“Cricket was the biggest adventure of my life,” says Mrs Vijayalaxmi Chhabra. And you wonder why, till the story unfolds smile by smile of a humble person who meets everyone with her trademark charm. She understood the value of ten seconds of National television (Doordarshan)and proceeded to prove its worth -that’s former Director General Of DD-Vijayalaxmi Chhabra.
The point hit home when I was watching the blockbuster “83” and in a particular sequence, the prime minister says let’s make cricket “ek tyohar” (a festival) and finally I understood the sheer genius and hard work of Vijayalaxmi Ji who in real life and time did that who was the petite saree clad woman behind airing of the massive cricket series to millions across India and in turn unlike any other success story turning it into an opportunity. But the sheer humility with which she very simply narrates the roadblocks of the process the learning graph of a heretofore cricket novice to master the tiny details of the timing of the game to make her broadcast pitch-perfect is an engrossing learning curve which none of us could learn even at the best of business schools.
Let me put it in figures for you her achievements—she and her team made in revenues ₹250 crores from a single cricket series which was earlier paying DD only ₹12 crores in revenue. In fact by the time she retired the total marketing and sales revenue of Doordarshan had gone up to ₹ 1200 crores from ₹500 crores annually. A unit that was Dependent totally on middlemen and undervalued the Doordarshan revenues were totally changed. Tough, single-minded, hard-working and tackling the lobbying against her team and marketing with genius strategy (if you ever watch cricket and appreciate the small features like L- band and a good action replay let it be known it was her brainchild and her team all the way to this day).
DISCIPLINE – taught at an educated free-thinking household where Tolstoy, Gorky other liberal works were freely appreciated and discussed by parents that were open-minded and ready for a new India. Her father was a senior and reputed member of the Bhilai Steel plant and along with her mother believed in the Modern New India based on true education and widening of horizons which they extended in terms of education and mind-broadening to all their children. Vijayalaxmi Ji not only excelled in her school but at her college (Indraprastha Delhi) and then UPSC through which she entered AIR where she held various positions and changed the way of public broadcasting and even there revamped the revenues. It was the commonwealth fellowship in 1995 in London that changed her perceptions and worked to the belief of commercial viability even further because Franchisement was happening in a big way in England especially around FM radio. “At that time there were already 200 FM stations. She realized that it would happen in India, at some point soon.
When she returned from London, the timing was just right for her to take that step forward into commercial broadcasting. FM had just begun happening in India. She was put in charge of AIR’s commercial service and took over Mumbai FM’s radio channel. She was given the task of selling. Which she did with great aplomb because her hard work and discipline were a match for none and went on to redefine the art of selling art(well programs that were quality).
Considering her extreme success in Radio, In a major leap of professional challenges, she was asked in the year 2000 to set up the marketing and sales division in Doordarshan. its list of negatives was longer than its positives. Among other things, it also lacked professional management in the marketing of sports and events. And Vijayalaxmi Ji unfettered and as ready to learn new things proceeded from scratch once again. Marketing DD, understanding DD, its advertisers, how the market functions – we learnt it all on the job she says in her typical understated elegance because tackling the middlemen deeply entrenched in the system could not have been easy and neither would have been the tie-ups with the changing face of the satellite channels in the play. Overnight shifts to the point of having a makeshift wardrobe in the office, on ground pressure to the point of in your face hostile attitude of certain tie-ups partners and broadcast partners Vijayalaxmi Ji and her team of young enthusiasts tackled all and still refuses to name blame and laughs about those challenges.
DD prime movie time and the Sunday morning slot are all redefined by marketing geniuses whose style is being studied at management colleges. Satyamev Jayate we all remember. We all remember in turns crying, feeling patriotic and at times angry and marvelling at the genius of Aamir Khan but totally forgotten was the genius of simulcasting along with Star (the producer and airing partner) and time slotting on DD on a dead slot (Mahabharat time slot) by Vijayalaxmi Chhabra and her team. I could go on and on about a woman who in her typically positive way embraces every change and challenge. And if you still don’t believe me then go on check out her drape stories on her Instagram because now she uses saree as her canvas —-post-retirement nudging you to adopt the beautiful garment unfettered by trends she does this with complete honesty and freshness.
“One must keep growing and pushing ahead at various frontiers. In an emerging media market, you must have the willingness to adapt as the situation demands.” She had once said and I guess she applies it too because emerging fresh post-retirement in a new field in a new avatar has not deterred her and in her style, she excelled and made waves here too with half the women community looking up to her for daily inspiration and yet it was a simplified extension of her upbringing Explaining how her need to pen a few daily disciplined words led to her Instagram posts and her success here too. Her posts are educational and always talk about something relevant- be it her reviews of classic movies to new-age wonders, her explanation of the beauty of literature or her views and research on various weaves and making of the six yards.
But it is not merely that, it’s an extension of her personality that revels in being a homemaker it’s the strength that never thinks she is less than a man and henceforth can achieve whatever she aims for it’s her inherent upbringing that doesn’t look down upon anything in life it’s her elegance that grows beyond the need for reels with the simple power of well-researched words and it’s the artist in her that is now exploring the saree as her canvass. Vijayalaxmi Ji is an inspiration who has and shall continue to break many moulds A beautiful conversationist whose knowledge about arts and literature and films; defied my senses and as yet humble to the core.
Alternate profession – a Painter perhaps
Hobby – Literature (but that’s the need of a mind) perhaps cooking and of course movies (classics)
Favourite pastime – connecting with family, friends and now any admirers who DM
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