It was not a scene one is used to seeing: the journalist Rajdeep Sardesai loudly gushing “fantastico!” each time a school student correctly answered a question. The exclamation “fantastico,” one realised during the course of the one-hour quiz show, was the advertising tag line of a car being launched by its sponsor, the Tata group. Sardesai is the quizmaster of News Wiz, which started on 24 July 2016, and is aired on India Today TV.
At the peak of his career, this avatar of the renowned anchor would have been unthinkable.
Is brand Sardesai on the cusp of change, I asked him. Sardesai did not deny it, but did not seem unduly worried either. “I am only re-inventing myself,” he said. “My core competence remains news. Even this quiz show that I am doing is based on news. It will create a culture of news sorely lacking today.” But his answer did not quite explain the timing for his decision—why now?
I have known Sardesai for more than 15 years now—half of it as my editorial supervisor at NDTV. It is fair to say that he looks a pale shadow of his earlier self. Sardesai’s is the face that launched two TV channels—NDTV and CNN-IBN—and now provides prime-time heft to a third—India Today Television. It may even be the best-known face of satellite television news of the last 20 years, never mind the TRP numbers. In the days that he powered NDTV to the top, he was the quintessential reporter’s editor: a hands-on boss, with a politically sharp, quicksilver mind, and the energy levels of a marathon runner. He occasionally even shared his scoops with reporters—a quality almost unthinkable today.
Back then, Sardesai was a complete news-room leader. That is no longer the case. His role has been truncated—he is merely an “Editorial Consultant” at India Today. Unlike his earlier profiles, he does not head news operations any more.