Saba Zaidi Abdi is a familiar name to those of us who belong to an earlier generation, when almost every second drama programme on television would have her indelible stamp on it … during the heydays of Doordarshan, India’s state-run terrestrial public broadcaster prior to the big channel boom that saw the advent of satellite TV and myriad private channels vying for an elusive pie in the sky, Saba was a Drama Producer with DD. She has numerous landmark productions to her credit … not to mention her foray into quality cinema and involvement in productions of doyens like Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal and MS Satyu. She migrated to Australia some three decades ago, and is today well-known in media circles down under, and almost everywhere the Indian Diaspora is present. NRI Achievers treats you to a slice of life of Saba Zaidi, Abdi – a personality beyond compare …
A television career has always been centrestage on Saba Zaidi Abdi’s antenna. Be it production, direction, or chairing a landmark DTH platform offering Indian channels in lands foreign, TV has been one medium Saba has always stayed tuned and attuned to. These days, at the helm of her own Australian media firm ‘Nuvera Media,’ she has forged a partnership with ‘Fetch TV,’ bringing a whole lot of home-grown telly to the South Asian diaspora community. Referring to it, Saba says she is literally living her dream and enjoying it enormously.
Born into the family of Maulana Hali that has served Urdu literature for seven generations and the daughter of eminent poet & writer Prof. Sajida Zaidi, Saba inherited a passion for Urdu poetry and literature at a young age. This passion has manifested itself in all her future endeavours, and continues to this day, where she is actively promoting Urdu Theatre in her country of adoption.
Saba, after she graduated from the Aligarh Muslim University and subsequently the National School of Drama in Delhi, had taken to working as a TV producer for several years with Doordarshan, India’s National Broadcasting house, making and directing countless telefilms and teleplays, not to mention producing numerous documentaries focusing on literature, fine arts, performing arts and personalities. She had even tried her hand at designing for films, in the productions of renowned Indian directors like Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal and M S Sathyu.
Quite early on in her career, Saba earned much recognition for her creativity and talent, winning many national and international awards for her drama productions and becoming a household name during her 13-year long association with Indian media and film. No less adept with single and multi-cam set-ups and equally comfortable with both video and film formats, she has many a classic to her credit. Almost all her programmes were made for and broadcast on the national network. Saba has to her credit some path-breaking films like the “Story of Indian Diamonds”, “Riots Post Mrs Gandhi’s Assassination”, the “Raza Library”, “Brecht and His Impact on Indian theatre,” and coverages on “Film Festivals of India” among others. Also to her credit are live OB’s of national and international events like Beating Retreat & Republic Day ceremonies, Apna Utsavs, Mrs Gandhi’s Death Anniversary Music Concerts, the Bolshoi Ballet open air coverage, live broadcasts of the Festival of India Moscow 1987 Opening Ceremony and Inaugural Ceremony of the Festival of USSR in New Delhi 1988, to mention a few.
When Saba migrated to Australia in 1989 with her husband, her career took a nose-dive. “There were hardly any opportunities here in Australia. I was supposed to start afresh. There was a preference for people who were groomed here, so my confidence level dropped. It was a tough phase for me and nothing was going in my favour. Wherever I applied, the first questions they would ask me was what level of expertise a person has while working in India ? What do I know about Australian culture, etc. For a person new to a country it takes time to get familiar with the conditions,” shares Saba.
She then decided to embark on short industry courses like ‘The Producer, the Market, and the Audience’ and ‘The Market, the Law and Business Essentials’ from the Australian Film Television & Radio School, Sydney; and also did a masters in Journalism from the University of Technology Sydney with a special focus on her first love — TV Journalism.
“I am happy that the perspective of the western world towards India has now changed. The South-Asian community’s level of comfort in Australia has also increased,” adds Saba. She avers that as the community grew she realised that people were curious to see stories from the other side. “I then realised there is a need to do something to connect the community. There was only one community newspaper and one radio programme, which used to run once a week for an hour. Job opportunities in media were limited. That was when we conceptualised the idea of a South Asian media setup in Australia,” says Saba.
Saba set about work, toiling to establish South Asian media in Australia, and in 2000 became the founding director and CEO of Vision Asia, the first ever independent DTH platform on the continent offering Indian TV channels in Australia and New Zealand – thus linking the South Asian communities in Australia and New Zealand with the Indian subcontinent. “As satellite TV was getting popular, we thought of bringing Indian television channels here and approached Foxtel for that. That was how Vision Asia came into being. Later on, we met some people in Delhi and told them we want to introduce some private channels to Australia. They showed interest and we launched Zee Life in 2002. We brought eight channels in Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi and Bengali. Though it took us some time to build our clientèle, the feedback was really good,” says Saba.
Eight channels and eight years later, Vision Asia went on to become the market leader and the only successful South Asian Subscription Television platform in Australia and New Zealand. Having satisfactorily building up that business, Saba divested it four years ago, and in association with Fetch TV launched the first state-of-the-art South Asian IPTV service, on a dynamic mainstream platform that was much larger in scale, taking the first step in leading South Asian media into future technologies.
“In November 2010, as the founder, promoter and director of Nuvera Media, I entered into a strategic partnership with Fetch TV to launch three South Asian subscription TV packages in Australia, atop Fetch TV’s IPTV platform and TVOD service for South Asian movies. The two current packages, viz. Hindi and Pakistani, offer 13 major Hindi and 4 major Pakistani channels of various genres of GEC, news, movies, lifestyle and music. Recently, we have launched the Tamil and Telugu Sun Pack with 8 channels. We are also working on a Sri Lankan package,” she says.
“We have selected only the premium channels and the best quality content available from South Asia Fetch TV,” she adds. “You don’t need a satellite dish or any special cable device to install Fetch TV, as all that is needed is a broadband connection and set top box that delivers content straight to the TV. It does this without impacting the normal internet connection or download quotas, and because it doesn’t touch the open internet, the quality is the same as that of any normal TV service. The set top box also allows pausing, recording and rewinding live TV, and can store over 500 hours of recordings,” she says, adding that the basic package is available from iiNet at a mere AU$ 29.95 a month with no installation charge, with the South Asian packages being available for an additional AU$ 19.95 a month each. “The media industry is now established, but there is still a need for people to come forward and work sincerely for the welfare of the community,” says Saba.
Besides the strategic alliance with Fetch and her other media initiatives, Saba is nowadays actively involved with Sydney Theatre, having recently launched the ‘Adakar Theatre & Cultural Group’ as its founding Artistic Director, along with like-minded theatre enthusiasts. After her Urdu adaptation of Molière’s comedy ‘The Miser’ (Kanjoos), became a runaway success, she is currently at work in adapting Girish Karnad’s celebrated play ‘Wedding Album’ for the Sydney stage. Saba is also actively involved with and supports several community organizations in Sydney.