Karan Thapar is the only Indian television professional who has worked for ten years in television outside India. Trained as a correspondent, producer, editor and presenter with London Weekend Television in the United Kingdom, where he worked for programmes as varied as Weekend World, The World This Week, The Business Programme, The Walden Interview and Eastern Eye, he has both the most varied and the most in-depth knowledge and experience of television current affairs programme making available in India today.
In 1991, on his return to India, Karan Thapar helped establish H.T. Vision Limited, the first television venture established by the K.K. Birla group, which he headed as Executive Producer. HTV’s flagship programme, Eyewitness, initially launched as a video magazine but which later transferred to Doordarshan as a weekly programme, quickly became a window on current affairs tackling all the major subjects of the day and interviewing every single top politician from the prime minister onwards.
Amongst its remarkable successes were path-breaking interviews with former president R. Venkatraman, former prime ministers of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto and Moin Quereshi, and the first interview as prime minister from P.V. Narasimha Rao, as well as unique war-front reportage from Afghanistan after the take over of the country by the Mujahideen and in-depth analyses from Kashmir as well as numerous scoops of the armed forces, financial scandals and a variety of social and economic issues.
Under his direction, HTV also launched the first-ever chat show in India called The Chat Show. It ran for a hundred weeks on Doordarshan and is today widely remembered by millions of fans for its relaxed and unique style.
In 1995 Karan Thapar won the Onida Pinnacle Award for Best Current Affairs Presenter for the programme, The Chat Show.
From HTV he moved to Home TV, where he was the Director of Programmes and was responsible for the creation of the channel starting in January 1994, when it was first thought of, through to the designing of its first programme schedule, the channel’s launch in May 1996 and its first year of operation upto May 1997.
While he was Director of Programmes at Home TV he also presented the in-depth weekly interview programme, In Focus with Karan, which was the only programme of its type in India and which became renowned both for his hard and unremitting style as well as for the major national headlines it created each week. Known to viewers as the only TV presenter/interviewer who does not take no for an answer, Karan Thapar’s In Focus was the longest running programme on Home TV. Launched on the channel’s inaugural night it continued each monday without a break for over two years.
In 1998 Karan Thapar was awarded the Videocon Screen Award for Best Current Affairs Presenter for In Focus with Karan.
Also, in 1998 and again in 1999 he was the lead presenter of Doordarshan’s English language three day election results programme called India Decides.
After his stint at Home TV Karan Thapar presented a programme on Star TV called Special Session. Designed as a political debate with one participant from each of the three main political groups in the Indian Parliament, the programme was not just one of the most highly watched on Star Plus but also the most recognised political programme on the channel. Special Session was short-listed for the 1998 Asian Television Award for best presenter.
In 1998 Karan Thapar moved to UTV as its President, News & Current Affairs. Under his supervision UTV made On the Record for DD-2, HARDtalk INDIA/Face to Face for BBC, We the People for Star Plus, The Big Question / The Great Debate for DD-1, Talk Back and Two’s Company for DD News and Line of Fire for SAB TV. In 1999 Karan Thapar won the coveted Asia Television award in the best current affairs presenter category for his work on the programme On the Record. In May 2001 Line of Fire won the RAPA Award for best current affairs programme.
Presently he is head of Infotainment Television (ITV), a television production house making programmes for BBC, Channel NewsAsia, CNBC, CNN-IBN and Doordarshan.
Perhaps the most prestigious programme Karan Thapar has presented is the BBC series of one-to-one political interviews generically called HARDtalk INDIA and modelled on the lines of the BBC’s well known and long standing programme, HARDtalk. Within this series the non-political interviews are called Face to Face. The objective of these interviews is to provide a window for the many vibrant personalities in India and, if possible, in the wider subcontinent. Whilst the political interviews are hard-hitting, the non-political ones are discursive conversations with the intention of understanding the interviewee. The attempt is to draw the person out rather than to make him or her defensive. In July 2001 HARDtalk India won the Best Current Affairs Award at the Indian Television Awards.
Since March 2004 Karan Thapar has presented the highly regarded current affairs programme Tonight at 10 (now re-christened India Tonight) on CNBC. Broadcast four days a week it is today considered India’s premiere current affairs programme. Each night it focuses on a single subject and brings together the top two or three people from different political viewpoints to discuss a single issue.
In January 2006 Karan Thapar launched a primetime sunday night one-to-one current affairs interview on CNN-IBN, a channel jointly launched by CNN and CNBC, where each week he interviews in depth a single leading high profile political personality. Sometimes the guest may be a leading businessman or an author but more often than not it is a political personality. The series began with a double bill with the former President of Pakistan, General Musharraf, which made front page headlines both in India and Pakistan. Since then the programme has interviewed all the top government ministers in India, most of the top leading opposition leaders and several of India’s principal chief ministers from the major states.
There are two interviews which Karan Thapar did in 2000 which achieved world-wide recognition. The first was in February when he interviewed the then Chief Executive of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf. This was the first interview given by General Musharraf to an Indian television journalist and it represents the strongest ever cross-examination of a Pakistani head of state from the Indian standpoint. The interview was shown on Doordarshan, India’s national television channel. The programme won the Best Current Affairs Special Award at the Asian Television Awards in December 2000. The second interview, which was part of the BBC HARDtalk INDIA series, was done with India’s World Cup winning former cricket captain Kapil Dev and became instantly famous because Mr. Dev broke down and cried uncontrollably for over ten minutes.
For the first time in the ten-year history of the prestigious Asian Television Awards in December 200 3 both the current affairs trophies were won by a single individual. Karan Thapar’s SAB TV programme Court Martial was judged the best current affairs programme. The winning episode was a 40-minute interview with the then Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri broadcast in June 2003. In the same year the best current affairs presenter award was also given to Karan Thapar for his long-running BBC series Face to Face. The winning episode was an interview with the dancers Radha, Raja and Kaushalya Reddy broadcast in February 2003.
In November 2004 Karan Thapar won the coveted Teachers Award for Communication.
In December 2005, Karan Thapar set a second record at the Asian Television awards when he became the first person to win the Best Current Affairs Presenter trophy on three separate occasions. In December 2005 he won the award for his HARDtalk India interview with India’s former Law Minister and now BJP General Secretary Arun Jaitley.
In December 2007 Karan Thapar broke his own record when he won the Asian Television Award for Best Current Affairs Presenter for a fourth time for Devil’s Advocate, his regular weekly programme on CNN-IBN.
In April 2009 Karan Thapar won the Ramnath Goenka Broadcast Journalist of the Year Award.
In 2009 and again in 2010 Karan Thapar won the Indian News Broadcasting Award for the Best Current Affairs Presenter.
In December 2010 Karan Thapar won the Asian Television Award for the best Current Affairs Presenter, setting a record for winning this award 5 times.
In 2011 Karan Thapar won the News Television Award for Best Current Affairs Presenter.
Before joining London Weekend Television in 1982, Karan Thapar worked for The Times (UK) in which capacity he both served as the newspaper’s West Africa correspondent based in Lagos, Nigeria, and later for a period of seven years wrote leaders for The Times on the countries of South Asia. Karan Thapar has also written extensively for The Economist and The Spectator and has widely reported for the BBC, particularly during the fourteen months he spent in Nigeria.
He is presently writing a weekly column for The Hindustan Times called Sunday Sentiments. In January 2006 a collection of Karan Thapar’s Sunday Sentiments columns was published in a book called Sunday Sentiments by the publishing house Wisdom Tree. In October 2009 HarperCollins published a second collection under the title ‘More Salt than Pepper’.
In June 2006 a collection of Karan Thapar’s Face to Face interviews for the BBC was published as a book called Face to Face India by the publishing house Penguin.
Karan Thapar is a member of India’s National Integration Council. He is also a trustee of the Vodafone Foundation, the Bhai Mohan Singh Foundation and the Devki Devi Trust.