February 21, 2020
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Subhash Chandra, Zee Network

In The Z Factor, his autobiography, Chandra barely couches his belief that business isn’t a straight path and requires one to do all it takes.

Subhash Chandra, Zee Network
Photograph by Soumik Kar
Subhash Chandra, Zee Network
  • The network has 95.9 crore viewers in 169 countries now


With the dawn of the ’90s, the skies seemed to have parted, like with Moses and the sea. The Gulf War, the first televised one, made the world live and visible. Just a season later, India had just flung open its markets. One icy morning in December 1991, Subhash Chandra and a friend waited in the offices of Star TV, Hong Kong, thinking big, loo­­king to strike a deal with its chief, Richard Li. The meeting wasn’t pleasant. Li balked at the idea of an Indian channel. He thought it would be a bad deal. Period.

Keen to not let the chance go, Chandra asked if Star could lease one of its satellite transponders. Li said the lowest price at which one could be available was $5 million, suggesting affordability, not availability, was the issue. In a snap, Chandra said he would shell out the amount. That taut, near-attritional conversation put Chandra en route to his future as a self-made media moghul, the master of India’s first private channel and the Zee Network.

The man from Hissar, Haryana, had worked in his teens to pay off family debts. As a child, he once petulantly insisted on his father buying him a Fiat-Padmini. The car used to cost Rs 16,000 those days. His father put Rs 16,000 under his mattress to put a lid on his demand. At the launch of his autobiography, The Z Factor, Chandra said he finally bought a used car after making some money at the age of 21. In the book, Chandra barely couches his go-getter traits or his belief that business isn’t a straight path and requires one to do all it takes. The Essel group man transformed the television sector with Zee TV in 1992, followed by Zee News and, then, a foray into a host of media brands. The network, with nearly 95.9 crore viewers in 169 countries now, was built on the simple idea that Indians needed Indian content even in the days of satellite TV; that there was a media revolution waiting to be whipped up through indigenisation. Chandra wears many hats: a Rajya Sabha MP, with interests in philanthropy that goes beyond CSR, including running the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation.

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