“That day, I had left office for home. On my way back, I surfed through IRCTC, saw a 10 pm train back to Ahmedabad from Mumbai, and booked it right away.”
“I was a little frustrated. I really used to miss those days of 3 hour long chaai sessions with my friends back Ahmedabad. Mumbai is fast. People are busy. Bas, toh aa gaya.”
This is Ritam Bhatnagar, talking of that one life changing decision, while we sip over some Chaai at the lush CIIE campus. This was an easy appointment, I wanted to learn the nuances of video content generation and there couldn’t be a better person than him — the brain behind India Film Project, Asia’s Largest Film-making challenge. Ritam has witnessed video storytelling evolve over 7–8 years, screening and seeing filmmakers setting the bar high with every coming year.
“Video is the most immersive form of communication in the human history. And the truth is that for years to come we’ll not have another medium of communication so powerful and vast than this, and those which would be, will be a mere extension of the same concept,” he says, almost like reading out a well rehearsed text.
Come to think of it, he is right.Our lives right now are surrounded by videos. From smart classrooms to self-learning tutorials. Movies to web series. Add to it, cheaper internet plans and smartphones have increased the consumption in multi-folds.
Coming from Bhavnagar, a city in Gujarat, Ritam had his first stint in entertainment industry in the second year of his college, where he, along with a friend, would buy rights of international movies and screen them at theatres.
“Internet was a very new phenomena then. We’d write mails to international film-makers, buy rights and would screen movies every Thursday at theatres in Ahmedabad. This included ones like ‘The Godfather’. In merely a few weeks, we were running more than 3 houseful shows every Thursday.”
Seeing the huge success of the idea, the company was acquired by a national multiplex chain.
“I was just in my early 20s then, and it was a lot of money. Startup jesa toh kuch kisiko pata bhi nahi tha,” he adds.
Fast forward to 2011, Ritam had just moved back from Bombay to the city he was comfortable with — Ahmedabad.
“I had no plan, bas ese hi agaya tha. For 4–5 months, I stayed at a friend’s place and would take up freelance projects. However, the idea of India Film Project kept crossing my mind time and again. Until one day, we decided to act on it.”
He tells me how he and his friends in Mumbai, would do shoots over the weekends.
“My roommates were from filmmaking background and were passionate about making a career in the industry. Hanging out with them and their friends, I realized the need of a platform where people like them and more like me — who are amateurs but ‘want to try’ film-making.”
And then, on 18th July 2011, Ritam, Rohan and Martin sat through the evening to put the idea on paper.
“It was just another boring nights, where people get all intellectual after getting sloshed. We planned out the basics. By basics, I mean very basic things. ‘Competition jesa rakhenge, we’ll give 50 hours to film-makers’”
“But why 50 hours?”
“Imagine you’re a working professional. Now, most of them have a weekend off. You come home on a Friday night. Work on the film over the weekend and you go to the office on a Monday morning. This was supposed to be for the everyday individuals like you and me.”
Even before the guys got over the hangover of the last night, the website went live and the date was announced — 11th August 2011.
“The name was announced too, Ahmedabad Film Project, because honestly, we thought Ahmedabad mein hi successful hojaye woh bhi bohot hai.”
In next 20 days, AFP got over 680 registrations from 11 different cities.
“We were stoked. I still remember the first person who registered. It was 11 AM.”
“This was a one-time thing. For the next six months, I became inactive again — focusing on my job. And then one day, we got a call. And that changed a lot of things for us.”
It was an inquiry from an individual about the next edition of Ahmedabad Film Project.
Unsure till this point, Ritam replied, “Hoga. Bohot jaldi.”
“This was when we realised that this needs to happen every year, and grow multi-folds y-o-y. We wanted to make the second edition better. Kick it up a notch.”
Trying his luck, Ritam searched for e-mail ids of big film-makers on the web, and luckily got his hands on that of Shoojit Sircar’s.
“We wanted him as a jury. I wrote him an e-mail late-night, and few hours later, we got his reply stating how excited he was about the idea, all he wanted from us was to arrange for his travel and accommodation! This turned out to be my favourite edition. We had 1200 entries from 23 cities that year.”
This edition later, the team decided to rename this idea as ‘India Film Project’ because certainly, it wasn’t limited to Ahmedabad anymore.
“By this time, we had become a sensation. We were getting recognition and features in media and newspapers. We had entries coming from all age groups. We had a team of 6-year-olds submitting their entries! And then there’s this old couple from Chennai who have been participating since last 4 editions. They make a film every year. And that…is overwhelming.”
India Film Project was a serious business now. And bringing Shyam Benegal as a part of Jury in 2014 was proof of that.
“Things were getting really exciting. In 2014, we were enabling and encouraging international participation. From the last edition of India Film Project we added the option for participants to upload their content on YouTube. That opened the portal of opportunity to a lot of aspirants.”
There’s so much spark in him as he speaks of it. He takes a pause, orders a ‘healthy’ sandwich.
“Yaar, Megha has forced me into healthy eating, to lose some weight.”
She comes in the conversation at just the right time when we are talking about IFP.
“She came to meet us on the first day of the first edition of India Film Project. She was an RJ with Radio Mirchi then, and we were literally so excited that our event was going to be spoken about on radio! She interviewed Sanjay Gadhvi who was the jury member for the first edition. That’s when we both got talking and eventually got married. Megha and IFP go hand in hand.”
He tells me how Megha is now an integral part of the IFP team and with every edition, her responsibilities keep increasing.
India Film Project has carved a space in the industry that didn’t exist a decade ago. From an idea of 3 roommates in Ahmedabad to do something about the things they are passionate about to revolutionising the industry. From 4 sponsors of 10K each in the first edition to getting brands like Coca-Cola on board, India Film Project has come a long way!
“We are going to have over 10,000 film-making enthusiasts turning up on 1st October’16 in Mumbai, our first time outside Ahmedabad. We’ve screened the best films out of 1220 films, up for awards night tomorrow! Our Jury this time includes film-makers like Madhur Bhandarkar, Nagesh Kukunoor, Sriram Raghavan and Vetri Maaran. I can’t even tell you how excited I am!”
India Film Project is happening in Mumbai on 1st October’16. Not just screenings, but this edition is going to witness some amazing sessions by the ones who’ve ‘been there, done that’. Drop by to their website for more information.
I met her in one of her sessions on ‘How consciousness can help?’ I couldn’t help but smile as she spoke, excited and jumpy, a session filled with examples from her own life answering questions that were asked by the audience but invoked by her thoughts. I just knew, I had to speak to Aditi Surana, so I scheduled a call with her for the next morning.
“My father was a South Indian Communist and my mother is a Maharashtrian.”
She tells me as she reminisces about her childhood, where every decision had to have a reason, dinner table conversations were spent debating politics, an outing was attending art exhibitions or seminars. An environment completely different from kids her age.
“I did a lot of theatre workshops and documentary filmmaking as a teenager, something I still remember and smile about. I still remember as a child when I wanted to become a filmmaker, I asked my father, ‘How do I start and what do I do?’ and he told me if you want that, you’ll have to observe people.” That is when she kindled in herself, a fire of curiosity to observe people.
She was a very curious child, about how people think, how they look at life. Aditi’s intrigue towards how people think took her to a level where she picked it up as a part of her vocation. But her father, an art director, who had been encouraging and progressive for so many things, couldn’t absorb the idea that she chose a field of social sciences and human development.
“My father was my idol and I looked up to him, but for the first time then, I didn’t agree with him. So, in his own way, he got so worried that he asked me to leave the house, assuming I wouldn’t leave or I’d come back, but I didn’t.”
So, at the age of 18, she left her house where many of us have absolutely no clue what we should or would do. She started her professional life as by analyzing handwriting at a Cafe Coffee Day, through which she paid off for her education. She didn’t want to study handwriting analysis initially and work with the human mind instead, but her father wanted her to pursue something core or filmmaking as opposed to what was considered tangential.
“After I left home, I met my friends in a coffee shop. In a middle-class family we didn’t spend hundreds on coffee, but I went to meet them. They said, ‘Hey, why don’t talk to CCD, they might want you to analyze handwriting for people’, and I met all 5 western region heads and analyzed their handwriting, explained the idea and surprisingly, they agreed. I used to charge Rs. 50 for each analysis.”
During this phase of her life, she struggled a lot with speaking the dialect fluently because she came from a vernacular medium and the people who came to CCD were from upper-middle class or youngsters who smoked a lot, a complete contrast to the environment she grew up in.
“When you visit any counselor they kind of tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but since I was too young to know anything of that sort to anyone elder to me. So, as I didn’t have answers, I used to ask them questions, because I could see that they had fixations that they were operating from. Merely asking would make them rethink and get them to move them from their fixed ideas of life.”
Slowly she got called at events as a speaker to talk about handwriting analysis and of course people had a lot of questions because the subject was new to them. This is when her theater training helped her become an amazing speaker.
During her childhood she had a lot of trouble reading and which other people mistook for tardiness, because she could answer questions, and that meant she wasn’t a dull kid. So, this came as a surprise to me, when she mentioned during her session at AMA, that she was dyslexic. I suppose, it was a surprise for her as well, because she discovered it at the age of 25.
“When I explained to one of my friends how I had difficulty reading, remembering, and how I avoided bank work, she said, “Hey have you taken, dyslexia for adults test?”. I did my research and I had one of those, Oh-shit-I-wish-I-knew-this-sooner moments.”
Things did turn out for the better for her as struggle paid off when she approached two radio stations at the age of 22, and within 15 days she was live on the radio doing a radio show. She started her own company and worked along with her two friends, like a small team. Now they had to reach out to people and corporates weren’t giving her any response.
“I literally approached 100 companies, but I don’t think the corporate India wasn’t ready for something like this, even though I had my certificate and a radio show, but people were open to handwriting analysis on a personal level.”
In an attempt to reach out to people they went for an HR conference in Delhi.
“I literally bumped into HR head of IBM with his wife, and I was like, ‘Hey, can I talk to you? Can I analyze your handwriting?’ And they said yes. I remembered we talked and how much we laughed and laughed. That evening, he had received the best HR professional award, we had dinner together and spent pretty much the entire evening together. People started approaching me in the conference asking questions like ‘Who are you? Why this person was hanging out with you?’.”
She got an assignment with IBM nationally, to analyze their executives’ handwriting. From then on she got signed up to big names like ISPAT too(now JSW), Torrent Pharma, and celebrities like John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, and Smriti Irani et. al. All along the way, she kept studying and honing herself in different skills.
“My father collected newspapers, so from 1980 we had every single newspaper that came to our house. So for me learning to upgrade yourself or investing in you to add value to you was a very normal thing to do. Between the next birthday gift and a course, it was encouraged that I chose the latter, which I still hold today.”
The one we know as Aditi Surana today once went around by the name Chandraprabha. She felt that without knowledge she was providing feedback to these people, that she wasn’t growing. So she let go of her staff and took a sabbatical for two and a half years.
“I looked at everything that I owned and thought as to what am I creating here? So I went for a transcendental meditation, a thing which people take up after they have retired. At 25, I changed my name to ‘Aditi’. Aditi means unbound. I could do whatever I’d like to do.”
During this period she got married too. It mattered to her if whatever she was doing is making her happy or not. According to her very few people really pay attention to whether they are enjoying their life or not.
She went through a lot of emotional abuse as a child, physical and emotional. For people, it wasn’t okay to be different or dyslexic for that matter.
“As I married my entire name changed. Suddenly, I was a nobody. I wasn’t amongst high end people. The yoga teacher in Rishikesh, where I went, didn’t care for who I was. All of that shed a lot of myth of achievement and success that we have.”
But you never know what the future has in store for you. After her sabbatical, she returned back to work. She started realizing that she wasn’t the wife that he had in mind. For him, it was fun being with a random and unpredictable person, but playing that game, in the long run, is something neither of them was ready for. They looked at each other and said that probably they didn’t want to do this. But as fate had it, things didn’t stop there, along with this came another wave,
“As I had started to work again, my father started falling ill and husband had decided to call off our marriage. Again I was a stage where I had no clue, I had to go to my father to be the caretaker.”
With so much resentment in the past, she went to nurse her father. Where she hadn’t spoken to him in years, now she had to be there for him. She tells me how it was one of the toughest phases of her life. Her husband filed for a divorce and in December her father passed away. Her husband stuck around for a couple of months as he knew she was in a very fragile state.
During this, she jolted herself back to the realizing that she cannot shut down the connect she has with consciousness and the experience with people she gained over the years. Aditi has changed 13 apartments, so far.
“Then, I moved to a different apartment. I realized that I was losing on everything that mattered to me, the connect with body, consciousness, and connecting with the universe. I couldn’t shut down. I met a friend who was a client and she told me about Access Consciousness.”
She couldn’t stop, a course that usually takes 2-3 years to complete to become a facilitator, she completed in 11 months, and I went to Italy, for my certification training.
“After my father’s death, everything that was unresolved between us showed up and I couldn’t go back to him and talk. I used to cry for my father, somebody I didn’t meet for 7-8 years. But Access Consciousness help me get through it and resolve the conflict within me. I realized through Access, that I didn’t have to blame him or rationally understand to choose all that I want. I could reconnect with mind and body, which is what gives me the intellectual kick I need.”
During no point in the conversation did I feel her voice losing confidence. You hear people’s version of their struggle. At no point in her life did she give up whether she was aware of the problem or not, the abuse, her dyslexia, her relationships, she kept believing in herself. She has an aura brimming with confidence which makes you feel there will always be problems but if I have a calm like her, you’ll get through it like a fish in water.
“I have been average at a lot of things. Average at studies, badminton, cricket, table tennis, lawn tennis, etc.”
A large portion of our 7.2 billion world population is average. So, on a scale of 0-100, most of us lie are in the middle. Is that defeat? I don’t know, but what I do know is that it is that being the jack of all trades doesn’t mean you can’t master any. This one isn’t a mathematical equation and you needn’t balance it.
“If players are being picked to represent a kabbadi team, I’ll make it to the team but I won’t stand out as a performer. For some reason, maybe I am not that good a player. That’s the curse, isn’t it? Making it to the team but not being good enough.”
Yash Shah, who was brought up in a nuclear family, with his father a businessman and mother a homemaker. Early on in the childhood, he was exposed to a lot of options.
“My pre-high school was at Amrit Jyoti. I think that has contributed to help me get where I am today. They had 18 co-curricular activities apart from major subjects. Things that I didn’t know were taught at school.”
He entered NIT-Surat & picked up Mechanical engineering following the herd as a sheep. His average skills got him accolades and publishing papers. Mentioning Abhishek, his close friend since his school, he says,
“We participated in a lot of competitions together. This one competition at my college won us an internship at IIM Ahmedabad, under professor Anil Gupta.”
The moment he mentions the name of the professor, I know about his experience. They worked on different projects, including designing a platform for GTU students. The relationship with Prof. Anil Gupta went even after the internship. They got exposed to the disruptive ideas of the start-up environment. This wasn’t ‘Aaha!’ moment that got them to initiate a start-up of their own.
Yash and Abhishek used to participate in a lot of Business plan competitions as a hobby. They even have a patent filed in their name. Yash and Abhishek met Anupama at CIIE during a Hackathon where Anupama presented an idea and both of them joined up with her to work on the same. All of them graduated and moved on with their average work-a-day jobs.
“I got a job in a bank in Mumbai. But still all of us were working on projects together, but now instead we thought of working for clients providing them services as such. Over a period of 5-6 months we figured we were using multiple tools for communication.”
That is when they thought if three people since such a long time are facing this then probably, other established companies also face this. They did their basic research and collated the results.
“Instead of building a specific functionality for a generic user-base, we’re building generic functionality for a specific user-base.”
They have a 12,000 user base, but none of their customers asked them what is so different about them than other platforms. So, Yash out of curiosity went to one of his old customers as to why they weren’t questioning how they were better.
“One of my old customers told me that as a business person all they cared about, was saving their time and money. But there are a lot of competitors, and I look at it in this way, ‘It’s a fairly interesting problem to solve and I’m not going to get bored anytime soon’.”
The average boy from Amrit Jyoti has a come a long way. I asked him about his happiest memory with Gridle and he reminisces about the bitter-sweet moment that made him feel, “It was all worth it”.
“We were pretty small then, and one day our server went down for an hour and half on a Wednesday. I was sleeping after pulling an all-nighter and I started receiving calls from people and of course that shouldn’t have happened. I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad, but our absence was noted.”
Gridle has received investment and is a profit making company now, but initially, when they started, Yash tells me they decided not to take money from their parents or put in their own individual money either.
“Previously we had participated in Bplan competitions as a hobby. So, again we participated in 13 Bplan competitions and stood in top 3 in nine of them. That itself gave us an initial corpus of 4.5 Lakhs.”
Nearing the end, I asked him if he wanted to leave Ahmedabad to which he says,
“Although I am a huge fan of being worst of the best, because there is a lot of space to learn. There are few SaaS companies here, but we’ve decided we won’t move out of Ahmedabad, because if we do, nothing will change. There are a lot of efforts by incubators and government to make the ecosystem feasible to work here. We’ll do our bit by staying.”
Once upon a time, more than 2 decades ago, in the far North East, there was a 5-year-old little girl. In a small town in a village, she was out shopping with her folks. She was intently waiting for her parents in the car, and that is when she heard the first gunshot. Seconds later, this was followed by the sound of a hail of bullets. A stray bullet flying towards the car got stuck in the rear windshield.
“I still remember my dad came and took me out of the car window. We rushed inside a nearby shop and switched off the lights. We stayed in for an hour and a half, all through which we could hear the continuous firing of bullets.”
Suddenly there were people banging on the shop door, threatening them, ordering them to surrender themselves. Her parents raised her hands, but she couldn’t understand as to why they had to surrender. With the innocence of a befuddled child, she was bobbing her hands halfway, as she saw her parents do the same. As they walked out they saw their surroundings engulfed in a fiery inferno, their car burning, hundreds of shops on fire, gas cylinders in houses exploding. She was made to lie down on the road the whole day, face-forward, it bruised her knees.
“I don’t remember this, but years later when I spoke to my mom about it, she told me that I had slept off for a few hours on the road amidst this.”
That’s childhood rife with Bandhs (curfews) for Limabenla Jamir, who lives in Nagaland. As kids, it was an occasion to rejoice that they were let off school, she now realizes how adversely it affected their education, their upbringing. Every day someone would get assassinated, or taken away, the insurgent groups or the Indian army would come checking disrupting the lives of civilians.
In 1997 though, the GoI and NSCM (IM) signed a ceasefire agreement after a series of peace talks, which has ensured some stability in the region. After numerous rounds of talks, a framework agreement was again signed in 2015 between GoI and NSCN(IM), which basically lays the framework to pave the way for a final settlement on the Naga issue, according to the information given by the Prime Minster’s Office and NSCN (IM) one of the Naga Political groups.
It’s been years since the Indo-Naga conflict has affected the lives and prosperity, but the real question here is why is taking such a long time? History and open dialogues, so much resentment and grudge because we don’t understand the predicament of the other side. “Are you Indian? Are you from Nepal?” Maybe we do not ask the right questions when we meet our brothers from the east.
“I was going to Delhi, to drop my sister who was to start her studies at Hindu college. Indian Army stopped us in Kohima, it was just another day again when the security was intense, and asked, “Kaha jaa rahe hai?” (Where are you going?), which flight are you taking? etc. I responded to all their questions in Hindi and they were shocked. I fail to understand why they enjoying asking such random questions with that laughter behind every statement.”
Now, I don’t mean to generalize for an entire section, but even one such incident is like fuel on fire. All this because you don’t know the predicament of the person on the other side or the environment in which they grew up in.
“I was in 9th grade I opened Seventeen magazine where I saw girls attending different universities in Delhi or Bangalore. It was a big deal for me that they were attending UN events, and that’s how I planned my bachelors in Delhi University.”
“Now, that I was pursuing psychology in Delhi, I began to question the situation in my region and began analyzing the conflict. That is when I decided to pursue my masters in the UK. My research was around how young people are affected by these conflicts, and the results showed that these people did show lower self-esteem and lower life satisfaction and affected their mental health.”
Like many conflicted regions, these results were prevalent in her region amongst her people. During her time in the UK, she got introduced to several United Nations Program and Trainings. She came back to India and with the help of an enthusiastic bunch of young people, founded a platform called NEIMUN (North East India International Model United Nations).
They train young people, conferences, platforms, and events under the UN4MUN program established by UNDPI, WFUNA across different states in North East India. They encourage young people to question, to read the newspaper more often, to think about the world beyond our state our region. It is a platform to which helps them learn about public speaking, negotiation and develop their leadership skills. It’s an opportunity for students from different states to visit the North East, starting with small numbers to attend 3-day event. They have people from Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Punjab who came to attend the conference. The conferences and events revolve around discussing on the sustainable development goals, international politics, etc.
“In one of the conference, during the feedback session this young person mentioned that someone close to him was killed in the India-Pakistan war. Whenever he thought about Pakistan, he was filled with anger and frustration, but attending this conference he had to read about Pakistan, their problems and he said, ‘I see that we have similar sufferings in Pakistan and Nagaland, but the young people there they want the same dreams, a good future. My anger and frustration are no more’.”
I was short on time, but not on the length of the conversation. I know we must not always ask for solutions before the time is right, but sometimes it’s hard not to think, ‘How to resolve this?’.
“I haven’t thought of this before this, but since you ask, I think of interstate collaboration amongst students of states or governments of states on different projects and programs, instead of communication with the centre. Exchange programs for teachers and students, and young people in policy making process so that we don’t just comment on policies after they are made but are a part of their formation.”
History is important. Sometimes its filled with frustration and sorrow but without that piece with us, we’ll repeat the same mistakes. We’re from the millennial generation, that means we have unlimited access to information, not to sulk or lash out for what was wrong in our past, but to improve our future and ensure that not just our generation but the next one as well, has a chance at creating a future without any boulders obstructing their flow of thought. Nagaland is at peace. It’s not a conflict zone anymore.
‘Start a conversation, not to find a solution but to do justice to our childhood pledge, ‘All Indians are my brothers and sisters’. I had a conversation with Limabenla Jamir and Reena Ngurang, if not all of it, I know my country a little better now.
Limabenla Jamir was nominated as a Global Shaper by the World Economic forum. She is also the Founding Curator of Kohima Hub, WEF. She spoke at the TEDxDumas platform and shared her experiences with the audience.
World Startup Expo 2016, Asia’s largest congregation, aims to bring together the most happening and disruptive startups and SMEs, along with the expertise of executives from the top corporations, government agencies, incubators, investors, HNWIs, VC funds, banks, students and technology companies from across the world.
To maximize the platform, WSE 2016 will have four different streams running over three days. These include:
WSE Exhibition: 10000 SQM exhibiting area with 500+ startups, technology companies, educational institutions, free trade zones and banks
World Tech Hackathon: A coding challenge which will see participation from over 2000 students and corporates
WSE Conference: A 2-day conference with high profile national and international speakers
WSE Awards: An award ceremony acknowledging the work done by startups
The event sets the stage for a curated set of startups to present themselves in front of an audience comprising of investors, early stage adopters, mentors, potential co-founders and partners.
This event is being powered by Middle East based Venture Capital firm, Cocoon Ventures, who plan to bring a global network of investors to invest in India; thus aligning their mission with the government’s vision of making India a global manufacturing and investment hub
Key event highlights:
A platform to showcase your brand, engage with startup gurus and collaborate with investors, technology providers and emerging entrepreneurs.
An opportunity to win the regional cup to compete for US$ 1M at the Startup World Cup.
A global convergence of over 50 confirmed partnerships from leading incubators, accelerators (public and private), associations and government bodies.
A chance to be a part of the mentorship programme by Cocoon Ventures, leading to an opportunity to pitch your idea to global investors at the Investors Summit.
Trescon Global, a business events and consulting firm, is conceptualising and executing this massive undertaking.
Commenting on this initiative, Nebu K Abraham, co-founder and chief executive officer, Cocoon Ventures and director – World Startup Expo said, “The expo aims at connecting startups with national and global investors and startup gurus. It will serve as a common link merging the dynamic startup ecosystem, leveraging brands and empowering them to get financed.”
“We are positive that together we can nurture and strengthen the global startup ecosystem,” he added.
This event will be hosted at BIEC, Bengaluru from 21 – 23 Nov 2016. For more details, please visit – www.worldstartupexpo.com
हमको अँग्रेज़ी नही आती, अगर इंटरव्यू करिएगा तो हिन्दी में करिएगा
(I don’t know English. If you want to interview me, interview me in Hindi)
That’s Pooja for you . Unafraid and undeterred. Coming from a village near Deoria, 26 year old Pooja has set up her business of handicrafts back home, employing over 50 women of her village. When we had this conversation, Pooja had just returned after pitching her business to a panel of investors.
I remember my first startup pitch presentation at an event in Goa. The jitters of doing something for the first time, surrounded by a bunch of smart B-schoolers, minus existence of “B” words in my vocabulary— it was scary. In lunch breaks, the guys talked about valuations, FMAs, Hockey Stick, Sweat Equity. And about convertible notes. And financial projections. Insert some more fancy English words. I panicked. I couldn’t comprehend. At one point, I wanted to run away, enjoy Goa and get back home. I thought my startup idea was about telling stories, I mumbled to my friend on a ‘cheer-me-up-right-now’ phone call.
The reason why I began the article with Pooja’s language preference verbatim, is because I hardly hear such disclaimers. Because I hardly have had the balls to give such disclaimers. Of telling the other person, ‘Hold on, I don’t get these words. Can we talk in a language which both of us can understand?’
We are a country which hails of its diverse culture and language background, how we live in harmony despite the diversity. There are 1652 recognised languages spoken in India, a simple google search told me that, but my point is, “Is language the reason we won’t be successful?”. Take a second, ask yourself these questions: Can you create something? Do you know what are factors that your customers need, in what you’ve created? Can you sell? Can you understand your customer’s emotions, their grievances ? Well, you deserve a pat on your back. In neither of these questions did we face the problem of language. But we will when we reach out to customers who do not understand our dialect. But that is a part which can be taken care of. Either you can learn their language or you can have someone who knows both (Using jargon this person can be called a “translator”) Voila!
Indian startup ecosystem is buzzing with new ideas and vibrant energy. Thanks to increasing digital penetration and PM’s Startup India plan, people across lengths and breadth of India are taking the plunge to solve problems that most of us chose to settle with. Emerging startups from smaller towns and villages, they say, are bringing simple yet fundamental solutions.
“I think startups from smaller cities and villages have more matter in them because they experience problems first hand. Food-delivery is not a problem for them, availability of food is. Innovation in agriculture, edu-tech, healthcare, etc. is made considering limitation of resources. We can’t afford to lose out on these brains, just because they can’t pitch in English,” says Vivek Satya Mitram, founder of AdviceAdda.
“Coming from a media background, I believe it must be a media’s prerogative to create good, educative content in Hindi. How do you explain ‘traction’ in Hindi? Merely translations don’t help. Entrepreneurs coming from tier 2 and 3 cities aren’t usually acquainted with English and the ecosystem that it is now, de-motivates them. On Hindi Diwas, I think we, as a startup community should pledge to embrace people speaking languages other than English.”
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. Nelson Mandela couldn’t have put it better. Though we are promoting education in English, we discard those who have already been brought up in a certain environment and no one can understand the need of their people better than they do. So, as it turns out, it might be beneficial to learn a dialect and understand our culture once in awhile if we want to see some progress.
Aditi, co-founder of EngineerBabu, is from Indore. She tells me how she doesn’t know ‘convent like English’. Aditi and her team recently raised their first round of funding from Scale Ventures, after bootstrapping their company for over 2 years, building a team of 47. She shares,
“I’ve often had instances when I felt hesitant at networking events, where everyone would speak and preach in English. Not that I can’t speak English, just that I wasn’t raised in that sort of an environment. It is not a language I am comfortable with. Over time, I realised that it is not about English or Hindi, it is about communicating your vision and plan in a right way.”
“I’ve been travelling across tier 2 and 3 cities for last few months, and I have personally tried to understand problems faced by some of the best brains. Language certainly is one of them. Keeping these problems in mind, we initiated The India Network, that intends to connect budding entrepreneurs from these cities, providing them the right connect, funding and giving them the recognition they deserve — irrespective of the language the team speaks or works in. If the idea is great and the team proves itself with the execution, we are good to go!”
Do you remember how Amitabh Bachchan opened the Cannes Film Festival 2013 in Hindi, his mother tongue. And Mr. Modi’s speeches in different countries, including at the UN? If they can do it amongst people who are impervious to the language, can’t we give it a try?
And well, we’ll take a liberty to tell you that Pooja is flying to Germany to learn about art forms and entrepreneurship, if that serves you some inspiration 🙂
This post is a part of Neer, a collaborative project by DCB Bank and Chaaipani to bring out stories of individuals and initiatives that are working hard and smart to save water.
“Visit the dam in the morning. See water flowing from the bridge right in front of it. What an experience it was.” This was the experience shared by one of the visitors of the Khadakwasla Dam.
Apart from the feeling of strength a waterfall gives, the dam is a source of life and livelihood for an entire city built around it. During the floods of 1961, the Indian Army came to the rescue of Puneites to prevent the dams from collapsing, but even then the Panshet Dam collapsed, leaving the Khadakwasla Dam the last line of defense for the people, and the dam played it’s role well ensuring the safety of people.
Patriotism has numerous facets. But without a shred of doubt, what our soldiers do for us, for our country, is tantamount to a mother’s love for her child. But, what if the very thing they are trying to protect perishes over time because we didn’t have the sagacity to preserve it. When it comes to the environment, there is a second thought that crosses our mind, ‘who has the money to do it, and those who do, might not be willing to invest’. Well, let me tell you there are other ways to bring about a difference.
Retired Colonel Suresh Patil was born and brought up in Pune. Col. Patil was a very good boxer during his college and taking inspiration from his brother he joined the army at the young age of 20. With nothing but pride in his voice, he tells me how he got a chance to serve the Indian army.
“In 1971, I was fortunate to have served in the Indo-Pak war, where our battalion lost 6 officers and close to 67 men. I was critically wounded by enemy shelling. When I regained consciousness, I realized I had lost so many brothers with whom I had broken bread, the morning before we went to war.”
“My commanding officer told me, Suresh, you’re lucky to have survived where there are so many who went out to war, celebrate your life by doing good for the humanity. That is when I decided to serve the remainder of my time and start working for a better future.”
Col. Suresh Patil hung his uniform in 1993 and set up three NGOs. As a retired army officer, Colonel tells me there were a lot of high paying opportunities but he had made up his mind long before this, and he didn’t budge. He started with Green Thumb organization and 2 decades later, up until now they have planted a million trees in Maharashtra, parts of Madhya Pradesh and Punjab with the help of a lot of people who believed in this initiative. With his initiative of Justice for Jawans, he helps war widows, ex-servicemen helping them attain justice. With a little pride in his voice, he tells me compared to other retired army officials he is too busy managing three initiatives that some days he can’t keep doesn’t realize when dawn turns to dusk.
Recently Green Thumb was in the news for helping the city of Pune’s biggest water source i.e. the Khadakwasla dam. The 4 water reservoirs that supply water to the city constitute about 29 TMC of water storage but the actual water holding capacity has reduced to less 40% due to silt accumulation.
“We suggested to the irrigation department, that instead of building a new dam or raise the height of the existing dam, which would have resulted in the loss of cultivable land and taken a lot of time and resources, the idea of desilting the dams.”
When they got no response, they did it themselves. The water receded in months of March, April, and May, they pulled out the smaller islands from the lake with the help of Southern Command, BEG (Bombay Engineering Group) and individuals who believed in this initiative. To remove the silt and soil, they needed equipment so they asked army college that instead of training in Alandi they could do it in the lake and which helped them remove the initial fifty thousand trucks.
“The soil which came out of these islands was brown gold as it has been there enriched since 150 years. We gave this soil to farmers and their yield has increased by double and triple. One truckload of silt equals one tanker, which is 10 thousand litres of water, and we removed 10 lakh truckloads.”
When Vandana Chavan visited them, she was all in awe of this feat that the group had achieved, so the Colonel asked her to request the government to invest in the concept. But apparently, there is no provision of silt removal, which costs much less compared to building a new dam altogether considering the connected effects of the activity.
“There are cascading benefits. The water holding capacity increases, we give most of the soil to the farmers and the rest of the soil is used to plant trees on the periphery of the lake which would attract the bird life. The place has become a tourist destination, where families come for picnics.”
Now, the government, NGOs, and industrialists have tied up with this idea and are investing their time and money. Change is different from the norm, it’s beyond the horizon so you can’t see it, but you can’t stop walking because if you don’t take a risk, even if it’s a calculated one, you won’t know. People who were reluctant on desilting the dam because the idea was an ancient one or they assumed that it would be cumbersome and costly joined in when they saw the proof. A step was taken by one, followed by hundreds, and affected thousands and thousands of people. A plan for the masses, Col. Suresh Patil wants to spread this concept of desilting through the nation.
If you know of individuals or organisations who are doing their bit to make every drop matter, and who you think have a story that should be told to the world, do write to us on contact(at)chaaipani(dot)com.
Do you remember your first flight? The anxious feeling of clouds passing beneath you, watching the sunrise from up above, or looking down to earth with houses smaller than ants! It’s a high in itself, the feat of flight, overcoming the non-intrinsic ability to fly. Saumya Gupta, a girl who turned her flight around mid-air and landed to score ten-on-ten, when all else failed.
This bride-to-be was raised to believe that there was nothing she couldn’t do.
“I was raised like a boy; not a girl. I remember my mom telling me time and again- ‘there is nothing you can’t do that a man can!’”
She was fascinated with airplanes since she was a kid, decided to become a commercial pilot and got the license for the same in 2007.
“As a child, I was always fascinated by airplanes. In fact, my nursery interview was with an airplane in my hand!”
Even after achieving her dreams of being a commercial pilot, she did not get to live her dreams. Due to the prevailing recession of 2007, she did not get a job.
“We had already spent Rs. 60 Lacs on my pilot training. I was just 20 then. I remember going for interviews and authorities telling, ‘Everything is okay, but how do we give responsibility of so many people to a 20-year-old?’ Some suggested I train further to fly Boeing and Airbus, but that’d mean additional 20-25 lacs with no guarantee of a job.”
Clueless, Saumya took up a job at a call centre that paid her a meagre Rs. 20,000.
“Though I was a professional pilot, on paper I was just a 12th pass, technically. I couldn’t really have any other decent job. Working at call centre didn’t just feel right. On day 1, I knew I wouldn’t last here for too long.”
Frustrated, Saumya’s next stint was working as a gym instructor at a gym where her mother would train.
“I was put at the reception and had to wear makeup all day. Back then, I couldn’t even apply mascara properly.”
When nothing seemed to work out, Saumya’s parents suggested her to pursue a formal degree in Commerce. Which she did.
“I enrolled in a regular B.Com course in a college in Mumbai. I wasn’t from a Commerce background, so I hardly understood anything! I began taking coaching classes to cover-up the concepts. I remember, I’d always confuse between debit and credit, and everyone in the class would laugh at me. Eventually, the teacher asked my parents to cease my training. It wasn’t going anywhere.”
At this point, Saumya had no idea about her future. One day, when she completely broke down, she went up to her mother and proposed the idea of exporting designer wear and selling them.
“Har jagah hath per toh maar hi rahi thi, socha kapde hi bech ke thoda time-pass karlu (I was any way trying every possible thing, so I thought why not try selling clothes”. I wanted to rotate the money, and I knew more will come in”, she says.
She bought around 30 garments of high-fashion brands like Roberto Cavalli and Gautier from an exporter and invited her friends and family home for buying them.
“We texted all our friends in Mumbai to come for this small exhibition at home. Most came before the day of the exhibition since everyone wanted a first hand on branded items. We were sold out 24 hours before the exhibition day!”
30 became 45 and then 80. This mother-daughter duo would ensure they are sold-out every time they’d exhibit.
“This wasn’t financially profitable, though. So, I continued to take calls in the call centre to pump capital into the garment line I was creating with my extremely supportive mother.”
Her mother, Ritu Gupta, who is also a co-founder and heads the designing for Ten-On-Ten, showed her the Fashion & You Ads on Facebook. This is where they got the idea of going online.
“We wrote an email to Mr. Rahul Narvekar, the famous Indian e-commerce entrepreneur, and then the founder CEO of Indianroots- an NDTV Ethnic Retail Venture. We didn’t have a registered company, TIN or PAN. I made it clear in the email. A day later, I received a positive reply from his side. This marked our first step towards online retailing. It was a hit, we were out-of-stock on the same day and since then, we never looked back!”
Going online though wasn’t as easy as she puts it above. She shares,
“We were stupid! We had no idea about selling things online. I was asked to get pictures of our clothes on models, and post them online with a description. My mom and I sat all night to write 3 page long descriptions and next day this lady at Fashion and You scraped everything off into a 3 liner!”, she says bursting into laughter.
Too broke to afford models and photographers, Saumya did what most early-stage entrepreneurs end up doing – Jugaad.
“We got hold of some budding photographers and good-looking friends of friends who wanted to build their portfolios. The models would do their own makeup because we couldn’t even afford makeup artists. Sometimes in exchange, we’d give them the dress they shot for at no cost.”
Saumya knew that she needed an edge over her competitors and she also knew what a Ten on Ten client would be like. So, she started with her own manufacturing unit.
“We took a while to gather machinery. Bought second-hand machinery; one machinery a month, sometimes one in two months, depending on how much money was available.”
When I asked her what challenges she faced in her entrepreneurial journey, she said,
“We have bootstrapped since the beginning, and that is very challenging when you are surrounded by Series As and Bs. Apart from this, I didn’t have any knowledge of the manufacturing area. It was all new. I even had to learn MS Excel from the team of Fashion & You. But I learned by burning hands time & again in wrong decisions. Things took longer than what they should ideally, but that was a part of my learning phase.”
The success of this hardworking and perseverant entrepreneur can be found in the popularity of the brand name of Ten-On-Ten.
“We moved from a parking garage to an office, from 1 office we moved to 4, we have won many accolades. We knew the path we had chosen was correct. We are growing. Today we are retailing over 13,000 garments pieces per month and are top sellers in major marketplaces. Soon, we were clocking a very good revenue too!”
The best part is that they achieved all this without taking any loans!
“It was all hard work. This company was built from the scratch by saving every bit that we earned in profits.”
She has achieved a lot since Ten-On-Ten started its operations in August 2009.
“I think winning the award from Kunal Bahl for contributing to his Snapdeal’s success & being awarded as India’s top 100 retail professionals was one of the biggest achievements for us.”
As I draw to a close writing about her achievements, about her struggles, I recollect Christopher Walken’s words behind a podium,
“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse.”
“Bachhan sahab jo the, sadak pe rehte thee. Ek din achanak Mehmood ji se mulaqat hui aur break mil gaya.”
“You think talent counts? Contacts chahiye industry mein.”
Dialogues like the ones above have often popped up on our newsfeeds or in those conversations with friends and family.
Making it in the entertainment industry is not easy. Especially when you are not the one ‘outshining’ everyone. Certainly not easy when you are someone like Pratik Gandhi.
“School mein har cheez mein participate karta tha, par kabhi prize nai mila,” he says.
That sort of life. Where moments of gratification are non-existent. Where personal ambitions are laughed on by oneself, almost every time when reality hits on your face.
“How could I even think of becoming an actor? My entire family is into academics. My only stints at ‘performing’ during my childhood were at Vaishnav Havelis, during some or the other festivals.”
Born to a humble couple, both teachers, Pratik grew up in Surat, Gujarat. Average at studies and extra-curricular activities, like any other average youngster, he followed an average course of career — Diploma after 12th, because ‘I didn’t score enough to get into medical’, followed by a ‘wrong side le lia’ graduation degree. Pratik had a pretty simple childhood. Like most of us.
And that’s why his story is something we thought we should tell you. Of someone who is like us. Of someone who hasn’t ‘made it yet’. Of someone tiptoeing through his dreams and instalments, responsibilities of family and pending bills. Of someone in-between ‘rags’ and ‘rich’.
“However, the school I studied in wasn’t average. It was one of its kind, where we’d have regular subjects teamed up with subjects like carpentry, farming, and arts,” he says.
“You said arts. Is that where you picked up theatre from?”, I ask.
“Yes. We had storytelling competitions. So I’d pick from the stories that my grandparents would tell me, team up with my friends and perform it. We never won, but kida toh udher se hi laga tha acting ka.”
And that’s how I too caught up with activities that I’d list as ‘passion’ in slam book pages. However looking back, most of them lost their way somewhere in the middle of higher studies, getting and performing at a job and dealing with everyday activities. However, unlike me, Pratik stuck by.
“Gradually, performing became a part of me”, he says, reinstating how he is still not clear how he did what he did.
The first character Pratik played was that of ‘Kallu miyaan’, in class 6th.
“This was the first competition where I had received a second prize. And guess what was the prize – Steel ka dabba. I’d take my lunch in that box every day, it was priceless! DD channel walo ne telecast bhi kia tha. Tab toh sirf DD hi hota tha.”
Cut short to end of his Diploma, Pratik realised he won’t be able to pursue a graduation since he hadn’t scored enough to secure one of the only two seats available.
This is when he proudly tells me of his first job as a salesman for industrial energy-saving products.
“I was 19 then, youngest one in my group to take up a job. I didn’t want to waste my time waiting for a college to let me in. I was earning Rs. 1500 per month and Rs. 500 of petrol allowance. Alag hi phase tha woh.”
Wise men have said, let your first job be that of sales. It teaches one resilience, taking rejections, the art of convincing, and inculcates the spirit of ‘dress up, show up’, no matter what.
“It was one of the first wise decisions I took for myself. I got several tough nuts, and when you are in a door-to-door sales job, rejections and insults aren’t anything new.”
While he’d slog from 9 am to 7 pm, Pratik ensured to continue his theatre practice at night. This is when Pratik met Kashyap Joshi of Ashiyana Parivar, one of the directors whose team performed at Pratik’s school. And this, we could say, was Pratik’s shot.
“He got me a role in one of the plays that was going to compete in an intra-city competition. It was about the tradition in South India of selling off girls to the village zamindaars, on their first period. It was a pretty serious play.”
“And what was your role?”
“My role was very interesting. I was zamindaar’s ‘chela’ and all I had to do was stand with a stick. And I had just one dialogue – ‘Ye lo, aapka gunhegar’. No matter how small the role was, jaan laga di thi mene,”he says, chuckling out loud.
By the 11th month at his job, Pratik was informed by a friend about on-going admissions for engineering in Maharashtra. At his score, Pratik could luckily find a seat in a college in Jalgaon.
“Middle of the jungle, a half-constructed building. My father did ask me if I was sure about my decision to study here, but well, like I’d put it now – This was one of the major wrong turns of my life.”
However, Pratik turned out to be one of those few engineering students who are passionate about engineering. He studied, like he says, with all his heart. Theatre, he says continued in the backdrop.
During vacations, Pratik would go back to his previous company to work on project basis. And when not on vacations, he would help his brother’s business by handling their distributors in Jalgaon.
“At this point, theatre had become like breathing to me. I couldn’t not do it. I would do backstage, sounds, everything needed”, he adds.
Around this time, Pratik happened to watch one of the plays from Bombay by Apara Mehta and Firoz Bhagat.
“I went there with my team. It was an altogether different experience. The production value of the play was so high and that is what made it ‘the Bombay play’. We were good at performance but we had to cut the costs at a lot of places because we were always short on budget. I wanted to work in that sort of a play”
“It is expensive to construct something like this”, the team had said.
“Kharche ke alaawa ka socho. Esi aur kaun kaun si cheezein hai, that we can work on”, was his response.
And that brought one of the first audio-visuals plays in Surat. The play was a superhit and received mentions in several media.
Jump-cut to end of his graduation, Pratik figured that Mumbai was ‘the place’ to be in if he wanted to make it in theatres.
“I had a few relatives there, so without giving much thought to it, I moved. With no plan, no job in hand”, he says.
Once his brother moved to Mumbai as well, Pratik moved to a rented flat.
“And in Mumbai, once you move to your own place without a good amount of cash, the challenge begins. The first 5-6 months was struggle, of an extent I can’t even explain. I would jump directly to ‘jobs’ sections of newspapers, chase through openings, give interviews, end up waiting for nothing.”
Theatre, he says, was never meant to make money from him. Pratik always knew he would need a day job to take care of his expenses. And hence, finding a job was his priority. After 5 months, Pratik finally heard back from one of the companies.
“I would go to my friend’s place once in a week to send my resume to all e-mail ids I could get hold on. I finally received a call from a company called NPC, asking me to visit them on Grant Road East. I had no idea about ‘NPC’ and I was skeptical after listening of the location for obvious reasons”, he says bursting into laughter.
For those who don’t know, Grant Road East is infamous for various reasons, flesh trade being one of them.
“It was an old building with a theatre training class on the ground floor. The moment the elevator stopped, flashed the name ‘National Productivity Council’. I couldn’t believe I had received a call from THIS place. It is a dream place for Industrial Engineers.”
Pratik cleared the interview and got his first manpower study project in Satara, Pune.
“I told them ‘jo bhi kaam doge, kar lunga’”, he adds.
During those 5 months when Pratik wasn’t doing anything, he had auditioned for various directors.
“I was anticipating response from Firoz Bhagat. I had tried several links and sources, however I didn’t take follow-up thinking I might bother him. Before leaving for Satara, I followed up with Kajal, the friend who introduced me to him. She told me all characters for the play were finalised and I wasn’t one of them.”
Nothing new for Pratik. This wasn’t the first time he wasn’t chosen over someone. However, just a few days before he was supposed to leave, he received a call from Kajal, asking him to see Firoz bhai asap.
“The play was to open in 15 days. I thought it would have nothing to do, or why would he call me at such a short notice. But since it was Firoz sir, I went. He saw me, asked people to take my measurement. I thought they’d have some tiny role for me. In Mumbai, no matter how much talent you have, there is always someone better than you, who gets chosen over you.”
However, a few days later, Pratik was informed that he would be on the same stage as Firoz Bhagat, Apara Mehta, Vipra Rawal. I was to act opposite to Vipra Rawal. What an entry!
“This has happened with me a lot of times. If I want to something and I’ve thought of it, it comes to me – it could be in just a few days or years. This was what I had wanted when I saw Apara Mehta and Firoz Bhagat’s play in Surat years back. And here was my first commercial play in Mumbai, we performed for over 200 shows after this.”
Pratik takes a long pause here. There is thrill and excitement in his voice. And he quickly adds,
“And this play got me my first international travel. I had never even flown in an aeroplane. Ye toh direct Dubai legaye.”
Pratik began being noticed in the right way, at the right place.
“One day, I went to watch a play at Prithvi Theatres with Kajal. It was called ‘Mareez’. Even though I had done over 200 shows, this play set the bar high for everything I had seen. I told Kajal – ‘This is what I want to do'”
So Pratik ended up exchanging numbers with Manoj Shah, the director.
“Prithvi Festival was approaching and Manoj Shah was a known name. I went to meet him at his place in Malad. He asked me – ‘Acting ke alawa kya kar sakte ho?’“, he says mimicking Manoj Shah’s accent.
“Table baja leta hu, I’ve learnt a little bit of acrobatics, martial arts” was Pratik’s reply.
The next thing Manoj Shah asked him was to do a 180 degree split, jump rolls.
“And he shouted – ‘This is it Vahla, you will do this on the centre stage’, and I was like – WHAT? You haven’t asked me act even once”, he says replicating the scene, enjoying every word he speaks in Manoj bhai’s accent.
And that was the catch. Manoj bhai, who is known in theatre industry for his experiments with different forms, wanted to enact a 45 minutes mute play, showing the busy street of New York.
“It was the weirdest thing I had heard, 45 minutes, no words! How would we catch the attention? But let me tell you, it is one of the best plays I’ve ever performed in. I was in the opening and the ending, and surprisingly enough, several people noticed me! This play changed my life in a lot of ways”, he says.
“And how?”, I ask.
“One, it got me connected to several ‘right’ people who noticed me. And second, I met Bhamini, during this play”, he says, his voice suddenly turning coy, easily noticeable on a telephonic conversation.
Sitting in the audience of many, Bhamini caught Pratik’s attention somehow.
“In theatre, we are trained to not look at the audience so as to not lose the focus. However, since there were no dialogues in this play, I somehow did manage to trace that one face. Once the play was over, Bhamini came back stage to meet the actors. I saw her there, talking to Kajal. And that was it, Kajal tabse best friend ban gayi“, he says notoriously giggling.
Several jugaads, months and rejections later, Pratik finally managed to convince Bhamini to meet him for a coffee.
“I had never been to a cafe to have a coffee. We met at Barista, and I had no clue what to order. I didn’t even know how to pronounce most of the names. To save my face, I quickly messaged my brother asking what to order. “Cappuccino” was the reply. I wanted to play it smart and slow, but my desperation for her was all over my face. Like, the third sentence I spoke to her was ‘so what kind of life partner do you want’. I acted that dumb god knows why!”
But the date wasn’t enough to convince Bhamini, and she took next few months, only ignoring his messages and calls. Love-struck, Pratik didn’t lose his hope.
“Everybody kept asking me to move on. But the only thing that kept me going was the fact that I had never felt like this before. I didn’t want to let this go.”
And one day, he just asked her out. This was also when Pratik was tiptoeing between different projects, theatres, and getting a chance in serials.
“This again, was a very difficult phase. I was earning around 20-25k a month, and I always wanted to send some money back home.”
To earn some extra-cash, Pratik would compeer at different events organised by his cousin’s event management company.
“I learnt spontaneity here. I learnt how to catch the attention of the crowd merely by your voice, since a lot of times, you are only talking from backstage. I had to be witty, humorous and this has helped me becoming a better actor.”
Soon, the multi-talented Pratik found himself in a coup to choose between a well-paying full-time job offer by Reliance and theatres.
“I worked on a project with them and then, they offered me a job with a package of around 8 lacs then. It was indeed tempting, but I knew that if I take the job, I’ll have to give theatre a back seat.”
Naturally, everyone wanted Pratik to take up a job.
“And then one day, I decided to give in and accepted the job. You see, I come from a middle class family. At the end of it, I had to take care of my expenses and of my parents. Our marriage talks were in progress as well, I had to meet Bhamini’s dad soon. I still remember my cousin telling me – ‘Tu khan nahi hai, kapoor nahi hai. Aaj tak kaunse theatre actor ko super star bante dekha hai?’“
However, like he said before, acting for Pratik had become like breathing.
“I would leave for work at 7 am, reach office at around 9 and give in my 110% all day, leave at around 6 pm. I would then head straight to the gym, and then rehearse for plays till late night.”
No matter how difficult, Pratik was struggling to prove his point – the point of managing the best of both worlds.
In December 2008, Pratik and Bhamini and married each other.
“It was a brave decision on her and her father’s part. When they said ‘yes’ to our marriage, I didn’t have a stable job, I hadn’t even ‘made it’ in theatre. They just trusted on me to figure things out.”
“In 2006 Surat floods, we had lost everything overnight. Our home was submerged in water for almost 2 days, they had to live on neighbour’s terrace for a few days. So I wanted to get my parents to Mumbai as soon as possible. For 5 years, my parents, brother, Bhamini and I lived in 1 room kitchen rented flat.”
That’s Mumbai for you, I tell myself.
“A year later after the marriage, Bhamini started having hearing problem. So we got her MRI test done and the same evening, I received a call from the doctor telling me that she was detected with a brain tumour. It was 2.5 cm big. I didn’t know how to react. The only reply I could manage was – ‘What needs to be done next?'”
In next 15 days, Bhamini’s treatment began and she gave a strong fight.
“The doctor warned us that there are chances that her facial expression nerve might get damaged. And that was a heartbreaking news, especially since she too was an actor. However, the brave woman that she is, she fought it back like a boss. Infact, she walked on her own to the operation theatre. Had it not been her determination and will power, her body wouldn’t have responded so well. She was cured with no damage.”
When he says this, there is a clearly noticeable pride in his voice, of defeating life on the face of it. He adds,
“There is one regret I will always have – of not giving enough time to Bhamini. No matter how understanding a wife she is, I haven’t done justice to my job of a husband. Infact, we haven’t even travelled. We went to Kerala for honeymoon, to Goa a couple of times and then only for family weddings. Ye sab jab woh operation theatre mein thi tab realize hua.”
When everything was finally just back to normal, the lovely news of a baby came to the couple.
“But just a few months later, the owner of the apartment told us to empty the flat in a month. We had nowhere to go. Finding a place in Mumbai is not easy. Any house would have easily costed me 35k, a deposit of 2-2.5 L. It was just impossible. I went to my company’s HR and told them of the situation. Bhamini was 6 months due then. They told me they could arrange an accommodation. But they didn’t tell me when. I hadn’t seen for another place, and suddenly company told me that the houses were under renovation and they could give it only after 6 months. There was a day when we were homeless for real.”
Pratik sent his parents back to Surat for a while and Bhamini to her parents’ place.
“What about you?”
“I stayed in a car.”
He’d keep his clothes and other necessary things in the car, would take up as many projects that required travel at his job, and on some days, live at Bhamini’s house.
“This was when my rehearsals for one of the biggest theatre opportunities for me with Chandrakant Bakshi, for a 45 minute monologue, was in full swing. The play opened and I met Abhishek Jain then, who offered me ‘Bey Yaar’. I don’t know how I was managing all the critical attention this play got me and my contrasting situation back home. Abhishek told me that the shooting needs to start in just a few days. Though I had saved up my leaves which could allow me to be at Ahmedabad for shoot, we were also expecting the baby anytime soon.”
Bhamini being Bhamini, knew that there was no point holding Pratik back and asked him to have his first shot at films.
“I told my HR that Bhamini was 7 months due, and that I needed a home. I am super-thankful, they arranged for a 2-months accommodation at a Reliance Group property. They also readily allowed me to go for shooting to Ahmedabad. I would remotely work from the sets.”
Pratik’s daughter was born 2 months before ‘Bey Yaar’ released, and just one day before her birth, Pratik’s dad was diagnosed with Cancer.
“One day after her birth, we started with my dad’s treatment. Am very thankful to God that I have known things at the right time – about Bhamini’s cancer, my dad’s cancer and of my daughter’s thyroid.”
Someone being thankful to God despite all this.
“Pata nai kese nikle woh saare din. ‘Bey Yaar’ promotions were on full swing. I had to be everywhere – at hospital, at home, at promotional events, remotely working on my job. It was more about proving every moment to myself. No one had asked me to do so many things at once. It was my decision and I had to prove my decision right.”
‘Bey Yaar’ came out as a big hit in Gujarati entertainment industry and since then, there hasn’t been looking back.
“I’ve just put down my papers at my job, been doing several plays since then. My next movie, Wrong Turn Raju is releasing soon as well!”
“Put down you papers? How will you run your home now?”, came my obvious question, now knowing everything about his life.
“Karunga kuch na kuch. Abhi toh bohot kuch karna hai. I’ll figure out soon”, comes the prompt reply.
“How do you keep yourself motivated?”
“Meri life mein bohot sare logo ne bohot saare dialogues deliver kiye hai that have kept me going. Like someone told me of this quote – Koi cheez na karne ke hazaar reasons hote hai, but there is always one reason to do it and that’s what keeps me going.”
I had closed my eyes before she came on stage expecting the music to give me a cue. A few seconds later, the melodious sound of Ghunghroos filled the space. She had walked in. I opened my eyes and there she was at the center of the stage, beckoning three other women onto the stage. The music started with a melodious sound and a soft tempo. All four of them started flowing with the music, their movements as if imitating the waterfall itself. Gradually, the tempo picked up and the percussion of Ghungroos resting on their ankles were matching each and every beat, as they performed Kathak beautifully. I had a ball in my chest looking for an escape, that they don’t miss a step, and then it dissolved. I had trust and faith that they won’t, and I was left in awe of her, as I found myself clapping with the entire hall around me.
There are people who leave you with a yearning, just shy of envy of what they have achieved. Mruga Vora Shroff is one of them. She is a trained Kathak dancer who has attained her Visharad, but that’s the least of all things she stresses on. She said that it was just the beginning.
“The ideology that some people come in with, is to complete the 7-year course. It’s just the conditioning phase, achieving Visharad doesn’t define the quality of the artist. It’s very subjective, something very good for me might not be as impressive for you and that’s the reason we have to keep practicing to hone ourselves.”
Mruga comes from a family where her forefathers were involved in the Indian freedom struggle. Inspired by their lineage, they have had a penchant for the Indian culture, something that connects them to their roots. Her grandfather had a deep interest in classical music and her grandmother was a Sanskrit teacher. Mruga’s mother started pursuing Kathak without having any professional inclinations. Along the way, she met Mruga’s father, a perfect fit who is also a folk dancer. Her parents moved to Surat so that her mother could be with her grandfather after her grandmother passed away. They eventually started a dance academy to pass on the knowledge they had to the next generation.
“Previously my mother used to commute between Mumbai and Surat and take weekend classes. This was also a way she came back to spend time with her parents. But then being the only child she chose to move to Surat and eventually opened an academy with my father. Amidst all this, I was born.”
Mruga vivaciously tells me how her childhood was a joyful ride. She wasn’t compelled by her parents to pursue dance or Kathak for that matter. I’ll juxtapose two images for you. Mruga is Kathak Guru and a Terence Lewis dance scholarship diploma holder. Free spirited Mruga, who wasn’t even fond of or had any inclination towards dance when she was young.
“There weren’t as many distractions then, so I was involved in all the extra-curricular activities there were. My parents followed the ‘Own your failure and your success’ – If something went well it’s your achievement and if it went awry it’s your learning. They were never behind me for studies or Kathak, I failed and got motivated to study all by myself, that was the level of freedom I had.”
Her parents gave her a mix of freedom and discipline, responsibility and volition, strength and virtue; contrasting values that you would rarely find in a person. During her training at the Terence Lewis academy, her yoga tutor met her parents and complimented that she had never seen a student brought up in such a disciplined manner.
“Whether I wanted to pursue it or not, dance was always there. I feel there is a misconception that if your child starts young, they’ll be able to learn quicker. It requires a certain level of maturity and understanding, and you don’t know when you’ll get that.”
Mruga had not invested all her energy into dance from a young age, but she did have it around, she did practice. Her mother Smt. Smriti Vora was her first Guru and even though her parents were Gurus, she wasn’t given any special privileges. She was assigned a specific class, time, and a batch, and was only allowed to attend lessons then or interact with her batchmates in case she had doubts. Even in her mother’s class, she had girls who danced far better than she did. She didn’t find her spark and love for Kathak until she was a teenager.
“I couldn’t see the beauty, until one day, I was to perform a piece I was taught at a dance festival. Even during the rehearsal, I couldn’t find what was beautiful in it. My Guru told me, ‘ye cheez apne gharane ki hai, bohot acha hai’, par kya acha hai? (‘This piece is from our school, it’s very elegant’, but what is good or elegant in this?) On the day of the festival, while performing on stage, it kindled in me, the good and the beauty of the piece I was performing.”
After training under her mother’s tutelage for 16 years, they decided to find a Gharana’s Guru, one where dance has been passed down for generations. They found a Guru in Delhi, but as she started training under him, she couldn’t catch up to the pace.
“It was one of the most depressing time of my life, but I didn’t give up. Today, I see it, the beauty that my Gurus talk about. If you’re not ready for the journey, you won’t realize the essence of the art. Parents approach us with, ‘My child cannot devote 8 hours, but they’ll be able to do 2 hours a week’, then aim for the state championships and not nationals.”
For the past few months, we’ve come across plenty of stories of how our athletes literally gave their blood and sweat to get where they are today. Mruga stresses on the fact that it’s not a CV point or something you can flaunt for marital purposes, you have to invest your time to understand it.
Currently, she is pursuing her training under Guru Shree Munna Lal Shukla. Alongside this, she is doing her bit to pass on the art form to young ones at Noopur Nritya Academy. She did pick up other dance forms as well like Contemporary and Jazz.
“One day I told my mom, I wanted to try the western forms. I wanted to know their way, only to bring in the positives to our dance. To understand why our dance was coined boring and theirs wasn’t. Classical dance is very centric to emotions, storytelling, and expressions. It is an art for a class and not the mass.”
Standing on the TEDxDumas platform she shared a story with the audience about her ancestor. I’ll try to capture the essence of it.
“He was given a cup curd in it’s purest form, by a vendor and he didn’t like it. But he came to the same vendor everyday to buy the cup of curd, only to develop a taste for the purest form of curd in existence. Classical dance is much like the curd, you have to develop a taste for it”.
Very inanely attesting to the same, when we started drinking alcohol at parties, the conversation that ‘you have to develop a taste for beer or whiskey or scotch’ was all abuzz and here we are.