Friday, April 23, 2021

Peter Mukerjea pens memoir, says it’s not intended to open can of worms

Peter Mukherjea

Beleaguered media baron Peter Mukerjea has come out with his memoir, which he says is just a personal recollection of his experiences in the satellite television industry in India and is neither intended to open a can of worms nor is a set of kiss-and-tell stories.

“It is intended purely to share my journey, to highlight and showcase the plenty of mistakes made and the plenty of lessons learnt over almost three decades,” says the former chief executive of Star India, who was media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand man once in the television industry of the region.
“Starstruck: Confessions of a TV Executive” is the story of the Indian television industry, authored by the man who was at the forefront of it all.
“This book is a memoir. No more than that. It is a personal recollection of my experiences at the coalface in the formative years of the satellite television industry in India and a super-fast-changing media landscape. This is not intended to open a can of worms, nor is it a set of kiss-and-tell stories,” Mukerjea says.
“It is intended purely to share my journey, to highlight and showcase the plenty of mistakes made and the plenty of lessons learnt over almost three decades,” he writes.
The early ’90s marked an age of American TV dominating the world, from “Baywatch” to “Cheers” to “The Jerry Springer Show”. Only that approach wasn’t working so well in India, where access to one billion TV viewers was dominated by a powerful terrestrial network.
Sensing a once-in-a-generation opportunity, Murdoch gave Mukerjea a seemingly impossible task – to grow a tiny foreign-owned TV channel in India into one of the biggest in the world. Mukerjea was instrumental in transforming a loss-making Star TV into a billion-dollar network.
According to Mukerjea, neither Star founder Richard Li nor Murdoch had considered India to be a worthy market for their business model.
“The adoption of India as a key market was a completely new element and fell into their laps by default The Indian consumer was changing rapidly and television was one of the main catalysts of this change. Ready access to a television and an international standard of content meant consumers were glued to their sets,” he writes.
The book, published by Westland, also talks in detail how Amitabh Bachchan was hired as a host for “Kaun Banega Crorepati”.
The author says that KBC was originally conceived as Kaun Banega Lakhpati with a prize of Rs 1 lakh. But Murdoch believed that the prize money was way too little to trigger any interest from viewers. Murdoch, who was in India that time, then decided to increase the prize to Rs 1 crore.
“Had Rupert not been in town that week and turned KBL into KBC, I doubt if Star TV would have been able to make a go of it in India,” Mukerjea says.
“Amitabh would rise from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix and Star TV would propel itself off the back of KBC to heights that the television industry in India had never seen,” he goes on to say about the deal.

Soon, everyone at Star “focussed their attention on KBC and used it like a battering ram to knock a hole through their competitors’ doors”.
“We had helped recreate and revive the legend of Amitabh Bachchan, and in turn he had carried Star Plus on his back, turning it into the most watched, most discussed and most profitable television channel in the country,” says Mukerjea.
He also writes about how Star roped in Ekta Kapoor and how her “soaps were able to touch on sensitive issues that Indian television shows either avoided or swept under the carpet”. (PTI)