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Creating Wildscreen Magic

BSCAL 

This accolade demonstrates once again that, when it comes to quality, the race is not always won by the biggest spenders. It sometimes takes little outfits with bright ideas. A classical pianist, who also strums guitar, 26-year-old Nikhil J Alva set up Miditech, an acronym for Musical Instruments Digital Interface Technology, in early 1988. At this stage, he didnt have the foggiest notion of outshining a record 316 films to impress an international jury.

Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans, says Nikhil Alva looking Buddha-like. Fresh out of college (St Stephens), I invested some money my grandfather left me to set up Miditech with a friend. We wanted to make ad jingles and music for TV serials but found it darn hard to stay afloat.

This spurred Nikhil to move into TV software in 1993. And convincing big brother Niret, then a correspondent with HTVs Eyewitness to quit and make their own programmes instead, was a stroke of pragmatic genius. The brothers Alva then used their combined charm on sister Manira. A partner in all their childhood escapades, Manira didnt need much coaxing to resign from the Sunday Observer to join their adventurous garage production.

Now eight years down the line, Manira heads the Bangalore office and Miditech Television is well on its way to small screen stardom with a core team of 25 professionals. The first major break came when UNICEF commissioned them to make a series on the girl child in Rajasthan in 1993. The theme film Santosh and nine modules for different target groups such as lawyers, doctors and corporates won them instant recognition. A few months later, DD cleared their proposal for Living on the Edge.

But, in an ironical twist, Living on the Edge which bagged the Panda aka the green Oscar, may have seen its swan song last Sunday. The mandarins of Mandi House have asked Miditech Television to find sponsors for its weekly Sunday evening environment series, for it can no longer afford to commission it. DD felt it was doing them a big favour by giving them a six-episode extension to see the Alvas through the festival period in October. Now the Alvas are running from pillar to post, trying to nail a sponsor without compromising editorial content.

But, as of now, hooking a sponsor appears mission impossible. Frothy film-based entertainment programmes rake in sponsorships easily with their high TRP ratings. Indian corporates want very little to do with an environment oriented infotainment show. This despite the fact that Living on the Edge along with The World this Week had one of the best ratings (5.5) for English programmes.

Niret has no compunctions adding: Most business houses have such a dismal environment record that to get them to sponsor Living on the Edge borders on unethical. Where does that leave us?

According to the grapevine, some companies trying to project a more green image are prepared to sponsor Living on the Edge but only with the rider that they would have a say in content. Ruffled by this, the Alvas are back to seeking a hands-off sponsor.

Quite clearly, the Panda has not altered things too much, but hope springs eternal. All the big network chiefs, producers and film-makers who turned out at Colston Hall were very supportive. We are hoping to bag some co-production deals with foreign software houses. This might put us in the dream situation of working with bigger budgets and greater freedom. says Niret Alva.

In fact, United Kingdom-based Survival Anglia, which won two awards at the festival for Little Fish in Deep Water and Mountain Gorilla: A Shattered Kingdom, invited the Alvas up to Norwich to see operations.

Now there is a buzz that DDs loss may be Rupert Murdochs gain. Star Plus has sent feelers to the Alvas and even BBC is quite receptive to the idea of giving the award-winning series a fresh lease of life.

Despite completing 81-odd episodes on environmental issues, both the Alvas shrink from being dubbed activists. We like to see ourselves as just a bunch of TV journalists trying to highlight meaningful issues. We make it a point to present both sides of the argument. This balanced approach was one of the biggest factors that swung the Oscar in the Television Trust for the Environment category in their favour.

The Living on the Edge episode which clinched the award contained hard-hitting reportage on arsenic poisoning in West Bengal, denotification of sanctuaries with reference to Melghat and a feature on the elusive Dandi tribals of Gujarat. Over the years, the Alvas have captured 2,000 hours of raw footage on the Indian environment and they have an awesome library of wildlife stock shots at their South Extension office.

How has Miditech climbed such dizzying heights? Some would say that the magic lies in the fact that both the Alvas act as a foil to each other. As executive producer, Nikhil, a maths graduate, holds the reins of the business while Niret, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Mass Communications handles the bulk of programming.

However, Nikhil claims he enjoys rebelling when he tires of counting sundry figures. Big brother Niret takes pride in pointing out that the product of the last rebellion were brilliant episodes of a travelogue called Off the Beaten Path for DD 3.

Their grandparents, Joachim and Violet Alva, both journalists and lawyers were the first couple to be in parliament together. Now the Alvas are the first brothers to have won the Green Oscar in the history of the Wildscreen Wildlife Film Festival.

First Published: Fri, November 01 1996. 00:00 IST