–Harjap Singh Aujla —
Thirty years ago, when I came to America, there was no Asian Indian television channel in America. There of course were some local Indian TV programmes in New York. One was known as ITV, another was Vision of Asia and another was “Namaste America”. Then during the early nineties Amitabh Bachchan’s brother Ajitabh Bachchan floated “TV Asia”, which under a new management is still running coast to coast in America. Then came Zee TV from India, owned by a media tycoon Subhash Chandra. At present there are almost twenty Hindi TV channels being offered on Dish TV and DirecTV.
During the first decade of the new millennium, several other regional Indian language channels were made available in America. Among those most of the channels are in Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali and Punjabi. The first Punjabi channel offered in America was “Alpha-ETC-Punjabi”. This new channel was a subsidiary of Zee Television. Most of its programming is produced in Noida (U.P.)and Mohali (Punjab). It became very popular in California and the Tri-State Area around New York City.
Then a gritty local entrepreneur Penny Yogiraj Sandhu decided to launch an indigenous America made Punjabi TV channel. With her firm determination and resolve, she arranged the financing, equipment and the staff for a new America based television channel called “JUS Punjabi”. In resources “JUS Punjabi” could not compete with “Alpha-etc-Punjabi”, but its local programming became very popular with all the Punjabis living throughout America. Dish TV bagged “JUS Punjabi” too. Seeing the success of “Alpha-etc-Punjabi” and “JUS Punjabi”, two more channels jumped on the bandwagon of Dish Network. These are “MH1” and Punjabi TV. These channels are also limping along. Seeing the success of “JUS Punjabi”, Penny was given the permission to start another channel based on spiritual programming. So she launched “JUS One”.
In the meanwhile an engineer turned entrepreneur Sunil Hali obtained the rights to telecast PTC Punjabi channel in America and Canada. All other Punjabi TV channels available in America are on DishTV, but Sunil Hali chose to swim against the current and he decided to go on DirecTV, which is offered on a slightly larger dish. I had several discussions with Sunil Hali and found him determined to the hilt to make PTC Punjabi a dazzling success. I can only wish good luck to him. Sunil firmly believes that overall the programming of PTC Punjabi is very good and he reposes a lot of faith in his newly appointed programme manager Sumandeep Kaur.
Then I decided to do some research on the educational and professional credentials of Sumandeep Kaur. Now I can say that no research is impossible during this age of information technology. She hails from a well to do business family of Chandigarh. In her school and college days, she was a brilliant student, equally good in academics, sports and cultural activities. Her command over Punjabi language has been exemplary and she is truly bilingual in America. While being a student of M.Com in the prestigious Panjab University Chandigarh at the age of twenty one in 2005, of course with full support of her parents, she appeared in the “Fresh Face of Punjab” contest. This contest was sponsored by Limca, Zee TV and Alpha-etc-Punjabi. Over one thousand contestants participated in the contest. The competition was held in Punjab’s largest cities Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Chandigarh. Sumandeep Kaur was happy to figure amongst the final sixteen contestants. But her happiness knew no bounds, when she was crowned the “Fresh Face of Punjab”. Not only her parents, but entire Chandigarh were proud of this young local prodigy. In an interview given to “The Tribune”, Sumandeep Kaur expressed her aim to became a model and a celebrity. She was confident that her brain and charm can take her very far. This remembers me an old English adage “The face is one’s fortune”. But if the grace of face gets the support from the versatility of the brain, then a lot can be achieved. Sumandeep Kaur is very confident and her employer Sunil Hali believes in her capabilities. As I am told very soon Sunil will undertake recordings of “PTC Punjabi” in his New York studios. Sumandeep Kaur will be the brain behind the local originations. She may do some of the programmes herself and she will direct the others. Let us keep our fingers crossed.
Sumandeep Kaur’s confidence is not unreal. She has the experience of television since her days in India. She has worked for Alpha-etc-Punjabi, a subsidiary of Zee Network in India. After getting married to a brilliant information technocrat Harvir Singh, Sumandeep Kaur moved to America. For almost a year she worked in “JUS Punjabi” as the host of two programmes. In her brief stint with “JUS Punjabi” she created a lot of fan following. On internet, some of the viewers have commented very generously about her. Now she has a new responsibility. Her task is uphill, but she is determined to swim against the current and succeed.
At this time six Punjabi channels, namely “Alpha-etc-Punjabi”, “JUS Punjabi”, “MH1”, “Punjabi TV”, “ JUS One” and “G Punjab” (also called Sada Channel) are all available in DishTV. The price of the entire Punjabi package is under twenty dollars per month. “PTC Punjabi” is plowing the lone furrow on the larger DirecTV dish. This channel costs almost fifteen dollars per month. Sumandeep Kaur is brimming with confidence, so is Sunil Hali. This is a unique situation, where one channel is pitted against half a dozen channels. But you never know, lame duck may smile on Sumandeep Kaur again, just like it did during the “Fresh Face of Punjab Contest” in 2005. At that time she topped amongst one thousand contestants, let us see if she can repeat that feat all over again in her professional career.