What it’s like to be an emcee in India: In conversation with Nepa Raichoudhury

How did you start emceeing professionally? It’s not a conventional profession in India.

It was a funny start really. I was a studying science—


Yes… I was doing my Bachelors in zoology; science as a stream is usually encouraged in Indian families as you know.

Yes… for better or worse.

Yes and so I had no experience being on stage. I was an overweight, quiet kid who spent her time eating, watching anime, and keeping to herself. But in my final year of college, I dropped a lot of weight and decided to put myself out there.

What prompted the sudden change?

When I had gone for a health check-up, the physician told me that I had to bring my weight down since it was impacting my health. It was a wake up call. I started working out. Many people don’t like saying it but as I lost some kilos, I liked how I looked in the mirror. I felt motivated and less sluggish. People around me were noticing me and asking me to try my luck in modelling. I thought why not and had some headshots taken and started sending them out to different agencies.

So was your first job in modelling? Do you remember your first gig?

No, actually it was emceeing. I remember it very well. It was February, and I got a call one evening. I wasn’t expecting a call. The man on the line said that they liked my photos and wanted me to host their event which was scheduled in the next few days. Their designated emcee had cancelled at the last minute and they were looking for a replacement. I told him I hadn’t emceed before; he didn’t mind that. But I felt really nervous and rejected the offer.

Oh, so that was not your first gig.

No, it was. After the call, I spoke to my mother and she told me if someone was willing to pay me money to stand on a stage and speak, I should take them up on the offer. I was teased by people who were close to me for being talkative and my mother thought this was going to be my calling. She was right.

I was so nervous but I accepted the offer and on the day of the event, I remember the moment I stepped on stage. Under the spotlight, feeling the audience waiting for me to speak, I felt calm. I remember the clear thought that I had found my calling.

After that event how did you move ahead in the industry?

It’s been a long journey. Maybe you have heard of mall events that happen in the big cities of India? Brands do a basic stage setup at a shopping mall, there is an anchor— very minimally paid— whose job it is to announce something every 15-20 mins. I did a few events like that when I was starting out. I was making very little money after a full day’s work. Then I slowly got into corporates and now I’m primarily an emcee who works in corporate events.

So after struggling for the first few years, you now have a solid client base…

Yes. As a freelancer, you never know where your next paycheck is coming from. At least initially. It took me about 5 years to build a good client base. Now, there are recurring clients who appreciate the work I do and my work network keeps expanding through the events I host. But it took a lot of time and stubbornness and self-belief to get to this stage. Competition in India is cut-throat. There are many emcees out there.

I see. So given that you have been doing this for a while, what are some learnings that stand out for you? Were there any mistakes that shifted your perspective?

Mistakes— well, off the top of my head I think I have tripped once or twice on stage. That stands out in my memory because it was embarrassing! But a different kind of mistake— well, it’s a learning curve right? If you’re working, you’re learning and so there is always change. Personally I’ve seen that in this profession, a sleeping audience is a terror for any emcee or event organizer and my forte is never letting the audience be that unimpressed with the event. Of course I too make mistakes. But being an expert emcee means turning your fumbles into something spontaneously meaningful. I think I’ve learnt to do that well.

Yes, that’s a good way of putting it! Spontaneity is a necessary part of being a successful emcee.

Yes. Without it, there’s no way to be fully comfortable on stage. You’ll always be feeling stressed that something might go out of hand.

Right, and how do you think your work is viewed? Have you faced discrimination of any sort?

No, I don’t think so. But overall I feel there’s a bias against emcees. What I mean is that they are the first to be blamed and the last to be appreciated. If an event is successful, people will speak about the great actor, performer, organizer, etc. that made the event great. The emcee won’t come up in conversation if there’s enough glitz and glam to draw attention. But if something goes wrong, then the blame rests on the emcee: the emcee didn’t know how to handle the situation and salvage things.

Sometimes there have been moments when in-between a disappointing music performance by a live performer onstage, I have had my managers come up and ask me to handle it. During a performance! So sometimes I really feel that the weight of the work is a lot and there is a lot of expectation from those who are stepping up to this role.

So given the demands of the job and your personal experiences, where do you see yourself in a few years? Will you continue on this path?

For sure. I enjoy hosting events and helping people feel good at events. But at some point I would love to host a show on TV. I’m part of a generation that grew up on Oprah and Ellen and so that dream has been in me for a long time. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to some amazing people, interview actors from Bollywood and I have really enjoyed that as well. Hopefully in the years ahead I will be able to mix the best of both worlds by having my own show.

Before we end, I wanted to ask if there’s something you wished to speak on that my questions didn’t bring up?

A lot of young people approach me asking how they can become an emcee. What can they do, should they sign up for a course, should they approach a certain group of people, and what is the best way to be successful. So I’d like to speak about that.

Yes, please share on that. It’s an interesting and welcome point.

I would say to those starting out that if it helps you, please go ahead with signing up for certification or courses and workshops. Personally, I just blundered my way through my career. Nobody told me what to do. I had no guide and for me, it worked out well. I figured it out by doing it– putting one foot in front of another. So, it’s not necessary to have someone guiding you is what I want to say.

But every journey is going to be different. If you and I start together, what you and I do will be different. We are different people and so our journeys will be unique even if we start from the same point. That is something I want people to remember– that no two paths are the same.

I had many moments of deep insecurity where I wondered if I am making the right decisions. So, anxiety and stress were a part of my success. It need not be like that for everyone. So, you have to figure your way, especially in this country. The events scenario in India is very competitive. It’s a shark eat shark environment. You will need to be stubborn and confident to be here.

[This interview was conducted and edited by Aayati Sengupta]


Now I will write something about myself. I like to be with people – but I don’t like it when the atmosphere is tense. That’s why I’ve learned to shorten the distance and make it bearable. Sometimes it’s even friendly. So much so that I host the largest conferences and panel discussions in Poland, and increasingly abroad.

My specialities are technology, environment and business. I am also a legal advisor (but that’s a longer story for another time). I have created dozens of radio and TV programmes, including a talk-show in English. I studied at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. And I love the United States. 

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