Working under studio lights in no joke, and given the large number of news channels today, making your presence felt as an anchor is not easy either. So what does it take to do a good job in front of the camera? We caught up with TV Anchor Mridu Bhandari, who was a familiar face at ET NOW, and is currently working with Network 18 Media & Investments as an Editor for SMEs and StartUps (Special Projects). In this chat Bhandari shares her thoughts on how TV anchors maintain their health day in and out and how to find the balance between work and life.

Style is no substitute for substance

Looking presentable is important for television but it cannot overshadow substance. Appearances can grab eyeballs for the first few seconds but most people watch news channels to get some insights and they will flip channels the moment they realise they are not getting any value out of the programme. Today, there is so much quality content available online and on television, that viewers are spoilt for choice and a good looking anchor is not enough to ensure viewership! That said, it is important to be well groomed and presentable on television and have good diction because you are making a public appearance and would not want to turn off viewers.

Today, there is so much quality content available online and on television, that viewers are spoilt for choice

Switching on the ‘happy face’ for television

You might be going through a personal crisis but it must never show on your face on television. It just comes with experience and a lot of focus. In that sense, all television – even television news – is about acting. If you are a print or new media journalist who doesn’t appear on camera, you can file your stories even in a bad mood and with a grumpy expression on your face! But on television, it’s not enough to think like a journalist, you literally have to get into the character of a news reporter or presenter, put on a happy face irrespective of your personal state of mind and do your work. Once you concentrate and shut out everything else from your mind, it is achievable. You just always have to remember that the camera is rolling and through that lens millions of people are actually watching you and your expressions. The only way to get it right is with practice and experience!

Mridu Bhandari on shethepeople
The art of keeping it together for cameras: Mridu Bhandari

Maintaining fitness activity is all about keeping it as a non-negotiable task on your to-do list. 

Juggling It All

Some amount of time management skills are required given that television can sometimes have erratic and unplanned working hours but I think it is more about having a passion for fitness.I am far from being fit! But I am constantly trying to join the fitness journey by having some form of workout in my lifestyle atleast for a few days a week. I get bored of activities quickly hence I have tried a hand at a number of things like yoga, zumba, aerobics, cross-fit, gymming, spinning, walking, dancing etc over the years. Yoga remains my favourite fitness activity and if done properly and regularly, it can actually be a lot more effective than any other form of exercise.

She Is Building India She The People Dalmia Bharat

I think maintaining a fitness activity is all about keeping it as a non-negotiable task on your to-do list. Unfortunately, I am yet to achieve that on a daily basis! I do try to eat healthy throughout the week. It is the weekends that are tough to manage considering I am a big foodie, I love to try new places to eat and all my socializing tends to include food! So in the week that follows, I try to pay for the weekend sins by switching to healthy eating.

The re-energizing pill

I think 5 minutes of deep breathing can work wonders in calming down the mind on a hectic day. Another effective way is to walk around the office campus in fresh air for 10 minutes. This is easily doable and if you have friends at work who can take a walking break with you for 10-15 minutes, even better! There’s nothing better than conversation, good company and a short walk to feel rejuvenated in the middle of a hectic day. At other times, all it takes for me is to quickly listen to a favourite song and get right back into work.

Also watch: Madhu Trehan on the power of digital, setting up News Laundry

Focussing the mind with yoga

Doing yoga in the morning really helps me focus well, especially doing pranayams or breathing exercises. They increase focus as well as patience levels. I love yoga and am constantly amazed by the science behind it. I think it has really helped me achieve an inner balance and some peace of mind. I am also a highly organised person. I love to-do lists and get great joy out of striking things off them. This activity helps me focus on achieving one thing at a time because my goal is to strike off every single item on that list by the end of the day!

Mridu Bhandari
Sticking to a fitness schedule is very important: Mridu Bhandari

You have to always remember that work is part of your life, it is not your whole life

The pressure of looking good on television 

Honestly, in my experience that is a myth about television anchors. In my 11 years in television news, I have never ever been asked to look a certain way. In the second year of my career, I was doing investigative journalism in rural India for the number one English news channel of that time and I was a chubby girl with frizzy hair, appearing on-air without any makeup and wearing whatever I thought suited me. That was the year I won the Ramnath Goenka Award for excellence in journalism – perhaps the highest honour for journalism in India. . So I can say with some conviction that your work speaks for you and looks have little to do with it even in television.  There were never any stereotypes that I had to meet hence I never experienced any stress on that front!

Also read: Journalist Rana Ayyub’s self-published book on Gujarat gets off big launch

The need to prioritise health over work 

It is simple. First, you have to always remember that work is PART of your life, it is not your whole life and NOTHING is more important than your health. The sooner you understand that, the longer you will be able to do what you love. The world’s most successful people have all mastered the art of time management. They work hard, they work smart and they have lives beyond work. Over the years, I have strived hard to form a habit of not taking any work home. I don’t respond to emails that are not in the “urgent” category from home or on weekends, like I used to a few years ago. I am no longer compulsive about attending to something from work if I know that it can wait till a working day. There are always exceptions to that rule and as long as they are only exceptions, I don’t mind! I value my free time a lot more than I did in my early years in television and I think that just increases productivity.

Second, it is important to take your health as seriously as you take your work. We tend to take our bodies for granted and make them our last priority when even in the interest of professional success, they should actually be on top of the priority list because ill health only leads to negativity and loss of productivity. If you don’t exercise while working in office, why should you take calls or write emails when you’re in the gym? I make it a point to put my phone on silent and put it in my bag when I am at the gym or in yoga class.

Third, it is important to know what works for you realistically. I have realised that morning exercise works best for me and is most feasible. Every time I have put off a workout till evening, I have just not done it. I recognise that now and try to build my schedule keeping that in mind.

Mirdu Bhandari on shethepeople
It’s not always about looking good: TV is hard work!

There is a joy in climbing up the stairs of a 135-foot minaret at Jama Masjid carrying a camera and heavy tripod, just to get that one shot of Old Delhi in that perfect sunlight

Advice for those entering this field of work

Television looks glamorous but there is a great team effort at the back end. Every show has hours and hours of demanding schedules, sometimes tiring outdoor shoots in extreme weather conditions, long spells of travel, carrying heavy equipment, meeting very tight deadlines and all this can be very exhausting physically and mentally apart from also being very satisfying.

When I interview youngsters these days, more often than not, I find they are enamoured by the idea of being on TV and don’t care as much for journalistic values, good visual stories, skilful writing or excellent production skills. The most successful anchors have done all this and more and worked very hard to rise in their careers.  There is a joy in climbing up the stairs of a 135-foot minaret at Jama Masjid carrying a camera and heavy tripod, just to get that one shot of Old Delhi in that perfect sunlight. The shot will be used only for 5 seconds on screen but will be the differentiating factor of that story!  So, my sincere request to anyone entering this industry is that please don’t forget the basics of telling a great story with some crafty writing and exciting visuals. TV has great opportunities for multi-taskers so join the bandwagon only if you are willing to work hard and learn something more than just reading off a teleprompter in an air conditioned studio.