New Delhi: When she was a student in class VIII, Kamla Bhatt visited a film set in Madras (now Chennai) with her father, a producer of Telugu and Tamil movies for the first time.
“I saw an assistant prompting the dialogue to the heroine and asked my father, ‘How come his (the assistant’s) voice doesn’t carry into the recording?’ He explained to me the concept of a boom microphone and (post-production) recording,” Bhatt, now a resident of San Francisco, recalled in a recent interview. “That stayed with me. It told me what exactly it takes to make a movie and how hard the work was.”
On air: ‘Life, people and ideas’ is freelance journalist and radio host Kamla Bhatt’s short answer to what her show is about. The description is the single strand connecting her eclectic interests.
Nearly three decades later, those early lessons still play out in Bhatt’s life as the one-person team behind The Kamla Show, described as the Internet’s most-popular India-focused radio show. Starting this week, Mint partners Bhatt to start a series of online radio interviews with entrepreneurs and thinkers who have, or are, defining the Internet business.
“Life, people and ideas,” is Bhatt’s short answer to what her show is about. The description is the single strand connecting her eclectic interests—from technology to dotcom era start-ups to films and Bollywood.
Guests on The Kamla Show, whose episodes can be downloaded individually from the website, include not just the heads of technology companies—Wipro Ltd’s Azim Premji or Arun Sarin, former chief executive of Vodafone Group Plc., for instance—but a range of people from different walks such as percussionist Sivamani, film-maker Shyam Benegal and writer Pico Iyer.
One of Bhatt’s first interviewees, Arun Jaura, group chief technology officer of Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, calls Bhatt a “crisp” conversationalist. “She was pretty direct in her questions and was well-versed in the subject...obviously well-prepared,” he says, recalling that she probed deep into environment-friendly technologies in the automobiles business. “She was keen to know how I would bridge the gap between the West and India.” Bhatt interviewed Jaura a few months after he relocated to India following a near-10-year stint in the US with Ford Motor Co.
After a master’s in philosophy in international studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi in the late 1980s, Bhatt moved to Silicon Valley, where she worked for nearly a decade.
“In a way, I worked two jobs there,“ says Bhatt in a phone interview. In her day job, she worked in sales at tech companies in Silicon Valley. In the evenings, she donned her journalist mask, and pursued a media career which, according to her, “really started with the dotcom era.”
“I could document first-hand what was happening [during the dotcom boom], and I got a real taste for doing feature based stories—I encountered interesting people, start-up companies—and a lot of Indians were central in this era,” Bhatt says. She remembers an old joke venture capitalists used to ask start-ups: Where is the Indian in your team?
Bhatt’s first show began from Mumbai in 2005 when she and her husband moved to India after her brother died in a car crash. The show, News About India mixed a daily news capsule with occasional long-form interviews. In the same year, she introduced another, called Talk News India. A year later, she renamed it The Kamla Bhatt Show, and moved the format almost entirely to interviews. “Initially, it was a challenge for me to see if I could do this every day, but as I went on, I found the magazine format enjoyable,” she says. The show has been syndicated to Podtech, which hosts interviews that can be downloaded to a personal audio player such as the iPod.
A typical show, says Bhatt, takes anywhere between a day to a week to complete, right from identifying a person to interview (“We maintain a running list of potential candidates”), to background work and research, warm up interviews (“Some people have a couple of hours, so we can set it up properly”), the actual recording and post-production. She calls herself obsessive and says she spends 5-6 times in editing and post production as if takes for her to conduct an interview; “audio is a very unforgiving medium.”
Still, the interviews themselves are minimally edited, and mostly left as is. “The focus of my show is really on conversation,” she says. “For me, it always comes back to ‘life, people and ideas’—telling interesting stories, of innovation, inspiration and motivation.”
Mint starts its online radio initiative, available at www.livemint.com/radio, on Monday with an interview of Yogen Dalal, the co-author of the TCP specification, by Kamla Bhatt. Her interviews with Mozilla Corp. chairperson Mitchell Baker and Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, as also other personalities, follow in the coming weeks.
Also starting on Monday are two other programmes: The Expat Show, a how-to radio capsule for expatriates moving to India, and Playcast, an audio blog focussed on the gadget universe.