Raju Sethi, the man behind AVS. The Asian Variety Show,
probably the most watched Indian entertainment show in the US for the past 10 years.
Yes that's right 10 years! Raju Sethi has definitely brought Indian
entertainment to a higher level. His show is watched all over the world. Raju
has been successful in producing the first Indian TV serial shot in the US, being
the production director for TV ASIA, directing a music video for Apache Indian and being a
member of 1947 Inc. and he has had all this success in New Jersey.
We sat down with him, read what he had to say.
Interview by Satinder.
How did you get involved with what
your doing today?
It is basically a hobby turned
profession. As a kid I loved film making and playing with the video camera. My dad had a
store in south jersey and at that time there was only two Indian shows on the weekend,
both were pretty bad. Then a local cable station opened a channel, CTN, and my dad
suggested we create a show with Indian songs and put our advertisement for our store. So I
did. I used two VCR's and a video camera to make our show. It was on Sunday night at 6:30
PM. We started in 1987. We weren't called AVS at first. We were first called AVP,
Asian Variety Program. But they misprinted our name in the TV guide to AVS,
Asian Variety Show and that's were we are today. We didn't know that the channel was being
watched all over New Jersey
then we got requests from other Indian business to put
there add on our show. That's how we started.
Do you have a degree in film
or any training?
No, I have no schooling in what I am
doing today. As I said, it just started out as a hobby. When I was a in high school I got
an internship at a cable company and that's were I picked up things. We used to do things
using u-matic format.
Did you have a strong Indian
Yes, my Dad was very supportive,
without him I wouldn't of got started.
Where are you from in India?
I was born in Agra, grew up in Delhi and came to the US in 1976.
Did you ever think AVS would
be as big as it is today?
Not at all. I just wanted to change the way Indian shows looked.
Back then everything was so bad, the lighting, the commentaries. I had no idea it would be
as big as it is today.
What is AVS's goal?
Our goal is to entertain. That's it.
News is not our forte. AVS is an entertainment program. If you go on the net you already
know what the latest news is. Our
show is pure entertainment. We just want you to sit, relax and forget about your problems
when you watch our show.
We tell you about the latest music, what kinds of films are being made. For example
Shekhar Kapoor directed 'Elizabeth', a movie that has been nominated for an Academy
Award and no one else is talking about this. We want to let the public know what is
What other projects are you
Besides AVS, I direct music videos,
did a video with Apache Indian, we also do marketing and consulting here. All the adds
that you see on AVS are done by us. I also just came back from Jamaica, I shot a
gospel concert there. So I am keeping very busy.
Do you still work for TV
I did but I really have no time to devote. I do some
consulting for them at times.
You worked closely w/
Amitabh Bachchan, describe him to us?
Amitabh Bachchan is very reserved and is most professional. He
is extremely humble. He has an aurora of being untouchable because he is Amitabh. But if
you get to know the real Amitabh, he is warm and very intelligent, I really nice
Who are some celebrities
that you have met?
We have met almost everyone. If they
have been to New York or New Jersey, then I have probably met them.
How often do you go to
Not much. Anything that I need is usually sent to us. If we need
clips or footage its all a phone call away. But I do try to go once every few years.
What is your favorite movie?
My favorite movie is an old black
and white movie, 'Kagaj ke Phool'. It's by Guru Dutt. It has the same value to Indian film
as Orsen Well's 'Citizen Kane'. A really good movie.. try to get a chance and watch it.
Another movie that I like that other
people might be surprised is, "Agneepath' with Amitabh Bachchan.
Why does it seem that all
Indian movies have the same plot?
Typical Indian films are called 'Masala
films', they have a bit of song and dance, love story, action, revenge, and comedy all
rolled into one. This type of film is etched into Indian society. That's because the
main Indian audience is the lower class. These people who drive the rickshaws, the taxis,
clean the streets, pick up the garbage, and do the menial work in India they dont
want to see reality, they see that everyday. They want to see dreams. But now the films
are moving away from that slowly. They are going on location to shoot and more
controversial movies are moving out. Like Fire, Zakhim, Satya which is a recent
favorite about the Bombay underworld. If you watch this movie you will never view India as
you used to.
Do you watch a lot of
I only watch if its good. Indian
film is changing because of TV in India. Now in India you have CNN, MTV and American
movies. A lot of people are now asking how come our movies dont' have the same
themes and look as western movies, the reason is because they are more costly to make.
Who is your favorite Indian
Bachchan . He is able to play
every kind of role in film
he is just incredible to watch.
Yash Chopra. He is able to take a
bold theme and make you feel good. Now a days to many Indian firms try to be like American
films or they copy American films. But his movies are more traditional and there is a
cleanness about them. It makes you feel good when you watch them.
What do you think about
directors that copy American films?
I have no respect for people who
copy. Some Indian movies are blatant copies of American movies, not just the story but
actually footage is taken from the American movie and used in the Indian movie. For
example the movie 'Ghost' with Demi Moore
a scene was taken out of the movie and
used in the Indian version of that movie .. 'Pyar ke Saaya'.
Do you think the Indian
version of the Titanic will be coming out soon?
It's probably in the making.
I was just kidding.
I'm not. They have also made an
Indian version of Sleepless in Seattle, and Bad Boys. Almost every top American film has
been copied some way or another by Indian movies.
Indian movies are losing the Indian
elements. Why can an outsider come to India and make a movie that wins the academy award
and an Indian director can not. Why does an Indian director have to go to England to
create a good movie. The talent is there (in India).
I have seen a lot of new
faces on Indian films, any reason for the influx of new talents?
New talent is actually slowing down
because most of the films are flopping. There are only a handful of billable stars.
Directors are hesitating to bring new comers in now unless they are the child of a famous
actor or related in some way.
What advise would you give
to the film students who are trying to break into this career as directors or actors.?
I have just one advise
it, live it'. If you have the drive, don't worry about the consequences. If you start
with nothing and end with nothing, what have you lost? It took me four years to
break even. You just have to stick it out. The first few years are going to be hard. But
keep at it, and do it with an honest heart. Be the next Spielberg only if you want
to contribute to the word something unique. People want to be stars and actors but
dont understand how hard it is. You have to memorize lines and be able to act
different roles. The younger generation is taking it much more serious.
Thank you for your time Raju
and best of luck with your show.
Thanks Satinder, my pleasure.
Visit the Asian Variety Show (AVS) web site.
Some images are courtesy of AVS.