from the senior journalists who had come for the evaluation then.

Also, we all thought Priyali was a natural as an anchor. And she has proved us right. In 2008, Priyali, who had recently joined CNN-IBN in Delhi as a producer, was in Cuba to shoot a travelogue which was later aired on the channel. The show was amazing.

At the time she had sent me her insights on her show — there's lots here for television aspirants to learn from:

* On Cuba being chosen as the destination for the programme: As a producer-cum-reporter I decide the destination. But it's ultimately also about what works out and what doesn't. So for a travel show, you send out emails and are in conversation with at least 7-8 embassies. At the end, the ministry of tourism that agrees to your travel requirements is the one you finally choose. Yes, they are the ones who sponsor the entire trip. :) Quite cool, right? And the best part — you get to stay in all the prime places because you and your team are treated by the ministry as Indian diplomats.

* On the visa process: Visas were not an issue at all. The entire process was dealt with by the embassy people. We travelled on journalist visas.

* On the team and teamwork: There were three of us: my camera person, the camera assistant, and yours truly. Trust me, the smaller the team, the better. Oh, talking about having a good relationship with your crew... you've just got to work on that because at the end of it all, your visuals are all COURTESY THE CAMERAMAN. So if you get along with your cameraman you're lucky; if you don't, make sure YOU DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

* On the stay/shoot in Cuba: For a 30-minute show you ideally get seven days to shoot, but we had less time because we had a deadline to meet and the edit alone would take a week. So we shot in Cuba for only five days while the travel to and fro came to four days, with a halt in Paris :) I know what you must be thinking! Well, you've also got to live it up a bit when you're working, right?

But the five days in Cuba meant waking up at 4:30 am, getting your make-up on (a killer when you have to do it all by yourself, especially the hair-fixing bit; I'm sure the girls will agree with me on that!) and then starting the shoot/travel at 5:30 am... and shooting, then shooting, and shooting... and shooting till 11-12 at night.

* On the people she met: People... hmmmm!!! They speak only Spanish, except for my guide who spoke good English and who was our saviour. So the only communication between me and the Cubans was "si si si"...which means "yes yes yes" to everything. Yes, that could also have got me in trouble... but what the heck, I was an Indian diplomat there (ha ha ha!).

* On the highlight of the trip: It has to be the finale to the travel show: skydiving! It's the best thing I've ever done… free-falling from a plane at 10,000 ft… it really wasn't scary but phew! the views I got!

* On her work method on trips like this one: Take along a shooting script: you've got to tie up a certain set of activities that you'll do there even before you get there because it's the activities that make a travel show interesting and pacy. Once you get there things may not go as planned, so be prepared to go with the flow and always remember "YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE FUN". That applies even while you're working: if you're happy it shows on camera.

After you get back, the first thing is to finalise the script and then edit… edit… and edit... till you see your show on air. After all that hard work, it's a great feeling :)

After watching Trial And Error that night, I asked Priyali to share some details on the making of the documentary. Here's her response:

THE IDEA: The story idea came from the fact that my sister was insisting that I get this new vaccine that she had heard about because it is supposed to prevent cervical cancer. I told her no one should take a shot just like that without any research and a simple Google search threw up the controversy surrounding the vaccine — that was the starting point.

THE WORK: In terms of production there was a lot to do, but in terms of research you handle it on your own.

THE SHOOT: Two days of shoot in Khammam and Warangal; a few interviews in Delhi (approx. 2 weeks).

THE RESPONSE: At work, everyone liked it a lot and there was lots of viewer feedback on IBNlive too. :) Also, some people who saw and liked the show found me on Facebook and made appreciative comments.

THE FUTURE: I will be doing more of these documentaries but only when I can be spared from my regular work. I have to do them simultaneously with taking care of Living It Up and ynot... so let's see when I can do this next.


On March 17, 2011, Priyali Sur was presented the NT (News Television) "Young Journalist of the Year" award in New Delhi. The News Television Awards, instituted by, are selected by a jury comprising journalists from the country's television news channels. So the awards are a measure of the value Priyali's peers and seniors put on her work.

And take a look at the list of winners: Rajdeep Sardesai, Udayan Mukherjee, Bhupendra Chaubey, Rajiv Masand, Karan Thapar. Priyali is in august company, indeed.

Well done, Priyali! Congratulations to you from the Commits family!



On the weekend after the NT Awards presentation ceremony, Priyali Sur's latest documentary was being aired by CNN-IBN. "Sampa's Diary" is all about a woman's fight to get her husband, being held hostage by Somali pirates, back to India safe and sound. Watch the documentary here.

Priyali Sur's most recent international assignment took her to Beverly Hills in Los Angeles in February 2012 to cover the 54th Grammy Awards. She also reported on the sudden death of superstar singer Whitney Houston on the eve of the Grammys (TV grab below).

You can watch Priyali's report here: "Whitney Houston no more". She also got some of the stars to answer questions about visiting India you can watch that report here: "Grammy stars would love to come to India".

1 comment:

  1. WOW!!! With seniors like her, its a true inspiration for us to go ahead and chase our dreams and put in all the hard work to reach there...Although i don't know her personally yet, i feel so happy and excited to see my senior cover the Grammy awards for CNN-IBN!


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