My four years in cable TV gave me an incredible insight into consumers. With a little commercial sense, I thought I must be doing something right.
It was during a play, Othello, when I was backstage with Alyque Padamsee for a rehearsal at the National Association for the Blind at Worli, that Alyque, who was the head of Lintas advertising agency, said this is the beginning of sponsored programmes in India. He said, Hindustan Lever wanted to do a television show on Doordarshan. It was the first sponsored programme and they wanted to do a television quiz show. Alyque said, “I need somebody to execute this.” I said, “I will do it.” He kind of looked at me and said, “What does that mean?” I said, “Yeah, I am thinking of starting a television content company.” He said, “Really? When? How?” I said, “I am in the process of putting it up.” June 1990, United Software Communications was incorporated as a private limited company and my first programme was for Lever, thanks to Alyque.
Since there were no studios, we actually hired a theatre. The first show was recorded at the Sophia College Auditorium with four cameras and a live audience. The show was called Surf Mashoor Mahal and with that was born India’s first-ever branded programme. The show gave me an inroad into all multinationals and corporates. Agencies were taking notice of us and, more importantly, it gave me an entry into Doordarshan, India’s only broadcaster then. We went to Doordarshan with a studio-based quiz show called Contact and a show on mathematics called The Mathemagic Show, which was produced by co-founder Zarina, whom I married much later in life.
Around the same time, Madison, which was the agency for Procter & Gamble, said, “We want to do a daily soap.” Since it was the days of Doordarshan, they said prime time wasn’t available except for the afternoon slot. We wondered who was going to watch television at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and that too daily, but it worked fine for P&G. So then we got people from advertising to start writing scripts in our basement office at Worli in Shiv Sagar Estate. Luckily, State Bank of India was emptying t