It’s all about Passion
A manʼs perspective.
She’s a media entrepreneur and internationally celebrated television content head. Across 26 countries worldwide, her sparkling mainstream travel shows with multicultural global hosts appeal to swathes of mainstream audiences in more than 92 million TV homes, regaling them in 11 languages including three Indian languages.
However, when 11 years ago, she, along with her husband, set out on their joint mission to create a great travel TV channel, she didn’t have much Tv-content-creation experience. But driven by their mission and belief, they ended up creating the world’s leading travel channel, and today, this amazing lady is recognised as perhaps the world’s best creator and programming head of original content for the most difficult genre of non-fiction television – travel.
She is Nisha Chothani, cofounder and director of Travelxp, the world’s leading travel channel, which gave India its first HD channel, and the world its first 4K HDR TV channel which she, along with her husband, Travelxp cofounder and CEO and globally renowned broadcast and tech visionary Prashant Chothani, launched in the USA in 2016.
How did an A-grade microbiology student who only ever wanted to do research at TIFR, enter the world of media instead, and go on to cocreating a phenomenal TV channel that is bringing in respect to India through mainstream travel content? What is her professional life like, working with her visionary husband in the same company, in an office with a common wall?
I caught up with Nisha Chothani to find out, and discovered a knowledgeable, committed and determined woman leader, professional and human being who is driven primarily by one word: passion.
My first question to her was about working with her husband in the same company. Prashant Chothani is an innovation and tech giant; he is somebody who actually helped the Indian cable and satellite industry find its feet many years ago. And she has proven herself as a
TRAVEL WAS SOMETHING I WAS CRAZY ABOUT, AND INDIA WAS ALWAYS SOMETHING WE ARE BOTH PASSIONATE ABOUT. WE WANTED TO SHOWCASE INDIA THE WAY WE SEE INDIA – IN ALL ITS BEAUTY, WITH ITS CULTURE, ITS CHARM; WE THINK THERE’S MUCH MORE TO INDIA, AND THAT WE NEED TO PORTRAY THE BETTER SIDE OF INDIA.
leader in mainstream travel content. What’s the work relationship like, through a typical day? “Difficult,” she says. “And easy,” she adds quickly, smiling. “Easy, because both of us understand each other, and difficult because there can be a lot of personality clashes as my way of thinking and his are very different at times.
“Where content for our channel Travelxp is concerned, Prashant generally doesn’t interfere at all with whatever I have to say, but of course I am open to suggestions – not only from him but the entire team. So, we do have content meetings where he too participates, but he doesn’t really interfere in content, so I have a free hand.” COLLEGE, CAREER AND FUTURE POSSIBILITIES
Today, Nisha is one of the top women in media – initially, for content creation and broadcast channel marketing and, of course, for the last 10 years now, for the creation of the excellent travel content we see on Travelxp.
Did she always plan to be a media professional?
“No,” she says, “Because I had done a BSC. in micro-biology from Sophia College in Mumbai. After that I wanted to get into the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research for oncology research, because it just fascinated me. But things didn’t pan out that way. My parents said: ‘No research. Just do an MSC’.
“I’ve been a rebel from the beginning,” she says, smiling. “I said ‘I’ll either do my research, or I won’t do MSC.!’ So I gave up studies.”
And then she saw there was a job Prashant had advertised for – that of a film journalist. “So I went and met him, and we clicked from the beginning. So there I was, a good micro-biology graduate doing film journalism, and enjoying it.”
They got married some two years later, in 1997. The period after marriage was a time when both got into film and media promotion with the Zee network, representing it to the massive fraternity of Bollywood producers under their company, Celebrities Management. Afterwards, we did the same for ETC, for which the entire inventory was sold by them.
“Then, one fine day, Prashant and I decided to set up on our own,” Nisha says.
And so the couple had entered broadcast. How and when did they decide to create the channel Travelxp?
“Travel was something I was crazy about, and India was always something we are both passionate about. We wanted to showcase India the way we see India – in all its beauty, with its culture, its charm; we think there’s much more to India, and that we need to portray the better side of India, and that’s the reason we wanted to put up a travel channel in the first place.
“When we first thought of creating a travel channel, we never thought of going into production,” Nisha says. “We thought we’d acquire ready-made travel content –mostly content about India – so we went to all the content markets.” But they were in for a nasty shock. Why? “Because the content we saw about India was exactly the kind of content we didn’t want to showcase! I mean, consider – you want to show some beautiful structure in India, and right next to it you show garbage, beggars, dirt. It just takes away from the picture you want to showcase. So we decided: ‘this isn’t what we wanted to do!’”
AT THE BEGINNING
“So that’s when Prashant said we’d get into production. We did have production experience because prior to that, Prashant had directed serials, but it was all fiction; we’d never done a documentary.”
Nisha says their first shoot schedule was in Rajasthan, and Prashant had gone with them. She recalls, “They were on the streets, the camera was set and they were ready to roll, when Prashant said, “Wait, get a jhaadu (broom)” They were puzzled, but a broom was brought, and Prashant himself started sweeping the street from one end to the other. Then, he said, ‘Now roll camera.’ And that was when the crew got the message, which they imbibed and have internalised over the years: that wherever you shoot, whether in India or abroad, try to catch the beauty of the place and don’t focus on the other side, because every place has the black and the white. And that’s what the Travelxp crew has been doing since then.”
“PASSION,” SHE SAYS. “THE MOST IMPORTANT VALUE PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE IS PASSION TOWARDS THEIR WORK. BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE PASSION, YOU CAN’T DELIVER WHAT YOU REALLY WANT TO, WHAT YOU MUST DELIVER.”
So what did their quest for excellence do for Nisha and Prashant Chothani? It delayed their channel launch from 2008 – when they first thought of creating a travel channel based purely on licensed content – to the 1st of February 2011, three years later.
But in the process, they created the kind of mainstream, fully original and here’s the great big cherry on the cake – fully owned -travel content that is anticipated and enjoyed by over 92 million TV homes in 26 countries worldwide. And over the past seven years of Travelxp’s broadcasts, Nisha has been spearheading the creation and production of all Travelxp content that has been shot in more than 55 countries worldwide.
Today, the efforts of Nisha and her entire programming team has created an invaluable content library of more than 1000 hours of the best travel content, shot not just in HD, but also in the best resolution of 4K HDR. And now, they’re considering shooting in 8K.
Their joint passion for excellence helped Nisha and Prashant create the kind of quality that has not only been one of the strongest USPS of Travelxp, but has remained as unique and unmatched today as it was when they launched in 2011.
THE EXPANSION BEGAN
And remember, the business world of media and entertainment revolves around just one thing, content. Nisha has created great, sticky content that has not only kept audiences coming back for more, but also TV distribution platforms in other geographies reaching out to ask for the same kind of excellence in travel television for their TV homes.
Which is why they’ve launched in three countries over the past three months – the UK, Singapore, and their second channel in Canada, which is now the country’s first 24hour channel broadcast in 4K HDR resolution. What’s next? “Latin America, and a few more languagefeed launches in India,” Nisha tells me.
Nisha’s content philosophy is powered by one particularly strong belief – that whenever you travel, you do it to make good memories, happy memories – memories that keep you going for the next few months, years or a lifetime, even.
“We want to show people that what you see in our shows is how beautiful every place in India actually is, and could always be, if only people didn’t litter in it, didn’t dirty it.”
I now move to an area that would afford me a peep into what drives Nisha Chothani, what makes her tick as a professional and a human being. What are the values she seeks in anyone who wants to join her team at Travelxp, I ask her.
“Passion,” she says. “The most important value people should have is passion towards their work. Because if you don’t have the passion, you can’t deliver what you really want to, what you must deliver.”
“Along with passion are integrity and loyalty. And, of course, independent thought. A lot us do just what is told. No, you need to have independence in your thinking, you need to be able to put your point across. Conviction is important. As a team, we’ve had a lot of arguments, but finally we go with the best argument. And that’s how it should be. But again, I think passion is most important. Without passion it just becomes drudgery and boring, and then you don’t want to go to work every morning. And then I don’t think you’d last really long.”
What about their son Tanay? How has she brought him up?
Remarkably, Nisha resumed working when Tanay was only seven days old! “I resumed working just seven days after Tanay was born, and I practically carried him to all my meetings, never left him with a nanny.”
To unwind, Nisha travels with her family and, of late, more with Prashant only because Tanay has been in university. What else does she do to unwind? “I like to read, “she says.” Anything from mushy romances to biographies; whatever I can lay my hand on.” Mushy romances? She reads them even now? “Yes,” she smiles. I have a Danielle Steel by my bed-side at all times. I think I must have all the Danielle Steels that have been written.”
From that idyllic space, we move to inter-personal relationships. How does she, a remarkably strong woman, manage her relationships in the personal and public space, I ask her. “It is very difficult,” Nisha says, “because for anybody to accept a very strong woman, it takes time, to be very honest. She is convinced it takes a strong person to accept and respect a strong woman; a weak person would tend to look for negatives in a strong woman.”
What advice would Nisha
ONE ADVICE I ALWAYS GIVE TO EVERY YOUNG PROFESSIONAL IN OUR ORGANIZATION IS TO FIND THE BALANCE BETWEEN WORK AND HOME. I ALWAYS TELL THEM THAT WHEN YOU ARE AT HOME, FINISH ALL THAT WHICH YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO, OR WHATEVER IS EXPECTED OF YOU.
Chothani give the ambitious, aspirational young women of today, that would help them chase their dreams?
“One advice I always give to every young professional in our organisation is to find the balance between work and home. I always tell them that when you are at home, finish all that you are supposed to do, or whatever is expected of you.
“Also, when you do what is expected of you, then the opposite person immediately starts doing a little more to help you out. Yes, I do believe that both the man and the woman are equally responsible for running the house while working, but at the same time, if there is more expectation from the woman, do it. How does it matter? If you can handle it, how does it matter?
“So I generally tell all my young colleagues here to do what is expected of them, even if they have to make that little extra effort of getting up half an hour early in the morning, making a nice breakfast for everybody before leaving the house... Believe me, it goes a long way because everybody goes out with a full stomach, happy, and you too go out happy because the house is happy; and that could be your child or it could be anyone else.”
With such empathy and wisdom, what kind of atmosphere does Nisha provide her colleagues at work?
“Ours is a very open-door policy,” she replies. It is not the number of hours that you work; it’s the productivity that matters.
“So we give that flexibility,” Nisha continues. “We have people getting their kids here when the kids have a holiday and they don’t have a place to leave them. So the kids even come down to my cabin and put on the TV and we give them all the goodies here so they are entertained. It is like a family feeling, because if they don’t have that comfort of getting their kids then again you will be stressed and you can’t work when you are stressed; especially when you are a mother, because I have been a working mother all my life and I know how stressful it is, leaving a kid behind and wondering all the time if he is okay. Is he alone? Has he done his homework? Has he eaten…? So I don’t want that stress in somebody else’s life.”
That’s when her phone rings, and I can suddenly tell she needs to get into something else. So the long, insightful, inspiring chat with Nisha Chothani comes to an end. As we shake hands and I depart her office, I leave with much respect for the smiling lady who sits with her easy, supreme confidence, her positive energy, sharp incisive mind, and a rare, infectious combination of passion, dedication and sensitivity. The highly successful and respected TV content professional and leader that is Nisha Chothani. We A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.
Presenting a new series on inspiring women of tremendous substance and achievement from the world of media, entertainment, marketing and advertising. This is the first part of ‘A MAN’S PERSPECTIVE’, authored by award-winning communication and content expert Pavan R Chawla.