I’ve always had this love-love relationship with everyone, Charul Malik

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Gaurav Sharma
Gaurav Sharma
Gaurav Sharma is a freelance investigative journalist with a penchant for civic and crime reporting. His reportage has led to exposing several instances of civic corruption in Mumbai. He can be contacted at [email protected] * Views are personal.

Charul Malik, the news anchor and actress is a dynamic television personality. The seasoned broadcast journalist has been the only anchor in the world to have conducted a live interview on skates, a feat credited by the LIMCA book of records. She has gone on to earn several laurels in her vast media career; some distinctions which stand out are the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award, the News Television Award 2014 for The Best News Anchor Entertainment, and the MY CITY award for the Best Entertainment News Anchor for the year 2014/15. She was also nominated for the Best Anchor with the award AVTA (Asian Viewers Television Awards), which she narrowly missed by a whisker. The senior news anchor has also acted in popular serials, including Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hai and Happu ki Ultan Paltan and has received appreciation from the viewers.

Frontier India spoke to Charul Malik about her career from Journalism to the Entertainment industry. 

Q.1) What piqued your interest in Journalism? How did you go about making your first forays into the profession?

Ans: From the age of five, I used to watch Door Darshan with my twin sister Parul. And I used to watch all the news anchors on DD, but my favourite was Salma Sultan and Nalini Singh. We used to watch them and that inspired me, and I made up my mind, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do when I grow up,’ and I was very fascinated by the whole idea of the media and being on television.

Another news anchor whom I used to find very interesting was Mr. Shammi Narang. It’s intriguing how, at that point in time, I couldn’t even imagine seeing him in person. And now we talk a lot and he’s an extremely dear friend and mentor.

So, I used to watch Salma Sultan and I always was like ‘I want to be an anchor too!’ But at that point in time, I didn’t know what journalism was. I just had this spark in me that I wanted to be on the screen and read the news to the masses. And then my first stint was with ‘All India Radio Chandigarh’ where I used to host a show called ‘Yuva’ and it was a very short stint, it lasted for about a month and a half or two months. Then right after that, when I was sixteen years old, I started working with ‘City Channel Chandigarh’ as a newsreader and reporter. Even though I was way too young for this, I was doing it with passion because I knew right from the age of five that this is what I want to do.

Q.2) Tell us about your journey from being a young cub reporter in the general beat to becoming one of the country’s most renowned entertainment journalists with India TV? What was the experience like, tell us about the trials and tribulations you experienced in your highly successful career?

Ans: My journey has been immensely beautiful all the way and it is and has always been a very fruitful journey. I’ve always enjoyed it and even now I enjoy journalism, media, mass communication, and the whole media world, a lot. I’ll tell you how I entered the entertainment industry, later on, first I’ll tell you how my life in the media world started. As I said I worked for ‘AIR-Chandigarh’ and then ‘City Channel Chandigarh’. Then I started working with ‘Jain TV’ then ‘Sahara News’. And I wasn’t even a graduate at that point in time so I can say that I was very lucky that I got to do whatever I wished to do in the media industry from the very beginning of my career.

But at that early age, I wasn’t aware of everything that used to happen. In comparison to the amount of research I started doing later on in my career, I knew almost nothing initially. All I knew was I could read the prompt and contemporary. So, I would be a good reader and I’d look good. But gradually I started to brush up on my skills. When I joined Sahara News, I saw Mr. Vinod Dua and other big names who worked there. I got to observe how they carried themselves, how they did their job. Because most of the work I have been in the studio. I did field reporting too, but most of my work, you can say 90% of my work was in the studio because, from day one, I had come in as an anchor.

And it was tough too. I had early morning shifts as I did early prime time mostly and in Sahara News, I did both Hindi and English news. And when you step into this industry, all the aspiring students, I’d like to tell all of them that there’s actually no timings in this field. If you think you’ll have a schedule or a timetable, there really isn’t.

So, early morning shifts were my normal. The shifts used to start at 6:00 AM so you had to be at the studio at least an hour and a half before the live program started. We had to take care of the material that we were going to read, we had to do our makeup, we had to do our hair, our get-up, and the prompter had to set up. Unlike today, we didn’t have a remote for the prompter, they were manually operated so a mistake was more likely to happen with the prompter. And if you’re on the screen and the prompter glitches, you’ll end up looking like a big fool on live television.

So, I was really careful about these things. And right from the beginning, I was very up to speed with my homework and even now I am very thorough with my research. I research a lot and I study a lot about anything and everything. I pay a lot of attention to the topics that I’ll be speaking on. People actually say things like, “You think a lot” or “You dive too deep into these things” but I’ve always believed that if you want to stand out, you’ll have to be the best with what you do.

I actually never had anything that I’ll call trials or tribulations. I had everything sorted out and I knew what I was doing. And even the assignments I got to work on being the things I liked to do the most. So, I did the mainstream media work a lot. And whenever Bollywood actors came to Delhi, I used to have live interviews with them. But this won’t happen often. Maybe once every three-four months.

Q.3) You have interviewed the who’s who of the entertainment industry, that must have been quite the experience, could you paint us a picture of some of your most memorable or otherwise stand out experiences while on the job?

Ans: Yes! I’ve interviewed a lot of celebrities and my favourite one and the most memorable one was my live interview with Deepika Padukone and Neil Nitin Mukesh. And the reason for this interview to be so memorable is that I did this interview live while I was wearing skates! It’s something I can never forget and even Deepika and Neil wouldn’t have forgotten. At that time, they had the movie ‘Lafangey Parindey’ coming out. I was working with ‘Star News’ at that point in time, and one evening, my boss at the time, ‘Shazi Zama’ called. Now the boss never used to call, and he used to talk very little. He used to text. But this time he called. So, I wondered why sir’s calling and I picked up and he asked me, “Charul, do you know how to skate?”

Now, in my dictionary, there isn’t the word ‘No’. I never say no. So I went, “Yes sir. Of course,” so he asked me if I could skate tomorrow. And I said, “Why not, sir, sure.” He said that Deepika and Neil will be at the studio, and I had to interview them while skating.

The next day, I had my morning shift. Got there at 4:00 AM, did my bulletins and other anchoring work, then at 12:00-12:30, the interview began. Someone from the Human Resources department there got their son’s skates and I put them on, there were some issues with the braking mechanism of the skates, and we were figuring it out. And between all that, the announcement came, ‘Deepika and Neil have arrived’. For the set, we had a big cafeteria and we evacuated it entirely. The whole set had a five-camera set-up. There were two chairs where Deepika and Neil sat.

Of course, I couldn’t sit. And when you anchor, there’s this EP in your ear, on which you receive commands from the PCR, that is the Panel control room. And that communication is turned off when you start to anchor. It is only turned on during the anchoring to instruct the anchor about something absolutely necessary.

So, the moment the interview started; I realized that the panel producer had forgotten to turn it off. And I could hear whatever was happening in the PCR. I can hear all the talking of the producer and the pitcher that do this, take this angle, cut from here. And I’m listening to all these commands. But the good thing was the interview went live and I did it for one hour. Something no one had ever done before. One-hour live interview. And that got my name into the ‘Limca book of records.’

So, this was a very unique and unexpected interview that I remember, but it felt nice that my name came in the Limca book of records, even though we didn’t expect or intend for a record to be set. And now whenever Deepika sees me she waves at me. That yes, she’s the one who always does something unique.

Then one interview I was with Shahrukh, Deepika, and Rohit Shetty for the film ‘Chennai Express,’ and I had dressed up in South Indian attire. And I started with “Vanakkam”. I started it off with a South Indian language word. And all three of them were like “Oh god look at her, look at how she’s done her homework, look at her makeup, look at her dress, her saree, her gajra, her choti! Everything!” So, I took Deepika’s look for the film and that’s how I interviewed them. This interview happened on ‘Aaj Tak’ as I was working with them, and this interview had truly blown off! It was a real hit! There were many such interviews where I tried to stay thematic, and I was always very cautious about what I was wearing, my get-up. Because I do what I do in a way that’s very different from everyone, a way that stands out.

Q.4) Could you tell us a bit about some of your more “oh shit” experiences, after all, even towering figures in the media industry have a few slip-ups, which in hindsight may make for some humorous anecdotes?

Ans: Small, funny incidents have happened a couple of times during my ‘Star News’ days and ‘ABP News’ days when I was doing mainstream news. Mondays are called dry days in the news industry. Because the parliament is inactive during the weekends and as a result, political activities and happenings are very less, live airs are less, no press conference, so Mondays are usually dry, nothing happening on Mondays. So, on Monday, anchors are very relaxed; they’re like “Okay, Monday will only be reading prompters. Well, breaking news doesn’t have the concept of the prompter. Because breaking news is broken immediately, and someone whispers it through the EP in the anchor’s ears. So, the anchor says it before it gets on the prompter. So, this one Sunday, I was partying late at night. Because Monday you know, only reading from the prompter and not much. Otherwise, I used to browse through news channels at night, and learn what’s going on and stuff, but, I couldn’t do that on that one weekend.

So, I went to the office on Monday, and I had my live show at 6:00 AM. I reached at 4:00 AM and at 5:00 AM I was getting ready and at 5:20 AM people from the PCR came running, “Come fast come! There’s this breaking news!” And I was like, “Let me at least do my makeup”, but I couldn’t even do that. I put my wire and stood in front of a chroma screen. I didn’t have my phone, nor my laptop to look up and the prompter was blank. And the breaking news was a one-liner so that was one of my “OH SHIT!” days. In my ear, they whispered, “You’re going live on 3…2…1… and the news is, “OSAMA BIN LADEN DIED!”  That’s it. This one line was given to me. And at that point, I was thinking “Oh shit! What do I say now!?”

Then I somehow started the commentary that “Osama bin Laden, such a big terrorist, was being looked for, for such a long time! And we’ve received the breaking news that he’s been killed and only ABP news is showing this news to you” I went on like this. And I knew what I was saying made no sense *laugh* because I didn’t know what to do next. And the panel producer too didn’t know what was the whole scene. Then gradually we found out that he was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan and then I carried on with that, “it’s been reported that he was under the radar for a long time, it was a genius strategy, he was surrounded, in Pakistan in Abbottabad where Osama with his family lived.

There were huge helicopters, and it was a big attack, and he was encountered,” and this and that. So slowly one by one, pieces of information dropped in, and I stretched it till the next piece of info came. So, in the news, it’s all about your vocabulary and how well you can speak with small pieces of information. One important thing is that ‘When you don’t have facts, you do storytelling.’ So yeah, it was covered up, but it sure was an “oh shit” day for me.

There were rival channels and their anchors, and they had the same situation. And, their people messed up by saying Osama as Obama! And these videos went viral. I sighed in relief that thanks God at least I didn’t mess up like others.

Other than this there aren’t any specific incidents, but this one was huge. This was the biggest. There’s this notion that anchors are expected to ‘know it all,’ but it isn’t like that. We’re humans too, and we don’t know just about everything and sometimes we don’t research much about certain things because, why would I randomly research about Osama bin Laden? But after a couple of hours, the whole details dropped and we then carried on so yeah, this was my big “Oh shit!” moment.

Another one is, you know when two anchors are anchored at the same time, and only one has the remote to the prompt, then it’s a funny scene. This one time I was anchoring with another female colleague, and she had the remote. Whenever there’s a duo anchoring, the one with the remote moves the screen for the other one too, to let them read too. Because they’re sitting there unaware of what to say, when the prompter will work, then only will they speak. So, what my partner did was, she read her lines and when my part came, she just stopped the prompter. Now, I didn’t even have the headline to stretch it out. But I was prepared with my research, so I saw the visual, recognised the story, and said the headline myself. When I pointed out and asked her, “What’re you doing? “She said, “Oh, sorry, I was sleepy”. So, this too happens.

These things are also common that your EP sometimes isn’t turned off on time. And the PCR has a lot of things going on for them. Telling the anchor what to say, instructing the people who handle the speakers and cameras, etc. So, there’s this key chain of people who sit there during the bulletin and live and when your EP sometimes stays on, what happens is, you’re reading the news and there’s this voice in your ear. “Hey, what to do for breakfast, samosa or vada. Hey, get the chai!” And other gossips like, “How’s your girlfriend/boyfriend”? And all this is happening while I’m reading my lines from the prompter on live television. So, these things are very common and it’s funny when it happens. Then we do something to signal them about it as the people in the PCR understand body language. So funny things happen, and we build a thick skin to such mistakes. So, we’re really smooth on live TV.

Q.5) What is the dynamic between entertainment reporters and celebrities? Is it a hostile relationship, a love-hate relationship or cordial?

Ans: See, I’ve always had this love-love relationship with everyone. So, in the TV show that I used to produce, ‘Saas Bahu aur Suspense’, we never used to show anything that was in any way offensive to anyone, or something that might hurt anyone’s public image. People too knew that I’ve always been a fair editor, a fair entertainment editor, and someone who’s never let people down. Because these days, for TRP people are stooping so low, they show just about anything. Someone’s breakup or someone’s patch up or anything as such. Instead, first, you should confirm things.

Because I myself have never shown only one side of the story. I had strictly instructed my editors too, that they had to listen to both sides, and then and only then will we quote them on our show or display the news in our gossip section. So, the actors respected me a lot too, and I’m friends with a lot of actors, and we party together often even though I did field reporting on very few select occasions because I used to do my anchoring from indoors. So, my relationship with actors has been very cordial. But it’s very common in the entertainment industry that when some people arrive, there’s this fear associated with them that now they’ll report this in a fishy way.

But I always did my best to make sure to never let anyone down or do anything as such to hurt anyone. So, actors always loved me and other people from the media industry, they were rather scared of me. They knew that Charul has come, Charul’s team has come, something unique will happen. So, this was one of my best showcases that my rivals panicked about when I arrived.  Even though I’ve never tried to threaten or scare anyone. Because I knew my work has always spoken for me. And I had even instructed my editors to never get into arguments and instead let your work do the work. Other than that, there are a lot of instances where actors are purposely provoked by the media for drama but that’s a story for another time.

Q.6) What are some ugly realities of the entertainment/film industry you feel is important for the public to know?

Ans: Ugly reality….? There’s nothing as such, especially in the film industry. I told you about the media industry and the not-so-good things people do, but in the film industry, there’s nothing of the sort. But you can say there’s this vibe of fakeness here. People here are fake. Everything boils down to need. If they need something, you’re their besties and when they don’t, they’re like who’re you?  And this is very odd for me because when I connect with someone I connect wholeheartedly. Either I connect, or I don’t. There’s not an in-between for me. I can’t do that.

So, in Bollywood and the entertainment industry, there’s a lot of fake people. But there are also a lot of actors and directors and producers who’re absolute angels too. But the thing about fake people is that they’re just everywhere. Real people are hard to find, but they do exist. Another thing is that they get insecure really fast. You know, actors tend to get insecure about things that people shouldn’t be insecure about. Because I believe that if you know who you are and what your potential is, then no one can stop you.

But actors and people from the film industry tend to give up a little too soon. Also, actors tend to face depression a lot too. For instance, what happened in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. So, these things are pretty shocking. And It’s not even their fault because they need to maintain a level of privacy. But I believe that the more you stay real, the more you’ll help yourself. You should tell the truth and not let others’ thinking get in your way. Maybe my thought process is a little too positive so wrong and ugly things, I don’t take notice of them too often. I see everything very positive. 99% of the things I see positive and the other 1% of the negative stuff I ignore.

Q.7) What are some ugly realities of the news media industry you feel is important for the public to know?

Ans: An ugly reality of the news industry is that you’re told to show urgency and importance and you have to scream and shout to make it sound important. And once you start following others you forget yourself. I feel bad that anchors have forgotten themselves and become judges. I myself am an anchor and if I’m meditating a debate, then I’m the anchor, a moderator. And not the judge. This feels bad and wrong. Because when the news is displayed, this way, the entire context gets altered. And it’s very odd to me. There are very good anchors too. I won’t name anyone. Neither the one’s I feel are wrong, nor the ones I feel are good. So, yeah, this is the ugly reality.

Another thing is that you do not have a personal life and you have to deliver the content daily, DAILY! And then people tend to become selfish. No one cares about others. Everyone just wants work. If you get up and leave, no one will even remember you. We feel like what we’re doing is what we’re doing from our heart, and this is a family to us for whom we’re doing. But no one thinks for anyone. Or maybe people have become way too practical. But it feels like there is no attachment to anyone. When you’re visible, only then you matter. This feels very odd to me.

There are a lot of my seniors and other people whom I am in touch with even now, people who’ve always shown me the way, helped me. One name I would definitely take is ‘Ajit Anjum’ who gave me the opportunity to produce a show on India TV and made me responsible. ‘Supriya Prasad’ too has always helped me. At the very first break, they asked me, “Charul would you do entertainment anchoring?” My first offer was from Aaj Tak when I came to Mumbai. There’s a story behind this too.

Another thing is that here, a lot of buttering happens. Firstly, if you have talent, then that speaks for itself. But there are a lot of people who just keep buttering and talking bad about other people. They won’t let the good ones go ahead. This one thing I see as ugly that you don’t know anything, but you’ve just stuck yourself in one place with buttering people. Well, not only in this industry. This is everywhere. Wherever you go, schools, colleges or anywhere there are people like this.

But my personal experience has always been good because I’ve done my job well. No unnecessary talking or praising anyone. But it feels bad that some people, just on the basis of buttering, are in such good positions that they’re not built for. Or a position for someone better. So, they’ve sort of killed that opportunity for someone more deserving of it.

Q.8) What advice would you like to give news consumers to better avoid subliminal media messaging and be able to objectively analyse the information being presented to them?

Ans: I’d like to say that do not forward any WhatsApp messages, in fact, do not forward anything. Unless it’s for a social cause. Even in the name of social causes, there are a lot of people who’re manipulating these things and taking advantage. From fake accounts, they pretend that they need something and ask for help and money. This has become a business where you produce fake news and manipulate public opinion taking advantage of sensitive issues. So read for yourself and understand what’s happening. And I’ll just say that do not forward anything.

Q.9) What advice would you like to give up and coming entertainment beat reporters who want to make it big like you?

Ans: One important piece of advice is that if you’re in for the entertainment beat, you better work on yourself. The way you present yourself, your outfit, and your look, everything matters. I always say this to my fellow colleagues and anchors that “Wear Good clothes and wear a smile, be presentable and wear nice shoes,” Your shoes don’t need to be expensive but in sync with your outfit. Your shoes should be clean, your hair should be all spruced up and nicely cut. By doing this, you’ve won half the battle. Then when you turn up, you look positive, and you give nice vibes then everything is positive. This advice that very few people will teach is that your look matters. 

I’ve personally experienced a lot of things when going on trips and being with actors that when they look at you are taking care of yourself and your look, their perspective towards you changes. They see you as one of them. And they open up more to you.

My second piece of advice is that you should always do your homework. For instance, if you go for an interview and name their character wrong, that very instant you’ve messed it all up. Done for. You should pay heed to your overall personality and the person you’re going to interview. If you pull that off, you’re halfway there.

Another piece of advice is, stay cool. Keep your composure. “Give time to yourself and stay calm”. This is something I’ve even shared on social media; I write a lot, so I keep writing these things down and share them on social media. So, you should keep your calm because kids these days have a tendency to become restless really soon. So, this is one important piece of advice.

Q.10) If there anything else you would like to add for the benefit of our readers?

Ans: I’d like to say that we shouldn’t just focus on one thing. We should know how to do everything. I personally feel like if someone asks me to do anything, I’d be able to do that, not just speaking as a journalist or an actor. In the environment we grew up in, we did everything and anyone looking to work in the media field, you’ll have to be an all-rounder. You should know it all. Then you’ll do anything and adjust yourself at every place. Be positive, be simple. Simplicity matters a lot. The simpler, the more space for new learnings. And we should never ever close that door off. Now if you ask me to do my makeup, my hair, my dressing, writing, scripting, cooking, cleaning, I can do it all.

So, everyone can be good at everything. One just learns those things while doing those things. We shouldn’t wait around for the perfect time to come up. Wherever you see an opportunity to do something, do it.

How I came to the entertainment industry? Because I wanted a transfer. I was in ‘ABP News’ and my transfer was greenlit, but then after a month, it was rejected. Because the Mumbai team said that my package was big, and I couldn’t handle entertainment because I’ve always done mainstream only. Then I quit ABP and then I put the word out that I am in Mumbai and I’m looking for work in entertainment.

Supriya Prasad, Managing Director of ‘Aaj Tak’ team called me and I got to anchor ‘Saas Bahu aur Betiya’ and this was my first step in the entertainment industry and I’m really thankful to Aaj Tak for this. The rejection earlier had put me in doubt. Even though I knew I could do it, I was rejected on my very first try and that threw me off a little. Last month I played a role in Happu ki Ultan Paltan show on &TV thanks to Binaiferr Kohli and Sanjay Kohli. 

But then like I said, I don’t know the word ‘No’. I made up my mind that I’d do it and I’d do it better than what I’ve done until now. And then I never looked back. Then after two and a half years, I got into ‘India TV’ and ‘Ajit Anjum’, a news industry veteran, called me. They’ve done a lot in the industry and launched a lot of news channels. He called me and asked if I could handle a one hour show every day. I said yes.

Then I got a free hand over the show, and I did more than 500 looks in those five to six years. And I was doing everything there. I was a producer, designer, stylist, makeup artist, hairdresser, set designer, everything. Though there were teams, I was guiding everything. I even used to shop for the props myself. From there I made my identity. And because I was doing everything by myself, everything contrasted with me and my ideas. And from there people recognized me.

So, I’d also say that to never be afraid of rejection and instead, learn from them. Do what people think you can’t do.

I’ve won the News television award for best anchor many times. I’ve won the Dadasaheb Phalke award. I’ve got my name in the Limca book of records. I’ve won the International Icon award. I’ve won the Best entertainment anchor award. It’s an honor and I’ve had to work a lot too. There was never a day or time when I was not thinking of my shows. Also, there are no shortcuts here. Because whatever you do is on screen, you can’t fool anyone. There will be people to support, but you’ll have to do it all by yourself


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