I didn’t know her as well as friends in Delhi media possibly did, but I still have very fond memories of my first meeting with her 15 years back and many more over the years. Amita Malik, First Lady of media writing in India, passed away on Friday. Malik was suffering from leukaemia and was admitted to Kailash Hospital in Noida two weeks ago, where she breathed her last. She was 87.
I met her in end-May 1994 at the Channel [v] launch in Hong Kong. After ending its arrangement with MTV, Star was unveiling its own music channel. I was representing Mid-Day, and as the only paper in the country tracking television so very extensively, I did get special treatment from the hosts. I was sure to scoop the channel’s name, except that I hadn’t factored a lady whose byline I was familiar with but had never met nor seen. She introduced herself to me: ‘Hi, I’m Amita Malik’. Although she was more than two-and-a-half times my age, I had a great time conversing with her. She knew the name Channel [v] before I did, but I reported it first.
When Rupert Murdoch made his first trip to India and New Delhi, she was among the only journalists to get to speak to him. Several other media and entertainment biggies coming to the country would seek a meeting with her, just as they would call on political dignitaries. I would always envy her for that, given that she was located in Delhi, was so very well-connected and wrote for the papers that were read by the political elite. Shift to Delhi, young man, she once told me and guffawed in her trademark style.
Born in 1921, she joined All India Radio in Lucknow and moved to Delhi as a permanent employee in 1946. Malik has interviewed several luminaries – Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, Marlon Brando and Alfred Hitchcock – and wrote columns on television for many papers. She was film critic for The Statesman, and although I haven’t read any of them, I’m told that her critiques were very popular. Her autobiography, ‘Amita, No Holds Barred: An Autobiography’, released in 1999, is bold and gives rare insights on not just her personality, but also the Indian media as she saw it.
Her column on television (and that of a few others like Chandan Mitra and Swapan Dasgupta) was one of the main reasons why I access the Pioneer site. She would often shower praise on the most undeserving of people and was unduly harsh on some, but I would discount these when I would read her. For, her wealth of knowledge of the media and her ability to put things in historical perspective was always a delight. Her last column for The Pioneer is datelined February 1 and an archive of her recent views on television can be accessed at dailypioneer.com.
In many ways, my writing on the media was influenced by Malik’s ‘Sight and Sound’ in The Indian Express of the ’80s. She dwelt essentially on television (and a bit on films), and a few others would either write on print or TV or both, but didn’t look at all domains, including the online world, which is what I tried to do in Mixed Media when it appeared in Sunday Mid-Day in the ’90s. I hadn’t interacted with her in the last two years, but had wanted to do that when I was in Delhi last month. The meeting will never happen now.
RIP, Amita Malik, First Lady of media writing in India.