Indrani Mukerjea, nee Pori Bora, was discovered by Mumbai tabloids in 2002 following rumours that the broadcast industry’s most powerful man then, Pratim aka Peter Mukerjea, then 46 years old, was dating a woman 16 years younger to him and was set to tie the knot with her. Indrani was still married then and had a five-year-old daughter from the marriage. Till the news of Sheena Bora’s murder on Tuesday, the media circles in Delhi and Mumbai, of which both Peter and Indrani were an integral part till 2009, knew of only one earlier marriage and one daughter.
Peter’s marriage to Indrani became a much-talked about event, thanks to his iconic status in the industry then. UK-born Peter was chosen by global media baron Rupert Murdoch to steer his ship in India. Broadcast was a hot sector at that time as private broadcasting was still a nascent phenomenon and Peter, as the CEO of Star India, was not only furthering Murdoch’s business interests but was also defining entertainment for Indian masses with hugely popular shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati and Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.
Peter was the media’s darling and his newly-wed wife, whose glamorous personality more than made up for her little known HR enterprise, received equal attention. In 2007, the couple hit the headlines when Peter announced his departure from Star India to launch a rival broadcast network.
Star had begun to lose steam by then and Peter was under fire from Murdoch. Those who know the couple say it was Indrani who pushed Peter to jump ship and launch his own venture, and that is how INX Network was born.
Since Peter couldn’t start or work with a rival broadcast network under his termination contract with Star, Indrani technically held the reins of the venture.
Officially, the couple held 50 per cent stake in INX Media and the rest came from investors such as New Silk Route, Temasek Holdings and New Vernon Private Equity.
With its stated ambition of launching a diversified broadcast network of around 17 entertainment and news channels and the celebrity couple at the helm, INX was in the news from the very beginning. As the founder and CEO of the network, Indrani became a regular feature in the business press. She was celebrated as the youngest female CEO of a broadcast company globally.
“The fact that she was a woman, a rarity in the business world… she was young and she loved the limelight ensured she was seen and heard…,” says a well-known media executive who knew Indrani both professionally and socially.
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While her channels were yet to carve out a space for themselves, Indrani was already receiving awards and accolades for her “zeal” and “vision as an entrepreneur”. In 2008, she received the ‘Uttar Ratna’ award for “achieving her vision of creating a cable and satellite network from scratch”. The same year, she was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Indra Nooyi and Padma Warrior in the prestigious “50 women to watch out for” global list released by Wall Street Journal.
Her soaring popularity, however, didn’t help her channels’ fortunes. Despite high profile launches and exciting media campaigns, her network couldn’t make a dent in the hugely competitive broadcast market. At the same time, Indrani got embroiled in an unsavoury controversy involving well-known journalist Vir Sanghvi, who had been hired to lead INX’s news venture. As the chairperson of INX News, Indrani sought to control NewsX, the news channel, while CEO Sanghvi fought for independence.
Though Sanghvi lost in the fight that became public, he and his team made sure their part of the story didn’t go unheard. In that story were details that punched big holes in Indrani’s carefully built profile of a visionary and an ambitious business woman.
INX never took off in a meaningful way. The Mukerjeas were made to step down amid controversies and allegations of mismanagement and financial bungling in 2009. As promoters, however, they were handsomely compensated for their stake in the venture. The couple didn’t stay in India for long, shifting base to Bristol in the UK soon after the exit.
“They were pretty much settled in the UK though they would occasionally visit their house at Worli in Mumbai,” says a person close to the couple. “Early this year, however, they came back and were planning to once again settle here,” he says.