It happened on a recent Monday morning, even before market hours. As assorted market-types were still filing into offices with their start-of-the-week look firmly in place, every trader’s favourite CNBC-TV18 girl, Mitali Mukherjee, was still sporting the ensemble she presumably went clubbing in on Saturday night. A black cowl-neck knit top, eyes heavily rimmed with kohl and a three-tier necklace which looked like it was strung with shimmering 5-carat droplets of mercury that kept flashing at regular intervals. Needless to say, we couldn’t quite catch how Mukherjee expected the Nifty to perform that day.
Camera friendly: (from top) Faridi puts finishing touches to her make-up before going on air; Venkatesh’s revamp includes colourful saris; Shenoy (left) and Faridi in their new bright jackets. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Most workplaces have various business channels playing on TV screens through the day. As a result, traders, brokers, analysts and bankers are as intimately acquainted with the anchors as watching them on a screen will allow. Statements such as “Arre, Tanvir is looking extra cute today,” and “Whoa, what’s up with Udayan’s (Mukherjee) tie?” are as common as, “Crap! The market’s tanking again.” So when Mukherjee’s necklace is flashier than the usual 1-carat solitaire pendant regular viewers are used to seeing, there’s no doubt they will take their eyes off the ticker.
But The Case of the Winking Necklace wasn’t a one-off aberration. A few days earlier, there was CNBC-TV18’s usually sedate Latha Venkatesh interviewing ICICI Bank’s managing director and CEO Chanda Kochhar. Kochhar, in a black patola sari with a muted brocade blouse, was outdazzled by Venkatesh, who was in an electric blue chiffon sari with a zari border and a gold blouse.
After many such sightings on CNBC-TV18—eyeshadow channelling an Indian soap opera and necklaces with beads the size of pigeon’s eggs—we decided it was time to investigate.
Turns out our business-channel-anchor’s-attire radar is very well tuned. CNBC-TV18 is indeed in the throes of a big revamp. Possible motive: Fresh competition in the form of ET Now, which went on air just as the neckpieces started getting bigger on CNBC.
As the first business channel on Indian television, CNBC-TV18 started out in 1999 without a local prototype to learn from when it came to anchor dressing. Vandana Malik, executive director of Network18, broadcaster of CNBC-TV18, says that over the years the channel has tried various experiments with the anchors’ appearances (perms were one of the more unfortunate ones). But off late, she admits, the channel had gotten into a bit of a comfort zone. “The anchors became comfortable and didn’t want to experiment. Then these other channels launched and suddenly everybody was looking like us, their anchors were dressing the way ours were. We needed to reinvent ourselves.”
Till a few months ago, designer Narendra Kumar had been creating the anchors’ outfits. For years viewers watched Mukherjee, Ayesha Faridi and Manisha Gupta in formal shirts or professional-looking jackets early in the day. Colours were restricted to dark and earthy tones; sometimes pink or white made an appearance.
Malik says that changed when on a recent trip to Paris, she noticed that the anchors on her channel weren’t as stylish as those internationally. A revamp was planned and the in-house team of stylists was despatched post-haste to acquire “bold” accessories that would be noticed.
Which they have been, by viewers such as Mehraboon Irani, senior vice-president, Centrum Broking, who is also a regular guest on the channel. He says he is often told off by his wife for not being observant. However, he has noticed that the anchors’ “bead necklaces stand out”.
Even as these big beads and chunky chains gave viewers something more to observe besides the fluctuating share prices, a more in-depth makeover was under way. Neha Bhatnagar and Harmeet Sethi, a designer duo whose experience thus far had been limited to ad films, Bollywood movies and styling actor Imran Khan, were brought on board. Bhatnagar’s fitted, bright jackets will be quite a hit. She and Malik admit the clothes and accessories of the last few weeks have been experiments to see what is appropriate for a business channel. As CNBC-TV18’s in-house stylist Shivana Kanwal tells us, mistakes such as Mukherjee’s clubbing outfit will not be repeated.
Bright orange, electric blue, jewel green, lemon yellow and blood red comprise the new colour palette and no anchor will go on air without bold accessories.
Much to Faridi’s dismay. “I hate wearing chunky jewellery, it’s just not me. I would never wear this,” she says, pulling at her glass bead neckpiece, when we visit the channel studio. Sartorial misgivings apart, a big beaded necklace on a business channel neither strikes her as frivolous nor, she says, does it dilute her image as an anchor. “I’m not here to establish myself as a brand,” she says, adding that the five and a half years she’s spent on the channel have already done that. “Whoever said business can’t be sexy?” she shrugs.
Venkatesh said that, actually, when we met her right after Faridi. Well, not exactly, but she does admit that in the beginning, her view was that the large accessories and pastel shades she was asked to wear would seem like “we are only worried about how we look and not what we think and say”.
“Somehow it looked trivializing the matter to me or concentrating on things other than the substantive. Anything too conspicuous is out of sync with the topic and out of sync with what I see myself as,” she explains. But her new saris in bright pastel shades have considerably pepped up her appearance.
Malik seems to have overruled their misgivings. “We all have our personal likes and dislikes, but I’ve told them that they just need to treat it as a job and wear it like a uniform.” The channel’s newest face, Sonia Shenoy, hates pink, but has been coerced to wear it on air. Often the anchors are startled to see a bright colour waiting for them in the dressing room, but as Malik explains, “What typically happens is the colour and picture clarity goes down three ‘generations’. What may seem very bright to a naked eye looks wonderful on air.”
So we’re actually looking forward to seeing the Red Riding Hood-hued jacket we saw Faridi try on at her first fitting with Bhatnagar. Faridi won Round 1 when she asked Bhatnagar to get rid of the puffed sleeves. That was a good call, because it made even her slim frame look like a linebacker’s. From our 15-minute meeting, we gleaned enough insight into Faridi’s personality to safely say that neither Alexis Carrington nor American football players are her idea of style icons. Round 2 went to Bhatnagar, who refused to trim the lapels of the jacket’s shawl collar. “Then it won’t be different in any way from the existing ones,” she said.
Though convincing the anchors to experiment with their look is a tough task, the even tougher one is what Kanwal and her team have to deal with. The most unenviable part of their job is making a daily dress schedule for each anchor, ensuring that the colours and styles they wear don’t repeat or clash with the ones hosting a show before, after or with them. As Kanwal says, “If so-and-so decides they don’t want to wear white today, everybody else’s colours go for a toss.” Kanwal emails all defaulters the next morning, with a copy marked to Malik.
So far, barring a few unfortunate accessory choices, CNBC-TV18’s revamp seems to have worked. Venkatesh looks younger yet dignified in her new saris and the other girls are a pleasant sight in fresh colours. The staff says they’re flooded with complimentary calls from traders, competition and even their dentist. Whoever said business can’t be sexy?
Mint has a content partnership with CNBC-TV18.