I sit down for a quick chat with renowned programme producer Diana Silvester, who could be titled the indisputable titan in Malayalam TV industry. Diana opens about her voluminous career, how she kept the momentum for around 22 years and more.
When asked about how she became the pioneer on Malayalam TV with her show Cinemala, presenting programmes on satire and humour, she says, “I had no one to look up to, when I started Cinemala. The programme itself had an innovative idea behind it, as it roped in creatively equipped artistes.”
I had forged a deep-rooted friendship with Diana’s father CR Silvester, who stayed near my house in Fort Kochi. To see her growth makes me overwhelmed with joy, as someone who has seen her from being a child and to have monitored each achievement of hers. She says, “Being born and brought up in a family that was always inclined towards art helped me enhance my skills. My father CR theatre troupe called Tip Top was already prominent, and I remember Freddie uncle was a constant presence in our family. Getting a taste of comic timing and delving into humour as part of my career was aptly supported by the enriching experience I have had, being around my father and his group of theatre artistes. That said, it was through sheer hardwork that I found my place in the TV industry or left a mark through the programme.”
When compared to today’s day and age when everything is accessible within the tip of one’s fingers, life back then demanded lot of hardwork to get across to people. However, Diana was never bothered about whether she was the only woman venturing into a comic domain or whether it was predominated by men. “All that I wanted to focus my energy on was extending the best of my capabilities. I never found it daunting, and I always took whatever tasks or responsibilities that came my way, one by one.”
Diana was the first producer that Asianet had, when it had kickstarted. She adds, “I remember editing studio used to be a few kilometers, and it used to be a hassle to get things matched to perfection, due to restraints in technical aspects.”
Ask her if dealing with political issues back then was tricky, Diana goes on to say it involved its own risks. She says, “As a producer, I used to make sure to strike a balance, so that one’s political inclination does not creep into the content that we were bringing out. I used to consciously take an effort that as a scriptwriter, my interests doesn’t get reflected. I am happy that Cinemala reached the milestone of 1000 episodes, over 20 years, and the programme is as old as the channel itself.”
With regard to the shift in the TV watching experience of the audience towards OTT, she points out that while the former has inherent limitations for providing a platform for a lot of talented and up and coming artistes, OTT platforms have an array of opportunities for them. That said, good content and talent will thrive no matter which platform it is on, and will fetch viewership as well.”
So, what are the programmes you have embarked on? “After Cinemala, I had Badai Bungalow on board, which became equally popular on screen. My active presence continued until 2013. We had shot a few cookery shows after that, however, with the COVID pandemic wreaking havoc on the lives of people, shoot of most of the TV programmes have been dragged to a snail’s pace. The drive with which people go to work everyday is lost among most technicians and artists, like everyone else.”
Together, we revisit yesteryears and how our friendship goes a long way. She says, “I have known Freddie uncle since a long time now, as both my father and you have been close friends. I remember how your house was a melting pot of artistes and talent. Over the years, a lot has changed, but I would say you have been a genuine artiste. Art is in your genes, and the conviction that you still have is proof of the same.”
I ask her about the journey so far, and she explains, “I feel proud of myself, for being able to handle satire and humour with efficacy. These two are aspects, which aren’t as seamless as they appear to be. Even now, when I watch a few episodes, there are moments of disbelief, as to all those were parts I was behind helming. I ask myself, ‘Did I do this?”
With two decades of showcasing her talent as producer, Diana has umpteen recognitions to her credit. She has received the Universal Award for most number of programmes directed by a female in the world, the Limca Award for Direction for the longest weekly programme in India. She is also the recipient of a total of more than 250 awards.
One of her documentaries that is close to her heart is the one on singer H Mehboob. Another example would be Living Martyrs of ISRO Scandal/Charakathayilae Jeevikunna Raktasakshikal, on ISRO employee Nambi Narayanan, highlighting the conspiracy theories that were wielded around him. Diana quickly adds, I also have a work based on Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib, which was filmed in Delhi.”
Before signing off, she owes it all to her parents for their constant support and God for showering his blessings on her. Here’s hoping to see more of the profound work that is in store from the bundle of talent that is Diana Silvester.