Tuesday, August 25, 2009
A mirror to the ills of society
The 750th episode of Kannadi, the popular programme on Asianet will be aired on August 30. Group Editor and anchor T.N. Gopakumar explains the reasons behind its unprecedented success
Photo: T.N. Gopakumar (left) at a conference at Doha, Qatar
By Shevlin Sebastian
In Kasargod, a mother died suddenly. The family was living in a ramshackle hut. Thereafter, whenever the father went off to work, as a labourer, the eldest girl, who was only nine years old, began to look after her three younger siblings.
When the popular Asianet programme, Kannadi, highlighted the plight of this family, there was an immediate reaction from viewers. Around Rs 8 lakh was sent to T.N. Gopakumar, the anchor-person and currently the Group Editor of Asianet News.
In response to the telecast, the state government provided free land, a house was constructed with the donations and remaining amount was put in savings accounts for the children. “The house has been named after Kannadi,” says a smiling Gopakumar.
The silver-haired anchorman, with his distinctive beard is about to anchor the 750th episode, which will be aired on August 30.
“Kannadi is the longest running programme on Indian television,” he says. “The TRP’s over the past 16 years have been consistently high.”
The programme focuses on social issues like dowry harassment, cruelty to animals, the ill-treatment of parents in nuclear families, the suffering of disabled people, the plight of AIDS victims, the dying of the Periyar river and the activities of the sand mafia.
The popularity of Kannadi becomes obvious when one sees numerous letters from readers strewn all over Gopakumar’s table at his simply furnished office in the Asianet headquarters at Thiruvananthapuram.
“I get about 500 letters every week, apart from e-mails and phone calls from viewers,” he says. Most of the letters come from the USA, Europe, the Middle East and other parts of India. In many, there are story suggestions, while in others there are cheques.
Nowadays, Gopakumar gets about Rs 3 lakh every week. A separate account has been opened to disburse the funds. “What has been a revelation to me is the generosity of Malayalis towards those who are in need of help,” he says.
Asked to explain the reason behind the programme’s success, Gopakumar places an emphasis, with his deep voice, on one word: “Honesty!” The word ricochets around the room in the sudden silence. Then he adds, “We also have credibility and commitment. There is always something different in each programme.”
Indeed, the stories are quite unique. In a recent telecast there was a feature on former national football player C.V. Pappachen who is now trying to be a chenda player. And Pappachen’s explanation of the similarity between football and chenda was quite fascinating.
For Gopakumar the most pleasing aspect of Kannadi is the immediate remedial action, taken at the panchayat level or the state government.
“I am happy we are making a difference to people’s lives,” he says. “The government responds to the programme quite regularly.”
But much as Kannadi is a passion for him -- he calls it ‘my baby’ -- Gopakumar also focuses, because of his pre-eminent position, on the activities of the entire news channel, apart from Suvarna, the company-owned Kannada channel in Bangalore.
“There is a lot of work pressure,” he admits. “People know me because of the Kannadi programme but that is only five percent of the work that I do.”
In his spare time Gopakumar likes to write. So far, he has published 12 books in different genres: novels, short stories, essays, journalism, travelogues and an autobiography, ‘Suchindrum Rekhakal’. This book won him the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 1998.
He has also made a film, ‘Jeevan Mosai’ based on the novel 'Arogyaniketan' written by Bengali author Tarashankar Banerjee. The film starred Nedumudi Venu and the late Srividya, and was shown in film festivals in 2002. A man of many parts, he has traveled all over the world and made a mark in Delhi also.
He moved to the capital in 1983, and in the course of the next decade worked for 13 media organisations, including the BBC. A father of two daughters, he returned to Thiruvananthapuram in 1992 and has now made an indelible mark in Malayalam television journalism.
So what are his tips to aspiring journalists?
“When a young TV journalist makes a name, it goes to his head,” he says. “They should learn to keep their feet on the ground all the time.” He advises proper research before meeting somebody for an interview.
Nowadays, he says, there is a lot of corporate pressure on journalists. “Newcomers will have to learn to withstand it,” he says. “My advice is to learn to create your own space without resorting to any sort of compromise.”
An uncompromising Gopakumar is still going strong.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)