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Oprah's talk show is not only about talk, but also about listening. She did not simply talk to people, but listen to them. She makes the interviewees feel they are always the main focus and they are always at center stage. She knows how to enlighten and encourage people to talk freely about their most personal experiences, to share their stories of love and success, to speak out about their happiness and sorrow.”


by B.Raman

(June 08, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) “We should learn her art of talking: how she talks with people and communicates with people. Oprah's talk show is not only about talk, but also about listening. She did not simply talk to people, but listen to them. She makes the interviewees feel they are always the main focus and they are always at center stage. She knows how to enlighten and encourage people to talk freely about their most personal experiences, to share their stories of love and success, to speak out about their happiness and sorrow.”

So wrote the “China Daily” of June 7,2011, in an article on the talk shows of Oprah Winfrey, the celebrated American talk show anchor, who has taken her last bow. The article was appropriately titled “Oprah Took Talking To a New Level”. She did. No doubt about it.

We have in our midst in India a TV artist of great talent whose contribution to the development of TV talk shows in India has been immense. I am referring to Barkha Dutt, the Group Editor of NDTV.

During a visit to New Delhi in April, I asked a leading journalist what he thought of her. He replied: “ Undoubtedly, she is the mother of Indian TV. You will find her stamp, her influence right across the TV spectrum. Her gene is everywhere. People of her fraternity criticise her, but quietly seek to emulate her.”

She is a versatile artist----equally talented in field reporting, interviewing and anchoring live and pre-recorded talk shows. She is a person of immense drive and courage, who has become a role model for budding TV journalists. She has over 300,000 Twitter followers, who just wait impatiently for her to come online and open her Twitter account every night around 11.

For nearly four hours, she interacts with them seeking their views on her programmes and reporting, sharing with them her views on what has been happening in India and the outside world and exchanging just plain gossip. Often, her Twitter followers---of all ages---don’t go to sleep till she has gone to sleep. Their personal attachment to her is amazing. She is not only a TV phenomenon, but also a Twitter phenomenon, who uses the Twitter religiously for building a cyber fraternity of her followers. (@BDUTT)

NDTV has two flagship talk shows of Barkha every week called “The Buck Stops Here” and “ We The People”. “The Buck Stops Here” is a talk show based on the important news of the day which is aired for 60 minutes four times a week (Monday To Thursday) for an hour from 10 PM. ”We The People” is a weekly talk show based on contemporary themes---political, economic and social--- which is telecast at 8 PM every Sunday. Some of the themes chosen by her are very bold such as the rights of the gays, the rights of the religious minorities etc. These two shows are having a summer break during June.

“We The People” is the most viewed TV talk show of India, which is viewed in many other countries too, including Pakistan. Whereas “The Buck Stops Here” is a live show, “We The People” is pre-recorded.

Many people make it a point not to accept any social engagements on Sunday evenings so that they do not miss the programme. Nobody ever says no to a Barkha invitation to participate in her programmes. Being invited by Barkha and appearing in her talk shows has become a status symbol for many in the urban elite. She is able to get a wide cross-section of experts and opinion-makers to participate in her talk shows. The technical values are very high and could compare with the best in the West.

Barkha’s popularity as a Talk Show host and the large viewership of her shows could be attributed to the contemporary and bold nature of the themes chosen by her, the participation of the best of the best in her shows and her ability to make the participants shed their shyness and reticence while interacting with her and others. Like Oprah, she is a very good listener who makes the participants the heroes of her shows. The spotlight is on them and not on Barkha. 

Early this year, the “Buck Stops Here” completed two years and “We The People” 10 years. One could see some of the more popular episodes of the “We The People” programme over the years at http://tinyurl.com/3cxq4hg

Like all icons, Barkha generates jealousy and controversy. Some of her methods of field reportage have come under criticism---like her live coverage of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, for example. It was alleged by some that her visuals telecast live might have been of assistance to the terrorists in knowing about the deployments of the security forces. She has vigorously justified her camera focus and denied that the visuals could have benefited the terrorists.

Even her detractors have to admit that she is a person of great physical courage and professionalism. No danger restrains her from going to the trouble spots---whether in India or outside. She made her name as a debutante in the Kargil area during the India-Pakistan military conflict of 1999.Her coverage of the Tsunami in 2004-05 and her field reportage from Egypt and Libya earlier this year were widely acclaimed.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies)

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