22nd December 1996
Chandi J: Moving on
by Afdel Aziz
Chandi Jayawickrama, the controversial MTV Newsreader who has been filling the letters pages of newspapers for the past year , in the raging debate over her presentation will be quitting the station at the end of the year .Letters page Editors will rant and rave over the lack of a hot topic, housewives and retirees deprived of something to get hot under the collar will feel a sudden vacuum in their weekend and most of us will breathe a sigh of relief that something as trivial as this has finally come to an end. In this exclusive interview with The Sunday Times, she talks to Afdhel Aziz of her decision, the reasons and the future plans she has.
So Chandi, why did you leave ?
I left because I thought the time was right to gain more knowledge in this industry. I've been the news anchor for a year and a half and there was so much else for me to learn.
Did the controversy have anything to do with it ?
No. Absolutely not. The controversy has followed me over the entire time I presented the news but what I figured out early on was that it was impossible to please all of the people all of the time, so I concentrated on pleasing as many of the people as much of the time as I could. I have to admit that some of the criticisms levelled at me were valid however.
What parts of the criticism were valid ?
My pronounciation of certain Sri Lanka names and places needed to be improved on. I did put a lot of work into it, but because I spent so much of my time away from this country , Sinhalese was my third or fourth language as opposed to my second. Also my earrings were a fraction too large sometimes (laughs self deprecatingly).
Specifically what parts of the behind the scenes work do you want to get involved in?
While I was at MTV, I did do a lot of production work for Business Week, the business show. Things like research for stories, help edit the interviews and writing my own scripts.
I felt that this was a direction that I wanted to move in , where I was more fully utilised.
So did newsreading bore you ?
Working at MTV was more than just staring at a camera . But when you reduce the amount of presentation that you do , you can increase the amount of behind the scenes work.
How are your relations with MTV ?
I have worked for the Maharaja Organisation for over two years - first at YES FM and then at MTV . They basically made me what I am, they created me. Throughout this year and a half, it could have been potentially damaging to my morale but they always remained encouraging, supportive and very positive.
Who will be taking over your job ?
I believe Sanjeevani Ranasinghe. She is becoming a pretty good reporter and I hope she manages to continue reporting as well as anchoring the show.
Who are the TV people internationally that you admire?
Michael Buerk from the BBC is the most incredible reporter. Kate Adie because she's a woman whose placed in the middle of war zones and survived - she's someone who is respected in a so-called 'man's world '. I admire Oprah Winfrey , because she struggled during her formative years, but has channeled her energies to get the whole of America to reveal their true selves. She is, however, becoming a little too commercialised.
Ever think of doing a talk show yourself ?
I'd love to do a talk show but it's a big challenge . I found when interviewing one on one , you are using so many of your communicative functions simultaneously ... So I guess a talk show would be that multiplied by however many people that were there.
So we won't be seeing the debut of CHANDI LIVE ! any time soon ?
No, not until I learn a lot more.
What are your future plans ?
I have a few projects in hand . I definitely want to increase my knowledge of what goes on behind the camera as opposed to in front of it.
Lots of job offers?
At the moment, I am involved with Young Asia Television which makes programmes for the Asian region. It's a very exciting innovative place to work in because it has a combination of an experienced management who give the young people who work there a lot of freedom and encouragement to express their creativity.
Are you thinking of joining any other station's news team ?
No, definitely not.
I am going in a different direction now, and that's not for me. MTV News was the best news team in Sri Lanka and joining any other would be a step in the wrong direction.
How have your feelings of cultural alienation changed ? Last time we talked about how you felt you didn't fit in to either world you belong to.
Recently a school friend of mine came over, who I've known for over a decade. I've always thought that we were extremely similar but now I can't believe how much I've changed. Sri Lanka has definitely improved me but people like me still do not really fit in as much as we'd like to.
What's your parting message to your critics ?
I think it's important that when you put pen to paper that you get your facts straight, and that constructive criticism is always preferable to an all out assault.
What's there been on Sri Lankan TV that made you want to write to the papers?
Well, I work really long hours so funnily enough I don't get to watch much television. But I've always hated it when we try to emulate and ape the West and miss our target . For example, those teenage dancing troupes in baseball caps and jeans that you always see.
So there's nothing wrong with good emulation ?
Yeah , there is ! .... it just tells me that we're not maintaining our traditions. The best thing is when we take the best from all cultures .
And your parting words to your fans ?
There's this three year old who apparently hugs the television screen when I'm on. Since I'm off the air at the moment, I hope that this means his mummy won't have to worry about him getting electrocuted !!! To everyone else I did very much enjoy presenting. Right now it feels like it's time to change direction, but once you're on TV, you get hooked. So it may not be too long before you see ( to quote my critics) my big owl eyes and hear my 'cockney' accent on your screens again. Chandi will be back. Elvis has not left the building.
He's just gone out for some banana cream pie ?