Hindi or English knowing viewers had already started feasting upon Star Plus, Star News and many other media outlets but Punjabi viewers were still condemned to the staid Doordarshan that insisted on placid programming. It was in this milieu that Narayan became a saviour with first-ever Punjabi satellite TV channel, Punjabi World, and then ETC Punjabi.
Narayan had come equipped to the field; he had studied English literature at the Delhi University, acquired domain know-how in journalism and mass communication, had not just been a theatre buff but had actually straddled the stage in umpteen dramas, was a core team member of the Delhi-based Collegiate Drama Society, and had also dabbled in direction. Besides, he had a rather peculiar obsession: he would always want to know everything about every department in a complex production venture.
To the entrepreneur in this soft-spoken man, whose eyes and mind are forever darting to catch the whiff of a new idea, one thing was clear: Punjabi satellite television now needed a primal force that could provide that decisive push. He served as business head of ETC Punjabi, Zee Punjabi and Alpha ETC Punjabi but then decided to become that primal force himself. This was a decision that was destined to shape his life, and the cultural life of the media-consuming Punjabis.
In the late aughts was born the idea of PTC. And no one else could have been trusted to be a midwife to nurture it into a force of nature. The channel took the Punjabi media landscape with a storm and soon negotiated its reach into varied domains. Narayan, if not religious, was either spiritual or simply gifted to sense even before Mira Nanda that there was a god market. Thanks to his perceptive understanding of the Sikh and Punjabi ethos, he knew that Gurbani was the fountainhead from which the spirit of Punjabiyat drew its essential kernel of life. After all, among the demands that marked the more than a decade long insurgency in Punjab was one for transmission of Gurbani from Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar.
It was an almost quixotic dream since it needed massive capital injection, could only be a public service, and the transmission couldn’t accommodate any advertisement. Clearly, it wasn’t a very wise business decision. But Rabindra Narayan knew how all things in life do not mean business. One has to be a bit of Cerventes’ Man of la Manchato aim for the impossible even when equipped most inadequately in terms of resources.
“This was the word of God. Gurbani is at the heart of not just Sikhism, but also Punjabiyat, and the dream signified our message of universal welfare, the spirit of Punjab. There was no way I could have factored in the profits and losses. This was beyond the balance sheets,” Narayan now recalls.
The holy word of the Gurus was now available to the community and the world at large at no cost. Sometimes Narayan wonders if that is why the gods smiled upon his enterprise.
The secret to his success perhaps is the fact that the man who thought nothing of mopping the stage floor in theatre or running galley sheets by hand when working in a newspaper, knew the nuts and bolts of the industry by now. If he could fix a light, he could also write the ad copy or the promo line of a major production, and an hour later, could sit with the financiers to convince them to put in their money in his idea.
Now, with its seven flagship channels, the PTC Network is the largest Punjabi television network on the planet. PTC News has not only carved a space with its sharp news coverage and informed debates, but has also spawned some healthy competition, enriching a once staid field. PTC Punjabi is now the measure of an artist. PTC Dhol TV now streams 24×7 on Mark Zuckerberg’s playground. PTC Music is the stuff they groove to, from the bylanes of Malwa to the Bandra Bandstands of Bollywood and Canada’s British Columbia to Toronto. Punjabi cinema and PTC Gold have come of age hand in hand. The Chak De spirit in Narayan couldn’t do without a PTC Chak De, but then you could have bet that he would lose all the money in the world but would want PTC Simran to thrive.