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RAJU SETHI   


raju.jpg (7077 bytes)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 family upbringing?

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.

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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 happening.

What other projects are you working on?

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 Asia?

No… I did but I really have no time to devote. I do some consulting for them at times.

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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 person.

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 India?

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 don’t 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 movies?

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 don’t' have the same themes and look as western movies, the reason is because they are more costly to make.

Who is your favorite Indian actor?

Amitabh Bachchan . He is able to play every kind of role in film… he is just incredible to watch.

Director?

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'.
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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… 'Dream 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 don’t 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.