Pratima Puri was the first television newsreader of India. She made her debut in a five minutes news bulletin broadcasted in the first experimental telecast of Doordarshan, the state-owned channel of India. The episode aired on 15 September, 1959 through a small transmitter, during the time when despite many developments in India, women were still bound by stereotypical and patriarchal restrictions. In such a scenario, Pratima Puri was the first female to occupy an influential space in the Indian newsroom.
Pratima Puri was born to a Gorkha family in Shimla, the capital city of Himachal Pradhesh, as Vidhya Raut. She completed her graduation from Delhi University’s Indraprastha College for Women. Puri is said to be gifted with a voice for broadcasting and started her career at the All India Radio (AIR) station in her hometown.
Later, she shifted to New Delhi, when she was chosen to be the first newsreader by the Indian government for Doordarshan. Courtesy of her soothing, emphatic voice, Pratima Puri quickly rose to fame amongst the Indian households. This was a great achievement for her limited screen time during the period when only a few people had access to or could afford television services.
“Good-looking and good-voiced (sic) Pratima was selected as an announcer, maybe a newsreader…the first face on the small screen in India,” cites a report published in The Tribune in 2007 about. Her enigmatic personality is further displayed by her encounter with the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. As per the book Radio Cavalcade: Indian Broadcasting, when Pratima Puri went to give regards to Indira Gandhi in a public ceremony, people recall that Mrs. Gandhi requested her sons to rise and wish Puri. She is also said to mention to her boys “How their Nana ( Jawaharlal Nehru) appreciated her Indianness and often symbolised her as an embodiment of Indian culture.”
Appearing on the small screen or even the big screen was not considered a respectable thing for women back then. Pratima Puri is said to have inspired many girls of that generation to dream of a career in TV someday. She also charmed the audience enough to overcome the perception of the vamp-virgin representation towards women on celluloid, by establishing herself as a professional and respectable newsreader.
During her time at Doordarshan, Puri also interviewed many famous personalities like actors, politicians and scientists including Yuri Gagarin, the first person to travel to space. She worked in Doordarshan for a long time. Later, she was replaced by another great personality, Salma Sultan. Thereafter, Pratima Puri’s role in Doordarshan changed to different capacities. With increasing need of more news TV anchors, Puri started training those who aspired to be newsreaders.
Pratima Puri passed away on 29 July, 2007. A true trailblazer in Indian media history, Puri is remembered for her mesmerising voice and her achievement as a journalist which inspired and paved the way for the next generation of women who wanted to follow the same path. Recently, Pratima Puri’s character was portrayed in a small scene of the series, Rocket Boys.
Today, Indian newsrooms have seen a considerable transformation from the 1960s, during which women’s presence was considered an anomaly rather than a norm. According to a recent study by the Global Media Monitoring Project, the highest proportion of women as journalists work in TV handling roles that range from reporters, announcers to presenters.
However, the study also notes that, “The preference for women of a younger age group in visual media like TV could be hidden sexism at work, reinforcing the notions of glamour and fashion, and attractive young women drawing audiences based on their looks rather than the content of the news.” It is a great feat that as the first Indian TV news reader, Pratima Puri carved a space for herself with her simple demeanor. This is the reason why Puri is often listed as one of the most iconic news readers of all times.