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August 6, 1999


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Lucknowi Still Loves Bade Ghulam Ali But He's More Into Madonna and Ricky Martin

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Shubda Deshpande in New York

Four years ago Nusrat Durrani was living an NRI's dream in Dubai. He had a satisfying job as marketing manager for Honda Motor Cars, a house provided by the company, plenty of savings and friends.

Some of his friends must have thought he was crazy to give up those comforts and move with his wife to New York to study. But to Durrani and his designer wife Afshan, it was a natural thing to do. They wanted to be challenged by the American academic world; they wanted to experience the New World.

But once in New York, the euphoria disappeared in no time.

The move wasn't exactly cushy. It was more exacting for his wife who enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology to learn the technical aspects of designing.

"From a luxurious life we moved to a student's life in one of the worst winters here in 1995," he recalls. "It was a learning experience and it got us back to earth. It was funny how our friends' circle suddenly dwindled!''

Two years later, with a Masters in Communications from the New York Institute of Technology, Durrani was ready for work again -- and soon the man who marketed cars would be marketing a Website. And not just that -- he would climb the corporate ladder fast to become Director, Operations, for the interactive divisions of MTV and VHI. MTV and VHI's global reach has been phenomenal in the past decade, reaching today an estimated 280 million homes.

As he was nearing graduation, Durrani had shortlisted companies where he would apply as an intern.

Eventually he did two internships. One was with Young & Rubicam and the other with MTV, which he had for long admired for its creativity and work culture. His research report on satellite digital radio got him attention and he got hired as marketing and promotions manager for VH1 Online -- and soon he was into his current job.

The job at MTV seems to be the most natural thing to have happened considering the 39-year-old Durrani's love for music, and having spent his childhood and adolescence in Lucknow, a city famed for the arts and music -- though not exactly the music Madonna or Ricky Martin spew.

"I should have been a musician,'' he jokes.

About being a Lucknowi and working for MTV he says, "I feel wonderful. The fact that I work here reflects the duality of my character. While my Indian heritage is very much a part of me, I am also, I guess, indulging the Western side in me.''

"MTV is more than a music channel. It's a frame of mind. It's about youth culture because the local programming reflects the youth of the country," he says. "It is not only about English programming but we use the local dialect and even local talent.''

"The interactive section however, is different even though it is MTV. It reflects a profoundly different experience from television," he continues.

"On the Web you can interact, everything is driven by you. We are driven by the audience and whatever experience they are looking for. We are not limited by 24 hours of programming cut into segments," he explains. "Since the Web is not linear, the audience can decide when and what they want. They can react instantly to what they like or what they don't. MTV's the most popular music Website today.'' But he does not reveal the number of hits the Website gets.

In the past two years MTV has entered into two strategic alliances, and Durrani is said to have been instrumental in the negotiation and implementation of the deals between MTV Networks and CDNOW, the online music retailer, and with America Online.

Teenage audiences are not easy to please. Then how does MTV manage to turn them into frenzied fans asking for more?

"I would say that they are not that hard to please, but that they are difficult to retain," he says. "MTV and online divisions have a very strong research team and even though all the employees may not be of the same demographic profile as the viewers, they are constantly in touch with them and are informed by them.''

His multi-cultural experience has helped him, he says. Having worked in India, the United Arab Emirates and being influenced by the Japanese work culture has honed his marketing skills as well as exposed him to a variety of cultures and music.

Durrani attended the La Martiniere College in Lucknow and grew up listening to his father's vast collection of Indian music that included KL Saigal, Malika Pukhraj, Kishori Amonkar and Bade Ghulam Ali.

"Music was always playing in my house and though my choice as an adolescent were bands like ABBA, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, all these varied tastes in music had an influence on me," he continues.

Despite parental pressure to become a doctor, engineer or an Indian Administrative Service officer, Durrani rebelled, choosing to study business management at the University of Lucknow.

After graduating, he moved to Delhi and worked for the state-owned UPTRON where he headed the digital communication divisions. "I spent 7 years in Delhi and now looking back, I feel it was a great learning experience though at that time it wasn't exactly what I wanted to be doing," he says. "The good thing was, I did get a chance to work in the frontier regions of Jammu and Kashmir, when after a great deal of persuasion we got a contract from the Northern Command of the Indian army to upgrade their communication system.''

However, his job here didn't hold his interest for long. "The place was too bureaucratic and several things were wrong with the way things were run. However, I did learn to survive in a place like Delhi,'' he says.

Meanwhile, he had also got married to Afshan, a fashion designer who also happens to be his second cousin. "It was very strange. When we were kids our parents often joked that once these two grow up, let's get them married. Though she grew up in Kashmir and I was in Lucknow, we met each year during the vacations," he continues. "But it's not like an arranged marriage. We fell in love with each other and my parents were only too happy for us.''

His wife echoes his sentiments. "It is not like being married,'' she says, "We are more like friends.''

While she is not into MTV or into watching television, they are both definitely into music, their current passion being Desi Underground (called Asian Underground in Britain) music. "We have something like sixty CDs of this music,'' she says.

He's been a strong supporter of the Desi Underground shows and reviewed bands such as Cornershop, Badmarsh, Shri, Fundamental and Joie when they performed in the US.

"Bands of Indian origin in England are making what is being dubbed as Asian Underground music," he says. "Their music reflects their particular situation. Like, it wouldn't have been the same had they been living in India for example. It wouldn't have reflected their cultural conflict."

His favorites are Cornershop who combine funk and rock with Punjabi lyrics and Allen Ginsberg's poetry, and Nitin Sawhney whose repertoire ranges from Mirza Ghalib's poetry to rhythm and blues. Joie, an electronic band, was run by two brothers, one of whom died recently. Their main inspiration and collaborator Ananda Shankar too died in India a few months ago.

Durrani attends many Desi Underground shows and also gets his friends to check them out. "It's a pity this music is not available in India. We can't seem to move beyond Bollywood music," he says.

Will it make it to MTV?

"I am not sure they will make it to MTV because here we are driven by popular music. Also most of these bands don't have their videos. However, they need to be publicized, they are so good. You must check them out.''

And when it's not music concerts, he's busy with what he calls approximately real photography at the School Of Visual Arts in New York. "I like taking black and white pictures which are evocative. The photograph should go beyond the visual aspect to what the subject could be thinking at that point of time or what could have happened between the photographer and the subject," he says.

As for his Indian connection, his regular trips back to Lucknow keeps him in touch with his family and friends.

Asked what his family thinks of his job he quips, "Oh! They are not very impressed.''

"But they are happy for me," he says. "My dad now watches MTV. In fact he even taped the videos he thought were the best.''

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