Kaya Taran (Chrysalis) a film by Sashi Kumar
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About the Director

Sashi Kumar

Film maker & Chairman, Media Development Foundation & Asian College of Journalism

Born on February 23, 1952, Sashi Kumar spent his school years in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, the bulk of it in Madras. He went on to graduate (with history as the main subject) from Loyola College, Madras and completed his post graduation in history from Madras Christian College in 1975.

In the late seventies he was among the earliest Newscasters in English on Doordarshan, India's national TV network and, over the next decade, became a familiar face in TV households in India as news and current affairs anchor, film critic and producer and director of topical features on television. Among the weekly programmes he authored and presented were Money Matters, the first independent programme on the economy on Indian television; Tana Bana , a cultural feature; and Jan Manch, an interactive forum between Ministers in the government and a cross section of society. He has been the principal anchor of international conventions like the Commonwealth Heads of State meet in Bangalore, The Nonaligned summit in Delhi and the International Film Festivals of India for several years.

The numerous short films and docu-features he scripted and directed, which were telecast on national television, bore his distinctive stamp of originality, investigative rigour and critical candour and there were, almost always, brushes and tension with the authorities in airing them. He describes this phase of his Doordarshan-dependent career as one of "wily brinkmanship", where he kept pushing the frontiers of criticism - and his luck - to a remarkable degree. During the mid eighties he focused his critical and creative energy on a series of documentaries on international issues that were path-breaking because they provided an original and alternative perspective (as against the routine western view) to the troubled spots of the world. He traveled extensively to make these features, visiting the Soviet Union several times during the dismantling phase of 'glasnost' and 'perestroika'; East Germany (GDR) just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall; Romania in the immediate wake of the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu; several countries in eastern Europe to get a feel at first hand of the collapse of communism in that part of the world; several states in Europe and the USA for a mega feature on Disarmament and Development. He also produced a number of special features on the issues affecting South Asia covering Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, the Maldives. Most of these docu-features combined descriptive or illustrative visual footage with incisive and analytical interviews with the key players in each situation, and were telecast as a many-part series. He was considered something of television's Sri Lanka expert during the height of the fractious war on the island and the phase of the IPKF intervention.

Sashi Kumar's engagement with the television media began as a part of Doordarshan, initially as Newscaster and then as News and Current Affairs Producer. He took a break from television, and into the print medium, between 1984 and 1986 when he was the first West Asia Correspondent of The Hindu daily and its sister fortnightly, Frontline .

He opened the West Asia bureau of the publication in Bahrain and traveled extensively in the region covering the six Gulf states, Iran and Iraq, and well up to Cairo in Egypt. In 1986 he returned to India enticed by reports of a more liberal dispensation in Doordarshan and an 'opening up' to producers outside. After a short six-month stint as General Manager with the Ambani owned Mudra Video, where from almost the very beginning he was biding his time to leave, he took up an offer from PTI (Press Trust of India) to set up a television wing of the news agency. PTI-TV soon became the most prominent banner on Indian television and it was during these years, 1986 to 1992, that he produced the series of political and international docu-features that won him consistent critical acclaim.

As founder President of Asianet :

By the late eighties the DBS (Direct Broadcast Television) technology was making its impact felt across the world and Sashi Kumar saw in it a long awaited opportunity to break free of state control of the electronic media. He conjured up the vision of an independent satellite television news channel run by PTI and took the idea to the board. However when, after several months, the board continued to be indecisive, he decided to take the plunge himself and, quitting PTI, launched Asianet, India's first satellite TV channel in the regional language, in late 1992. Telecasting in Malayalm, the channel was targeted at Kerala and the large diaspora of Malayalees in the rest of India and the Gulf states. Simultaneously he also launched Asianet Satcom, a cable company in Kerala that took up state-wide cabling using the electricity poles. Both these were pioneering steps in the evolution of independent Satellite TV and Cable in India.

The Asianet channel set new trends and standards in intelligent and wholesome programming that resisted the innate tendency of the medium to dumb down. Asianet Satcom was the first state-wide cable system in India.

As founder Chairman of Media Development Foundation & Asian College of Journalism :

In 1999 Sashi Kumar divested his stakes in Asianet. By then both the channel and the cable company had become hugely successful ventures. Sashi Kumar then founded the Media Development Foundation as a nonprofit public Trust dedicated to excellence in journalism education and best practices in the profession. Along with his co-Trustees - Mr. N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu group of publications, Mr. N. Murali, Joint Managing Director of The Hindu group of publications, Mrs. Radhika Menon, Publisher and Editor, Tulika books for children, and Dr. C.P.Chandrasekhar , Professor of Economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi - he set up the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. The college has already acquired the stature of the premier institution of journalism education in this part of the world attracting the best students seeking to study journalism from across India and other countries in south Asia, and forging links with some of the best in the field like the BBC, the Columbia School of Journalism in New York, and Cardiff and Westminster in the UK.

As film maker :

Even in the late seventies Sashi Kumar had been writing on films in The Hindu. His journalistic writing began with analytical views and reviews on the serious, new Indian and world cinema . He also introduced critical evaluation and comment on cinema on Indian television through his many international film festival coverages. Apart from his television documentaries and features, he scripted and directed a film in 16 mm on a friend fighting cancer titled 'Vijayalakshmi, the story of a young woman with cancer', and a science-fictional feature titled 'Nemesis-II". Both were telecast on the national network . In 2004 Sashi Kumar let his most enduring passion take over again, and scripted and directed a full length feature film in Hindi titled 'Kaya Taran' (Chrysalis). The film deals with the crisis of identity in a multicultural society that turns continually volatile, and straddles the anti-Sikh carnage in the wake of the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1984 and the post Godhra anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002.

 

Other interests :

  • He has written and lectured extensively on the media.
  • He is a Trustee of the Elizabeth and Malcolm Adiseshiah Trust
  • He was the recipient of the Shiromani Best Journalist of the Year Award in 1991-92
  • He has learnt and is an avid rasika of classical Carnatic music
  • He has experience in the theatre, having earlier acted in and directed a number of plays as part of professional and amateur troupes in Chennai.
  • He likes reading and swimming and wishes he had more time for both.

Sashi Kumar is married to Radhika, a publisher of children's books, and their two sons, Tushar and Tuhin, are at college.

Kaya Taran
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