Frontiersman Raghav Bahl: Review

Title: Network 18 – The Audacious Story of a Start-up That  Became A Media Empire

Author: Indira  Kannan

Publisher: Penguin Random House India

Pages: 320

Price: Rs.699

This book is the story of harnessing of brilliant  ideas, severe  setbacks, naked aggression, spectacular  victories and  fatal flaws  in the arena of modern  super high-tech business. It is also the story of entry of  India  into modern satellite channel communications  and entertainment  business. Above  all, it is the story  of Raghav Bahl, a first generation entrepreneurson of an IAS officer, and  a  reform – oriented  mother as a home-maker.

As Indians got their  first taste of satellite  television during  the First Gulf War, Raghav Bahl saw his own future in the small screen. Just out of college (where he was an activist) burning with ambition, a keen (untested) business  sense, he assembled a talented group of professionals  and rank beginners ,and,  starting from a one room office in New Delhi, NETWORK  18 was one of India’s  earliest success stories in TV Media circles, in less than two decades.

After two decades of excitement, adventure  and massive build up of assets in TV, print, property, internet ,films, news and entertainment, all free of encumbrances and despite severe regulatory constraints and resources challenges, Network 18  prospered   and  came to be recognized as an important player.

Even before the  Media Moghul  Rupert Murdoch had purchased a 64 percent stake  of  STAR to demonstrate his confidence in the Indian market, Raghav  had already  won contract for INDIA SHOW, the first  locally produced programmes on channel Star Plus in India 9 (no mean achievement ). Kapil Dev, Shahrukh Khan and Nikki Bedi and her husband Kabir Bedi and other high profile personalities  were presented in the episodes  and the channel celebrated the  success to no end.

This ended the lurking  fear in  Raghav’s  mind and heart about the relationship between the episode maker (software) and the broadcaster who could pull the plug out any time. But  the maker of the episode  had to learn to make his interventions  in a timely manner, if, there was a grave provocation or material change in the assumptions, partiesiestions , parties do not break faith.

Raghav innocently asks the readers, did he succeed in life? He started business with Rs.50,000/ which  grew to Rs. 100 crores  in12 years and from here in less than ten years the group revenue totaled Rs.5,000/ crores. In this spectacular  growth never once the group attracted regulatory strictures. Readers would be sensible to read the complete  book to get the full  picture.

Later on, the business was taken over by the Reliance’—but that is another story. After you have read this book ,you can decide  upon your verdict and may write for  additional information or input to Raghav (who has not offered to entertain any communication from the readers in this matter). Sting diversion  from the text of the episode , Nikki was persuaded to interview Kabir.

She was from among  many candidates  grilled in by long  chats and in-depth assessment  over several evenings .What Raghav was looking  for was a female who had sharp responses, was good at repartee  and a personality capable of creating on the stage an aura of  romanticizing . Nikki was half-British and half-Indian  and free enough to walk thru the episode if there was a disagreement . Nikki was a  good thing that happened to NETWORk 18 at the right time.

When it was proposed to write this book ,her performance and association with Raghav was what made history. Raghav grilled all the participants in the venture .The book is an extremely important documentation of emergence of a new discipline  and new kinds of interpersonal relationships among people under one roof .Financial hubris , Raghav’s uncontrolled ambitions , his overreaching  faith in his super power and, no doubt, external factors no less led to a free fall for NETWORK 18, with blue chip brands like CNBC ,CNN etc.

According to Pritish Nandy Bahl is the first journalist  who became an iconic entrepreneur, an empire builder. He did it without compromising on his integrity, without being manipulated by big business  or by politics, There is magic in his story. It is the story of  how the Indian media grew to such a remarkable and spectacular business heights in a couple of decades through the enterprise, imagination and sheer passion of its frontiersman. Raghav  Bahl led this pack. Indira  Kannan has done an excellent job as a writer and compiler

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