A few years later, I would co-anchor, with Arnab Goswami, a daily show called Newshour on Star News. As I now joke, 'Just imagine the noise levels if Arnab and I were in the studio together!' Again, it was fun. Maybe because there were fewer channels to compete with, we didn't have to scramble to get guests and we actually could focus on making sense of the news rather than push for the sensational.
Perhaps the show that I am most closely identified with in my NDTV years is The Big Fight, a programme that provided the first glimpse of what contemporary news television would eventually become: increasingly studio-driven, with the focus on polarized debate, not on reportage. And yet, I believe The Big Fight was a debate show with a difference. Yes, it could be noisy, but it never really went out of control, and we usually had only three guests. Most importantly, we got high-profile public figures to come to the studio even when we recorded in the then seemingly distant Eagle Studios in Noida. I remember once doing a debate on Dalit politics that featured Kanshi Ram, Arun Shourie and Pranab Mukherjee. Could we even dream of hosting such a panel today in a studio? Every major leader of the time came on to The Big Fight, maybe because the format, where netas were positioned as pugilists (which Dr Roy had helpfully suggested we borrow from the US presidential debates), was new to Indian television and appealed to viewers. Why, we even had Narendra Modi appear on a Big Fight debate in September 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The Big Fight would go on to win many awards, including the Asian television awards, and for a long time remained the staple Saturday night fare. (It continues in robust style to this day, ably taken over by Vikram Chandra.)
When general elections were held two years later, I had 'graduated' to the studio. It was the moment when I felt that I had 'arrived' on television. To be sharing studio space with Dr Roy and the genial Dorab Sopariwala (a Mumbai Parsi with a heart of gold and an eye for numbers) was the fulfilment of a dream that had been nurtured as a college student watching the 1984 election. For two days, I co-anchored the show as we dissected every result with the voice of Radhika in the production control room in our ear at all times. Indeed, if Dr Roy was the face, Radhika was the editorial heart of NDTV; not only did she give the channel direction, but also crucially, moral leadership. On any editorial dispute, she was the 'supremo', the last word, tough but fair.
Postscript: A few months ago, I received a photograph from the 1998 election studio. It has an image of a youngish Dr Roy, myself, Dorab, Mahesh Rangarajan (distinguished academic and, like me, an election addict), Yogendra Yadav (who remains the master of election analysis), the late Harkishan Singh Surjeet, and a politician with a black beard seated on the far left. Guess who? Narendra Modi, of course. No wonder NDTV was the original 'Dream Team'!