Interview is a concrete and a lively invention to understand people. Print, visual or audio, any type of interview reveals the personality of both the interviewer and the interviewee. You never know what an audience, who sees them and listens to them, would like!
Raju Parulekar, who is already an established poet, writer, columnist, blog & dialogue-writer, rose to fame as one of the best interviewers with ‘Sanvaad’, a daily interview program, aired on ETV Marathi. He took interviews even before Sanvaad but Sanvaad grab the highest TRP for ETV network and became a Prime Time. Sanvaad won RAPA award for the best program of media. Parulekar, who do not prefer socializing in a crowd, identified common people with very uncommon capabilities and brought them and their achievements into a limelight.
Till you get his article, little worrisome, unpredictable yet a very thoughtful and friendly personality. When Parulekar writes, rest assure it’s a cerebral feast.
Q: What is the vivid memory of interview experiences you had before Sanvaad?
Parulekar: 4 years prior to ‘Sanvaad’, on the occasion of ‘Granthali Day, on 25th December, I was about to take a stage interview of few interviewers. I was thinking and preparing my questions in my mind. I felt, I just need to ask questions, no big deal! There was no chance of failing at something. Later, interview was over. Mr. Sudhir Gadgil helped me with the interview. Apparently, that interview program was properly done but I knew, something, somewhere went wrong. For me, that interview was a failure. For us, interview means; questions are being asked, are answered and then finally interview is over. What is left then? What happens after that? What does an interview really means? How to take an interview? My mind started thinking…and I found the answers over the period of time, as the process unfolded. Actually, I took several interviews even before Granthali; however, those were for print media, including the interviews of many politicians, litterateur and actors. There is a vast difference between a print and an audio-visual, stage interview. I realized then, what went wrong on ‘Granthali Day’ and why I was not satisfied with that piece! A good interview is when the interviewee spontaneously spills the beans without any aggression on the part of the interviewer.
Q: Did you feel after this failed interview, you would still be recognized as an interviewer? When and how ‘Sanvaad’ happened to you?
Parulekar: I was writing for many projects at that time. I was writing columns for daily newspapers, screenplay-dialogues for Marathi-Hindi cinema and daily serials for Television too.
ETV serials like, ‘Aarambh’ and ‘Samantar’ were popular for its dialogues. Well-known actors, Renuka Shahane and Priya Tendulkar worked together for the first time in ‘Aarambh’. That became very popular, so I had lot of offers in queue.
I used to get many letters. Television expanded my friends- circle too. But, I still used to think, ‘this is going to end. There is nothing essential & long lasting like a book’. I knew it all the time. To be a writer was my original objective, so television would never give me that satisfaction.
Sanvaad happened accidentally to me. My friend, Mr. Uday Narkar was ETV chief. Once I went to Kolhapur to meet him regarding some work. While discussing we spoke about beginning an interview program. Uday asked me, “If we go for this program who is the most influential interviewer in Maharashtra?” I said, “If you want a good interview, I am irreplaceable.” He laughed and said, “We are excluding you in every topic that we are discussing.” We discussed and thought about various names from various fields. Uday suggested Mr. Sadashiv Amarapurkar, famous Marathi-Hindi actor, as an interviewer. Mr. Amarapurkar’s role in ‘Sadak’ was very famous at that time. We had a lot of discussion on interviews on that day. There is a misconception that for an audio-visual interview, you need looks. Interview skills have got nothing to do with your looks. The most important aspect is, the interviewer must be intelligent and should be able to study different aspects of a topic. Interviewer must nail it. I was firm on this opinion of mine. Few days later, I was back in Mumbai. Everyone was busy in their own work. I too started writing columns for Maharashtra Times. Readers liked my columns written on TV serials using black humor and satire forms.
With lots of bitter-sweet experiences, I wanted to get out of the rut of Television. After around 4 months, Mr. Uday Narkar called me and said, “On the occasion of ETV’s anniversary, we are immediately starting the interview program that we discussed last time. Program will be on air within 4 days, so let us begin shooting from tomorrow.” I asked, “Who is going do it?” he said, “There is no one but you who can do it”. That was a big shock for me. I begged him and suggested Mr. Sudhir Gadgil, Mr. Samiran Walvekar as interviewers to avoid this. But he wanted a new face and it was too late, so it had to be me. Next day shoot was scheduled. Mr. Santosh Aayachit was the executive producer of this program. Mr. Kumar Ketkar was my first interviewee. But the first aired episode was that of an IAS officer, owner of Chanakya Mandal, Mr. Avinash Dharmadhikari. When I took the first audio-visual interview, I had no idea that this journey will go on for 3,625 episodes. I kept on interviewing continuously for 11 long years.
Q: How did you prepare for ‘Sanvaad’?
Parulekar: For these 11 years of time period, I worked with 3 producers, Santosh Aayachit, Milind Thackeray and Ganesh Sagde. I am still very close to them. Everyone tried their best to make ‘Sanvaad’ a success, hence we had creative arguments too. It was very tough to plan, manage and execute one interview every day. Initially, to contact and invite guests, Adhita Lele worked as a coordinator for 300 episodes. After that, I researched and decided the interviewees. I worked on getting their names and numbers. Speaking, inviting and scheduling their interview also became a part of my job besides R&D, preparing questions and taking the actual interview. That was quite a one- man show. TRP was high not just at the prime time slot, 8am but even for the repeat telecast at night. There were 11 channels of ETV network at that time. Mr. P. K. Manavi Sir was the chief producer of all these 11 channels.
Q: Was it a challenge to get the approval for people you selected as interviewees? Specially, a low key personality.
Parulekar: In the beginning, Uday Narkar was very strict about whom to invite. In fact, he refused to interview people who are not well known. He used to insist on bringing in the celebrities for interviews. TRP has always been the pressure. That used to trigger arguments among us. I was firm that celebrity does not increase TRP; it’s media who creates celebrities. This thought was the mantra of success for ‘Sanvaad’. Mr. P.K. Manavi understood my opinion that, a common viewer would like to see the achievers who are simple and regular people like they themselves. This uniquely experimental interview program was possible only because of the firm backing of the FTI topper, Mr. P.K. Manavi sir. As ‘Sanvaad’ was rocking and nailing TRP down with its quality content, many influential personalities in Maharashtra did everything to fail the concept of finding ‘extraordinary in ordinary’. But Mr. P. K. Manavi was the only guy, who stood by me, convinced.
Q: How tiring was the everyday schedule of Sanvaad?
Parulekar: Scheduling such daily interview episodes was difficult indeed but implementing it in reality was more challenging. As I remember, I shot for 23 interviews one day. With few exceptions all 23 were completed in one take. The 23rd interview was of late Union Minister Mr. Gopinath Munde. But I was as upbeat, as I was, for the first interview. I realized, I was not at all tired. I was careful and avoided full meals as it would make me drowsy. Before we began our interview, I shared a chocolate with Mr. Munde. He said, “Just what I needed! I have diabetes. After a hectic time, I crave for sugar”. Some sugar was required for me too to complete the 23rd interview on that day.
It was almost at the rate of one interview per hour that we shot that day. 12 interviews one after the other yet there was no boredom. It was a cakewalk for me. Because, there was a variety in the content. Each topic was unique, so each interview became a different and interesting experience. Example, how was the world convinced by the importance of Tulsi (Basil) and how its patent was acquired? After this interview, it was then the interview of Dr. Prakash Kothari about Kama Shastra, then a classical singer’s interview, then the interview of a political figure. One after the other the topics were contradictory which kept the liveliness quotient of the interviews, high.
Q: How did you manage to identify, find and reach these ‘not so famous’ achievers and their work who probably were unwilling to come into a limelight? How did you convince them to get interviewed?
Parulekar: I guarantee, even today I can bring in such numerous, brilliant and talented yet ordinary people into a limelight and create a classic. And this isn’t to claim my credit. You need to have a sound knowledge of all strata of the society, it is important. I was working with Anna Hazare as his blogger, which later created a controversy. Suddenly, thousands of people got connected to me. That blog became the 12th popular blog throughout the world or Raj Thackeray’s MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) suddenly became more active. These are the best examples of it. I think, you are close to success, if you get an idea of what will happen next, when and where! To correctly interpret what is happening around you, is also important. Maybe this thinking stems from my studies of sugarcane laborers, I did previously. I travelled and walked for miles during this study. At times by state transport, by bullock cart or any vehicle I can possibly get. I used to stay anywhere, used to roam around any place. That kind of wandering, I believe, makes us realize that there are so many extraordinary people among us, who create such a different and huge work and yet they are unaware of their own greatness and the monumental impact of their own work. I met and experienced so many of them. When I met Dr. Prakash Amte and Dr. Abhay Bang and understood their work, I realized they are haunted by a very different cause. Another reason I could identify them is in the fact that I have been meeting lot of people in the social and political sphere. I spent 17 years in Vijay Tendulkar’s company. The interviews he took in Dindi (Pandharpur pilgrimage) are the best interviews. That was a new and unique pattern. Tendulkar’s interviews were par excellence. He was interested in a common man. ‘Stories of ordinary people are extraordinary and anyone can be an extraordinary person’, this was the reality check given by Tendulkar. Once I interviewed a guy, who did his schooling on the back of a buffalo. This guy who learned everything including Vedas and Gita is Muslim by religion yet goes to the pilgrimage of Pandharpur every year.
I took another interview of a social worker, Shaha. The initial stage of her work was full of struggle and shock. She took home a mother and her two children, abandoned by a family. That was a very different and a huge struggle she went through with her own children along with this addition to the family. This kind of work is impossible unless there is an extraordinary streak in her. There are so many people who create huge tasks. But the society rarely has the maturity to recognize this spark of extraordinariness.
Q: Has your friendly, social nature helped you make friends easily which ultimately benefitted Sanvaad?
Parulekar: The other day I read a line on twitter handle, called Poem- “There is a man inside every man and a very few can understand this”. Intrinsically, I am an introvert. I do not like the crowd of people much. I have few, selective friends. But the man outside me is exactly opposite. Wherever I may go on the surface of the Earth, I can make friends easily. The poorest of the poor identifies with me and the affluent, opulent thinks I am a classy. Some people ask me; do you belong to an aristocratic family? However, I have seen difficult times too. I tell them in a funny way that the glow on my face is due to the increased level of cholesterol and has got nothing to do with aristocracy.
Q: According to you, what is an interview as a concept?
Parulekar: I think interview is completely a different art. What is an interview? When I dug deep to find the answer, I realized something very strongly. Two people sitting across the table is a war zone. Even if they are a couple, there is still a competition between them. There lies an invisible energy and both want to own it, they even try to snatch it away. However, the interviewer is supposed to give that energy to the interviewee with love and wholeheartedness. Oriental philosophy helped me while interviewing people. According to the Oriental philosophy, a giver always becomes greater. The viewer thinks the ordinary becomes an extraordinary and the interviewer becomes greater from the point of view of the receiver too. These are the 3 secrets mentioned in Oriental philosophy. This is easy to say. But I found the essence in the 4th or 5th interview and when I said ‘interviewer must nail it’ to Mr. Narkar, that is also something I realized due to this philosophy. Interviewer should convey to the interviewee that, ‘this interview is yours and you own this energy’. That is why, even the shrewdest and the cruelest spoke from their hearts in ‘Sanvaad’. Mostly, a person doesn’t want to lie but he hardly gets the chance to speak the truth. An interviewer must give that opportunity to the interviewee. This was the reason why Sanvaad reached every household and was widely appreciated. People understood the topic, the personality interviewed and got the satisfaction out of interviews.
Q: Different people from varied fields were interviewed in Sanvaad, such a variety is rare and never seen before in any interview programs. However, not every topic is known to the interviewer and there may not be enough time to study it, how did you manage such situations and what was your stand?
Parulekar: I interviewed Dr. Ateesh Dabholkar. He is among the five scientists, Stephen Hawkins selected to work on String Theory. He is settled in Vienna now. He is a scholar of Pure Physics, however, as there’s no age difference between us, I could inform him right in the beginning that, though these theories are important, it should be simplified for a common viewer. Viewer may not understand the depth of these concepts but they at least should be of some interest to them (viewers). Dr. Ateesh Dabholkar quickly understood what I meant and that interview was incomparable and very well received.
Later, once we had a scientist of Pure Mathematics. He received a Nobel Prize and was even nominated thrice for Nobel previously. He resolved many mathematical terms on paper. He would talk nothing but Math. I used to remember my childhood days, fearful of Math, while looking at those papers. He was explaining Earth’s movement through a Mathematical theorem and that reminded me a Marathi poem of a poet, M. M. Deshpande,
I travelled through space
Sadness still remains
Nothing I could find
What am I going to explain to the viewer and how if I did not understand the subject. I confessed to him, “I was to surrender at the end of the interview, let me do it now. Not that I know a lot but if I am unable to grasp properly, let’s forgive the viewer”. On that he replied, “Assume that I am at the center of the Mathematics, we would then talk about what all it covers and how it covers”. I said, “The center of the Mathematics that you will explain, begins with infinity and goes to infinity. That’s again a riddle”. Then we spoke about the eastern approach of the infinity. The keynote of the success of that interview was our discussion about the journey of Mathematics from Philosophy to Mathematics. There were two parts of that interview. After the interview, he gave me the papers and said, “Read, it’s important”. I read it but little did I understand. In short, we need to think about such subjects out of the box. We got to find a new perspective and a new angle to present it.
Q: What are the factors included in a good interview?
Parulekar: Being an interviewer, I have studied the psychological aspect a lot. I feel, the first thought that comes to your mind naturally, let it out, do not hold it back. We are swimmers by birth, but we miss it. Later, we have to re-learn it. Our first thought is like this basic swimming instinct. Whatever maybe your logic or whatever the society thinks, never avoid this first thought. This first thought is not related to any influence you have. It is irrespective of the known personality or a stranger, it’s also not situational. That thought arises out of nowhere and for no reason. The cleaner you become, more pure that thought is! During interviews too, I used to naturally get those questionnaires. Interview is a miraculous art. Hollywood’s Abstract movie director, Godar was once asked, “A cinema should have a beginning, middle and an end, which is a traditional opinion. Do you refuse it or disagree with it?” Godar replied, “I do agree with that opinion but not with that sequence”. The smartness and the give and take of the energy between them, really gives us a cerebral satisfaction.
Interviewer must be alert always. When we had eminent writer Mr. Girish Karnad as a guest for Sanvaad, he himself declared that he would mostly speak in Marathi. That interview is in 4 parts. During the interview, we were talking about his contribution to theatre and writing. In an episode he spoke about artists and socio-political movements, on the basis of Russian Revolution, he referred that, during that revolution it was not required for communists to send poets, writers and painters away from Russia. Actually, that point had many layers and I had my opinions too, but had I expressed it there, the interview would have turned into a discussion session. The topic, ‘How an artist’s stand makes the difference to the government’ would have had taken another 4 episodes in that interview. But if you have a time limit of only 4 episodes, you are expected to take the interview ahead. Interviewer must have this sense of awareness alive all the time.
Q: Did this experience of continuous interviews ever give a saturation feeling to you?
Parulekar: There are two factors which did not create any boredom or saturation among us. First, every guest was unique, had own personality and I was aware of it. I interviewed many psychologists. Not a single interview was like the other. I took around hundred and fifty interviews on the topic ‘Water’, none alike. Everyone’s approach towards water, the way of working, place and background was different. Note that this topic has a range from local to global level.
Second, the real challenge for the interviewer is to know, when to be subjective and when to be objective? If you are talking to a person, it should be subjective but when you need to discuss a topic from every angle, you will have to be objective with the expert of that topic, whom you are interviewing. The interviewer must remain alert, on track and remember these minute details. This complexity was tiring me. It’s because of this subjective-objective game with masters of different fields and great achievers that we never felt any boredom or any saturation. There was so much going on that you may get tired but not bored if you really pay attention.
Q: Has Sanvaad missed any topic?
Parulekar: I do not think we have missed any topic. I did not avoid any ideology, any political party just because they are excluded in my beliefs or if I disagree with them. We had our guests from RSS, Rashtravadi, Congress, BJP and Socialist parties. Many people asked me then, which ideology do I belong to? Many were curious. I feel, people yet did not understand my thoughts and ideology.
Q: Any personality you wished to interview and missed in Sanvaad or still wish to interview them?
Parulekar: What Mark Twain said regarding speech applies to interviews too, ‘Interview we decided in our mind, the actual interview and ‘should have taken’ the interview are always different’. Speech is given by one person but interview includes at least two different people. Hence, the actual, final interview is always different than what we thought. I always have New Yorker, Paris Review and Play Boy in my mind, because those interviews have a particular direction.
Personally, I wanted to interview Osama Bin Laden and Prabhakaran. I tried to get an interview of Osama but then he was included in the most wanted list by USA and my wish remained unfulfilled.
Second interview that I wished was of Velupillai Prabhakaran. Balasingham, who was considered as the brain of Prabhakaran was staying in England. Later, he died due to cancer and it’s because of his death that Prabhakaran’s empire and all strategies and conspiracies started collapsing. Whenever, Prabhakaran was in trouble, Balasingham used to borrow pace (or peace) keeping force from Norway and Prabhakaran was again used to get empowered with weapons. Balasingham’s death accelerated the end of Prabhakaran. How a terrorist’s mind works? Where do they find & need the peace of mind? What do these man-slaughters think about death? I wanted to ask these numerous questions but they remained unanswered.
I am happy, I interviewed poets like D. B. Dhamnaskar, Narayan Kulkarni Kawthekar, but sad that I could not interview Indira Sant. I have interviewed almost all classical singers; Satyashil Deshpande, Shruti Sadolikar, Aarti Anklikar, Dhondutai Kulkarni, but was unable to interview Kishori Amonkar and Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. Kishoritai’s interview was scheduled as per her terms and conditions, but it did not happen in reality.
Pt. Bhimsen Joshi’s interview was also missed, because after all the preparation, somebody created misunderstandings between us, so interview did not take place. There was also a thought of making a cinema with Panditji. Lot of interviews was shot between the time promised and the actual time scheduled for Panditji’s interview. In that period, I interviewed Raghvendra Bhimsen Joshi. That created unrest at Panditji’s home. The environment required for a good interview was spoiled. Of course, I met him later on, spoke to him occasionally. Bitterness and the feeling of displeasure vanished but the interview remained undone.
There was one more name, close to my heart-Poet and writer, Kavi Grace. I still feel extremely sad that I couldn’t interview him, I missed it. We had a very close relation of heart. He used to always call me ‘Reverend Parulekar’. He would always meet me whenever in Mumbai. The most difficult question was how to stop Kavi Grace when he starts speaking? How to fit it in the limitations of Sanvaad’s format? The interviewer must understand where and when to stop the interview! The trap is, what if the guest doesn’t approve if you stop the interview in between. And to deal with such a sensitivity of Kavi Grace was a big challenge and need a thoughtful approach. I couldn’t manage to get the answer. The stage interview was possible with Kavi Grace but to fit it in an online editing technique became impossible.
Q: As you were interviewing celebrities, when did you realize that you too have become an icon and a celebrity?
Parulekar: I was on television every day. I used to get flowers, sweets, Gulkand (Rose petal jam), greeting cards and love letters from Indore, Bhopal, Surat and various parts of country. People used to worry and query about my weight gain. A slight difference in my weight was visible on television and if I gain weight, I used to immediately get letters from viewers, which was taxing. Along with Sanvaad, there were my other programs too on air for various other channels. As I was a regular face on television, I had to face two experiences. Once, Times published my pictures with an actress, dancing in a party and another with a glass of an Apple juice, which was misunderstood as a drink. I received a long letter from my admirer. I had created an image of an ideal man through Sanvaad. All this drinking, dancing with actresses doesn’t suit me and I should abstain from it. Since then I have stopped dancing in parties, though I like it and I strictly avoid holding any kind of a glass in parties.
Q: Does it enhance the interview, if it is about your favorite topic or if it relates to your studies or interests?
Parulekar: Dr. Pravin Mhatre was awarded as the Man of the year by BBC in 2005, for his research in Ovary Transplant. His first Indian interview was in Sanvaad. Ovary Transplant was a different topic of research. Dr. Prakash Kothari’s interview on Kama Shastra was in 3 parts. He was open to all questions and spoke in detail. Channel authorities were afraid, what if someone objects? The interview on a topic which isn’t supposed to be discussed in public went well. After few days, Dr. Prakash Kothari called and said, “People used to sneak in my ward at K. E. M. hospital but now they are entering without any hesitation”.
Also, I interviewed Sarita Dawre for a topic, Pain Management. It was her first interview. Body weight is the root cause of sorrow and sadness. The interview unfolded her work, research and studies.
If the interviewer is able to create an interest and curiosity, any topic can be handled well in an interview. If you stay aloof and unable to relate you cannot touch the essence of any subject, I think.
Q: If a personal or controversial subject creates any type of tension during the interview, is that a testing time for an interviewer?
Parulekar: I have handled such sensitive incidences a lot of times. I interviewed one of the opponents of Thakur’s of Vasai-Virar. Vasai’s politics was discussed in that interview and a news article was also published in Loksatta under the headline, ‘A light on the Vasai’s two decades of Darkness’. Vasai was shut down after the interview. The statements made in the interview made TADA court file a case against Bhai Thakur versus me. The government’s lawyer made me a witness. I had to go often and that was a different headache all together. I had such numerous experiences and they taught me a lot. I was acquainted with lot of new things. Sanvaad was over by the end of 2009. At the same time, coincidently, Anna Hazare’s movement began and later, I was talked about a lot. During this phase, I got disconnected with the media in Maharashtra. My writings gradually decreased.
Q: Even after the era of Sanvaad, you worked for a lot of ETV’s programs. Had you been not involved in it, do you think you would have written much more sustainable and lasting?
Parulekar: I would have written a lot and I can still write a lot about truck load things. I would have handled lot of forms of literature. But I couldn’t do it. And nothing saddens me more than that. The amount of writings I wanted to do, I have not completed even 1% of it. Of course, only I am responsible for it and this grief is going to remain with me forever. Yet, in that period, the anthology of my poems, ‘Manjiri’ and 5 books comprising of columns I had written were published. My book, ‘Ideas Are Dangerous’ and ‘Manjiri’ book of poems received state award. However, it’s true that I could have written more.
Currently, I am writing a book. There has been a gap and somehow the process has stopped because I am unable to get out of myself and what I expect from me. That has created emptiness. I would feel a great relief, once I finish the delayed writings of my two books – ‘Gang Kejriwal’ and ‘Nexus Treachery and Co-existence’. I want to write the most important part of Kejriwal’s tenure and his treachery.
Every year on 9th May, a Victory Day Parade takes place in Russia. For the occasion recently, an anthology of articles was published in Russian. Among the six thinkers around the world, who wrote for it, my article on ‘Absolute and Existence’ has also been included in it. Article discusses philosophical thoughts and soon the book will be published in English as well.
One more thing bothers me that I couldn’t complete my Marathi play ‘Itihasachya Bai’ (History Teacher). The subject is very different and would have created unrest if I would have completed it. Producer Lata Narwekar also posted advertisements. But I was ill for nearly a year and a half after I finished writing it partially. I knew the end of the play, I made notes too but due to the lapse of time, I lost the impromptu and artistry of the play. The end of the play is still incomplete.
My novel ‘Mrutyulekh’ is in its last phase. There are lots of other topics and things I wish to write about. One thing that would always bother me is, I am not currently writing as per my wish. A book on Velupillai Prabhakaran is on my mind too.
Interview based on three principles, preparations, impromptu and awareness reaches the audiences. And we remember these people forever. As time passes, new fields emerge and a dedicated talent also gets ready for work. Hence, such interviews are very important. We would therefore hope to see ‘Sanvaad season 2’ soon to meet ordinary people to know their extraordinary work. Let us wait…