Kumud Merani is a name oft synonymous with television, radio and theatre – a persona who occupies the space of a doyen of the Indian & Asian media down-under, who has reigned supreme across the Australia continent’s media landscape for over three decades. We profile this lady of the 9 O’clock smile for our readers in this issue …
Kumud was once the most familiar face of Mumbai Doordarshan News since the heydays of its inception, and was indeed one of the most popular newsreaders of her time. An accomplished journalist, Kumud was well acknowledged both for her voice and her presentation style – TV viewers would in fact wait eagerly for her winning goodnight smile, oft referred to as her hallmark 9 o’clock smile!
Flashing that smile at us Kumud says, “My media career started in childhood. Really, because I used to participate as a child artiste in Jantar Mantar children’s programmes on All India Radio and in Hawa Mahal plays. I was amply encouraged by my parents who were lovers of art and literature. My father, Loknath Jetley was an acclaimed writer and Oh what an orator!”
Following her passion for art, theatre and public speaking, Kumud acted in several college plays staged by her Alma mater St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. “Shabana Azmi and Faroukh Sheikh, who were my batch-mates, used to stage a play every year and walk off with the Inter-Collegiate Prize”, says Kumud. Besides her penchant for Art and Culture, Kumud was an extremely bright student as well. She not only stood first in the Mumbai University but was also among the topmost 25 students in the whole of India. That she adds “was a tremendous surprise”.
After Xavier’s, she moved to Mumbai University, mastering in English, Indian History and Culture, and as fate would have it, topped her class and landed a Gold Medal. But hold on, while studying for her Masters, Kumud had gained another medallion – her engagement to Suresh Merani, a young and brilliant Engineer with dashing looks, who she says, ‘has always encouraged me in my career and my pursuit of the arts’. In between, she was offered and took-up the job of a History Lecturer at Mumbai’s famous Mithibai College, where her students who were a mere year or two younger to her absolutely adored her.
Then came her tryst with Mumbai Doordarshan. Kumud ended up playing a lead role in the very first TV drama produced by Mumbai DD entitled “Matrimonial Column.” The Director of the TV station, PV Krishnamoorthy, spotted her talent and asked her to conduct an audition for the News. The day she auditioned, the legendary artist Smita Patil too was also auditioning for Marathi News.
Kumud soon became a very well loved Hindi News Reader and pursued this vocation for several years, until her family opted to leave first for the Middle East and then on to Australia. Having migrated to Australia about 31 years ago, Kumud got a chance to audition for “World News” on SBS TV and was chosen as its weekend news presenter. She was in fact the first ever Asian lady to become a TV presenter in Australia. Thereafter there was no looking back for her, as she moved on to don the mantle of an Executive Producer of Hindi Programs on SBS radio, a position she holds till date.
Kumud is currently an Australia Day ambassador and devotes her time to community work, in particular the maintenance of Indian art and culture in Australia. Her name tends to be mentioned in the same breath with the Indian media in Australia; also being a linguistic scholar proficient in about 8 languages, Kumud has been a pioneer of Indian Theatre in Australia. She has translated several plays from Marathi to Hindi, besides playing roles in several. Most notable among these was ‘Lafda’ – her first full-length play translated from Marathi; yet others being ‘Jis Lahore Nayee Dekhya’, ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and ‘The Nautch Girls’, with the latter based on the true life of the tawaifs or courtesans of India. Little wonder that Kumud is a recipient of more than two score International awards – including the NSW premier’s Award, awarded thrice. Kumud avers that, “Awards are such a wonderful recognition of one’s hard work and provide further inspiration, but to me the love of my fans and audiences is the biggest award”.
What next? You have truly achieved a lot haven’t you? We ask: “No” says Kumud, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have miles to go before I sleep … and miles to go before I sleep. I want to die with my boots on!”