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Shruti Chaturvedi
Telling inspiring, powerful, (extra) ordinary stories brewing around on Chaaipani. @adhicutting on Twitter.

Of pocket phone book and making a mark in Indian television & film industry – Harsh Chhaya’s story

“You know, we used to get this small diary in locals which would have phone numbers of some connected people in the Bollywood, who would connect one to more. At least that’s what the cover page said. So I bought it. Kaam kese dhundta warna?”

3 months ago No Comments Views

In the middle of shiny funding news, this entrepreneur addresses the elephant in the room – depression

“My mother would come to my room to give me food and water, almost every day for several months. I wouldn’t even get up to wash my hands..

3 months ago 2 Comments Views

Story of the brain behind India Film Project – Asia’s biggest platform for budding film-makers

“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.”

“Why?”

“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!”

Announcement:

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.

Edited by: Aditya Mankad. 

6 months ago No Comments Views

Make in India, language no bar! | Hindi Diwas

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.

He adds,

“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.”

Speaking of this, Rahul Narvekar, founder of The India Network says,

“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 🙂

6 months ago No Comments Views

A jobless pilot turned entrepreneur, Saumya Gupta is now one of the top sellers in major marketplaces!

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.”

7 months ago 1 Comment Views

An extraordinary story of an average struggling actor in Mumbai – The city of dreams

“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.”

Wrong Side Raju, Abhishek JainX Theatre in IndiaX Theatre in Mumbai, Acting, Acting in Mumbai, Acting in Theatre, Pratik Gandhi, Nikhil Musale

“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.”

 

7 months ago 2 Comments Views

This man single-handedly converted a barren sandbar into a 1,360 acre forest in 30 years

More than 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav “Molai” Payeng began planting seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in India’s Assam region. It was 1979 and floods had washed a great number of snakes onto the sandbar. When Payeng — then only 16 — found them, they had all died.
“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me.”

He was just 16 then. Payeng observed that the flow of migratory birds was also gradually declining to the forest areas and wetlands near his home. This disturbed him.

“I asked my elders, what would they do if all of us die one day, like these snakes. They just laughed and smirked but I knew I had to make the planet greener,” he says.

Now that once-barren sandbar is a sprawling 1,360 acre forest, home to several thousands of varieties of trees and an astounding diversity of wildlife — including birds, deer, apes, rhino, elephants and even tigers.

The forest, aptly called the “Molai woods” after its creator’s nickname, was single-handedly planted and cultivated by one man – Payeng, who is now 47.

“The education system should be like this, every kid should be asked to plant two trees,” Payeng says.

Payeng has dedicated his life to the upkeep and growth of the forest. Today, Payeng still lives in the forest. He shares a small hut with his wife and three children and makes a living selling cow and buffalo milk.

According to the Assistant Conservator of Forests, Gunin Saikia, it is perhaps the world’s biggest forest in the middle of a river.
7 months ago No Comments Views

Abused in her childhood and outcasted in her youth, Sughra went ahead to develop several villages of Pakistan

Married off at 12, Sughra became the first woman in her village to get divorced. She was 18 then, and a social outcast. Sughra Solangi overcame significant difficult situations to become an exceptional example of what an oppressed woman can achieve through sheer determination and strength.

Severely beaten by her brother when she tried to attend school, Sughra pursued her studies at home.

Soon, she became her village’s first female high school graduate and the first teacher at the first school for girls. This is when she realised that people were not sending their daughters to school for two reasons – social customs and lack of funds.
In 1992, floods devastated the agriculture-dominated economy of her village – Sonlangi.

Sughra Solangi along with other village women took the initiative of helping out the flood affected communities out of trauma and loss of properties and formed a women’s saving group. They collected Rs. 10 per household from 50 houses and gave to a family to open a small grocery shop in the village. This event marked the beginning of the Marvi Rural Development Organization, an initiative to support literacy, health and well-being, development of community organisations, income generation and ending violence against women.

She has had significant success in developing her village Solangi, Khairpur District, and developing new villages every year in Sindh region of Pakistan. She became an Ashoka Fellow in 1999, and for her achievements she received the International Women of Courage Award in 2011.

7 months ago No Comments Views

From a disastrous entrepreneurial debut at selling soaps to leading Reliance Industries, here’s the story of Parimal Nathwani

Whenever someone tells me how social media is making humans distant from each other, I recount of atleast 10 examples of how social media has connected me with people I would have never been able to reach otherwise. This meeting, adds to the list.

I was naturally very excited when I realised I’ll be meeting him. Knowing his story wasn’t even on the cards. Because people like you and I, we don’t usually get a chance to interact with people like him without the right ‘contacts’. And am not even glorifying, just typing down plain reality. Parimal Nathwani, Group President (Corporate Affairs) of Reliance Industries and a Rajya Sabha MP.

“You are exactly 48 minutes late”, he says looking at his watch and breaks into a big laughter as he enters the room. In the next sentence, he eases me out by acknowledging the short notice for meeting and Ahmedabad’s traffic.

Over the time, I have been told & trained not to get carried away whenever I happen to meet someone big for an interview, to ensure that the questions I ask and the answers I receive aren’t held back because of the other person’s grandeur. The man in the room, makes it easy for me.

“Oh, tell me about yourself – where do you live? What do your parents do?”, he initiates the conversation.

While we have this warm-up conversation, I have a million questions popping out of my mind. Mr. Nathwani is no ordinary a person. He hangs out with people we only read and watch about on media. He gets to call the Ambani duo as ‘Mukesh bhai’ and ‘Nita bhabhi’. And yet, he ensures the other person is always comfortable in his company.

“How does it feel? You get to work with the biggest of the industrialists and politicians of the country. How is that life, like?”, I ask.

“Not very different from anyone else. At the end of the day, everyone has the same life to deal with back home. Sometimes when I look back to where I come from, it does look like long way”, he answers.

 

Mr. Nathwani comes from a small-town called Jam Khambhalia in Devbhoomi Dwarka district of Gujarat.

“Our ghee is very famous”, he says, beaming with pride when he talks about his native place.

Young Parimal was far from being an adarsh balak, you could say.

“I was very notorious. In a class of 45 students, I would rank anywhere between 32-40, while my sister would secure a rank from 1-5. My parents didn’t really have high hopes from me.”

An ardent cricket fan even today, Mr. Nathwani tells me how he once skipped his annual exams to watch a test match between India and West Indies.

“I was in class 9th then. It was the last day of our annual exams – Andy Roberts and his team had come to Mumbai for a test match. I had saved up my pocket-money and bought a North stand ticket for Rs. 65. I asked my friends to accompany me saying, ‘Exam hi toh hai‘. Ofcourse they didn’t agree and I was the only one repeating a year, this time in the same class as my sister”, he shares with a hearty laugh.

Once rusticated from the school for 3 days, Parimal judiciously used the time to watch the shooting of the film ‘Love in Tokyo’ at Juhu without informing at home. The job was rightfully done by his sister, which got him a good deal of thrashing by parents.

“Those were the days.., he says with a smile and a long pause.

He asks one of his colleagues for some ice-cream for us before proceeding.

And I loved watching movies! Every weekend, our seats were fixed. I had two best friends then – Bhaskar, the richest one of us and Bharat. I would get Rs. 25 as pocket-money while they would get Rs. 100. So most of the times, they’d take care of my tickets. Come what may, we never missed any movie.”

A B.Com graduate from NM College in Mumbai, the young Parimal was as lost about his career as any other youngster.

“I wasn’t keen on studying any more. But I was clear with one thing – naukri toh nai j karu. (I will never do a job). My father was a whole-sale textile trader in Mumbai, but I was never inclined to join  him. The cloth market opens at 12 pm and closes at 6 pm. It never excited me.”

The only son, Parimal was certainly a topic of concern for the entire family.

“My mama, Mr. Suresh Kotak (founder of Kotak group) thought I was going off-track with my career so he offered me to head a new bleaching plant they wanted to set up in Vapi. I was sent to New Era Mill, near Matunga station, everyday to take training. However, half-way through it, my mama decided to drop the idea of bleaching factory and asked me to join Kotak. They were into cotton business then.”

“And you joined them?”

No, that was the whole point. I didn’t want to do a job. I couldn’t see myself confined to a conventional structure. I had no idea, dhandho karvo’to. (I wanted to do a business.)”

Opportunity came knocking very soon and he took up the first that came – A dealership for cold-drinks.

“Prakash Chauhan and Ramesh Chauhan (owners of Parle Group) lived 2 lanes away from my home. They had a huge pitch made inside their bungalow and they would call me to bowl. One sided-bowling. I’d go every Sunday because I just loved experiencing real pitch. This was around the time when Coca-Cola was shut down for a while, Chauhan brothers began marketing Thums Up, Limca and Gold Spot heavily.”

Parimal, still in the final year of his college, was offered a dealership by the Chauhans for a deposit of Rs. 5,00,000.

“It was a huge amount then. I asked my parents but they refused it straight away. So I went to Parul, my mama’s daughter. She talked to all my cousins and they all contributed within their capacity and raised Rs. 50,000. That meant nothing compared to amount asked, so I gave up the idea. Next Sunday when I went to bowl as usual, they asked me about the deal. I told them what had happened.”

The Chauhans asked Parimal to start the dealership business nevertheless and that they would cut the deposit amount from his commission. And this is how his first business took off.

“From Grant Road to Chowpati to Nariman point and Colaba – that was my area. Taj and Oberoi were new then, I would ensure the drinks were always decked up. My father refused to give me space for office, so I set-up a make-shift office at a friend’s garage. I had a staff of 7 people then.”

“Your father didn’t give the space or couldn’t give the space?”, I clarify.

“Didn’t. Dealership business wasn’t very respectable according to him. But I just wanted to continue doing it. I was young,independent and with no responsibility. I’d spend everything on myself. I remember getting shirts stitched by Akbar bhai from Kachins & Gabbanna tailors, one of the most reputed ones in Bombay.”

With a child-like excitement, Mr. Nathwani tells me how he still has a shirt from Kachins that Rishi Kapoor wore in the movie ‘Khel Khel Mein’.

“I bought it for Rs. 700 then. Kachins would make only 5 exclusive pieces per design and this was the second piece.I lied to my father that it was just for Rs. 100”, he adds.

While he ran the dealership business, Mr. Nathwani kept harnessing his skills at sales and training the staff. He would travel in local bus since his father, already disappointed at his decision, refused to get him a vehicle or even take him along in his car.

With his existing business up and running, Nathwani applied for dealership of Sunrise Soaps and Chemicals.

“I saw the advertisement in a newspaper and applied. I wanted to grow. I got it but it brought an added challenge. The area was exactly reverse of what I was working in – from Malad to Borivali. This is when I learnt delegating work to the team and trusting them with delivery, something I wasn’t really great at earlier.”

The partners split and one of the them asked Nathwani to join as Managing Director to a similar soap manufacturing plant.

“We started this company from a scratch. We got the manufacturing job done at a plant in Jaipur. I would head the marketing and sales part of it – giving commissions to retailers, providing dealership without deposits. We were directly competing with Sunrise. This ran for 2 years but the venture failed because of financial crunch. I was 30 then.”

With Parle dealership agency taking care of his everyday expenses, this failure didn’t come as a major financial set-back for Mr. Nathwani.

“I had experimented and made quiet a big loss. I began searching for newer opportunities and came across an advert by Baroda Stock Exchange in newspaper. I applied at a go. I was desperate to find newer ways to grow.”

He made it there as well.

“However, as usual, my father wasn’t positive about it. He labelled it ‘sattabaaji’ and was afraid I would start gambling.”

But stubborn to experiment with new opportunity he had just bagged, Mr. Nathwani moved to Baroda. This is also when he rolled out a new business of STD and PCOs.

“I set-up 140 PCOs at that time, employing 1 person at each booth. I would get done from the stock market at around 6 pm and focus on this business.”, he says.

With no experience in stock exchange, how did he go about learning the business?

“I made huge losses! I started with a capital of Rs. 22 lacs and made a loss of Rs. 40 lacs in just one day. Everyone had advised me to not make any speculations on the day when the central government Budget was being announced, but I did and had to bear the burnt.”

With a support of Rs. 8 lacs from his relative, Nathwani got back up and recovered the loss, learning the nuances everyday. With young Dhanraj, Nathwani’s wife was one of his strongest support then.

A strong believer in Lord Krishna, his office has a huge section allotted to a glorious sculpture of the deity. The rest of the space is adorned by either his personal photographs or that of Mr. Dhirubhai Ambani.

 

“He is my inspiration”, he says pointing to one of the portraits of Mr. Ambani. He takes me for a walk across three rooms of his office, showing me several pictures and telling me stories behind them. He stops by one of his first pictures with Dhirubhai and re-counts his first meeting with him.

“Thanks to my cousins, I was working as a broker for two companies then – Reliance and Kotak Securities. One day I got a call from Dhirubhai’s office to meet him. I looked back at my work wondering if I had gone wrong somewhere. But my cousins insisted me to meet him nevertheless. First day at Reliance, I was faced by Dhirubhai, Mukeshbhai and Anilbhai. I was really overwhelmed, I had never thought I would ever get to meet them.”

Of what brewed then in the closed room, carved Mr. Nathwani’s fate as it is today. The Ambanis were facing difficulties in acquiring land and clearances for the refinery they wanted to set-up in Jamnagar, Gujarat.

“On my cousin’s reference for someone trustworthy for the job, they asked me to find out what was going wrong.”

Once again, with no experience in real estate & legal dealing, Nathwani took up the challenge because,

“They trusted on me with it. I had to do it.”

He tells me that he had no understanding of how land deals work.

“I was myself living in a rented bungalow in Baroda. I had no idea of legalities, but I trusted myself to learn all that.”

From someone born and brought up in a place like Mumbai, adjusting to village and villagers didn’t come easy. However, with help of some journalist friends, Nathwani found out trust as a major issue among farmers for not giving out land.

“Earlier the villagers were hesitant about dealing with a corporate. I am not sure if you’ve ever had an interaction with farmers, it is very difficult to get them to agree to you. I would clear one deal and the other day someone would make a small temple there.”

One after another, Mr. Nathwani began cracking all deals. All by himself for several months at a stretch, away from his family, Mr. Nathwani says that his only  companion was Dwarkadhish.

“I would go to Dwarka in bus as and when I got time. The Ambanis hadn’t committed any money to me till then, I was working purely because Mr. Dhirubhai had asked me to do it. I had spent around Rs. 3 lacs from my own pocket.”

When he went back to Mumbai, he was given another task of purchasing flats in Jamnagar, while the refinery was being set-up.

“That was another shocker. I had to purchase over 1000 flats around library for people who’d be working on setting up the refinery. I had to keep myself anonymous so that builders don’t realise it is Reliance buying, or they would hike the prices.”

And what about payment for the first task?

“I was hesitant to ask for my payment. I went up to the accountant and gave the receipts of my expenditure. I thought they are big people, they would have forgotten. But Dhirubhai called me up and gave me a cheque of Rs. 2 crore. That was the first time I had seen so many zeroes in a cheque payable to my name”, he shares.

He would go to purchase flats in auto-rickshaws, asking for loans and installments so he’d look “middle-class” to the builder.

“I bought one flat for myself, drawing the token amount account from a company I had incorporated just for the sake of it. 2 days later, I went up to the same builder asking for 3 more flats for my sister living in Canada. That is how I used to negotiate price. Eventually, I ended up buying the whole building-scheme of 120 flats. I closed the deal at Rs. 420/square feet instead of Rs. 500/sq. ft of quoted price. I would close deals for 50 flats everyday.”

No rocket science, only common sense, I think to myself.

“After I delivered this task, Mr. Ambani told me that I was no more an employee but an integral part of the company. Soon, I was given the responsibility of Reliance’s Jamnagar refinery. I readily took it up and shut down my other businesses. Since then, the journey has only been of growth. My father would then flaunt in-front of everyone how his son works with Dhirubhai! For the first time in my life, I had seen him carry pride for me”, he shares.

He tells me how he joined back Baroda Stock Exchange a few years back as an equity investor and served as the President for 2 years. He also became the Vice Chairman of Dwarka Devasthan Samiti, remained so until recently and contributed in great deal for development of Dwarka for almost a decade and half.

“I had to pay back to ones who’ve given me so much, somehow”

After I had put my picture with Mr. Nathwani on my social media, a close family friend told me how he had an opportunity of working with Mr. Nathwani during relief operations during Gujarat earthquakes. He told me how he had seen Mr. Nathwani spent sleepless nights at Anjar, arranging relief through Reliance fund in every possible way. When I mention about this in a follow-up meeting, he says,

“I don’t think that is even worth mentioning. Any human being in a situation like that and resources like Reliance and I had, would stand up and work to save others.”

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Entry in Rajya Sabha from Jharkhand, he says, happened to him by accident.

“I had never thought about it, really. Reliance had started its operations in retail (Reliance trends) and for a case of land dispute, I was sent to meet Jharkhand’s Advocate General. AG asked me wait for 10 minutes in the same cabin while he was having a conversation with a group of 8-9 MLAs, who were worried about the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections. Once the meeting was over, the advocate general asked me if I was interested. The offer was definitely tempting.”

So Mr. Nathwani motored down to Ramgadh in Jharkhand to explore the ‘offer’!.

“This was the first time I had been to Jharkhand, I didn’t know a single person there, not even their language. They asked me if I had filed ‘parcha’ (nomination). I was clueless.”

After filling up the nomination form, he had to arrange for an endorsement by 10 MLAs. Which he did within 48 hours.

Right after the nomination was filed, Mr. Nathwani was reminded of the “boss”.

“I felt very guilty that I hadn’t taken Mukeshbhai’s permission. I was in Delhi, staying at Meridian. I remember I made a call to Mukesh bhai from the lobby asking for an appointment to meet him. He asked me to come whenever. You see, we don’t have a relationship where I have to ask for his appointment. May be he sensed something wrong and in next 2 minutes, he called me back, asking if everything was okay. I told him that I have committed a mistake but if he will tell me, I will withdraw my nomination. He was surprised and elated and asked me to meet that day itself.”

Of the conversation, Nathwani shares just one thing that Mr. Mukesh Ambani said that hit him hard.

“He said – your victory or defeat is now Reliance and Mukesh Ambani’s victory or defeat. He very softly told me to go ahead with this only if I was sure that I would win or it would spoil both his as well as Reliance’s reputation. The elections were only 20 days away and he told me not to waste time at Mumbai anymore.”

Skeptical, Mr. Nathwani headed straight to Dwarka temple.

“I bowed down to Dwarkadhish’s feet and closed my eyes. My confidence was trembling because this was no more about me, it was about Mukesh bhai and Reliance. In one moment, I had a ‘go ahead’ signal from Krishna, I went back to Jharkhand and began preparing for my campaign. Like you know, I won the elections. I ensured to spend enough time in the state to understand its people, its problems.”

His victory did get him his share of negative media light about corporate honchos getting into politics for their benefits.

“There was a huge uproar about irrelevant outsider coming in their state. I promised that I will open my office on the next working day and start working for the people. You can now Google, about the work that I have done for the people of the state.”

Mr. Nathwani hands me a few reports that speak of several initiatives he initiated. He shares various controversies with the state government and the task to have them in his favour. He was re-elected in the next elections as well.

“Reliance has been fully supportive of my work at Jharkhand. Managing my time with my job at Reliance and with my tenure as MP, wouldn’t have been possible without Mukeshbhai’s support.”

Mr. Nathwani, as Chairman, Reliance Rural Development Trust (RRDT) created village infrastructure viz. Aanganwadis, Panchayat Offices, Community Halls, Roads, drinking water facilities, etc in 5000 villages of Gujarat.

As our conversation converges, Mr. Nathwani shows me various pages of his diary that he has written – everyday journal, his experience with Mr. Dhirubhai Ambani. It is in this conversation when I get to know that he is also a vice president of Gujarat Cricket Association and shares that his next aspiration is to be in BCCI with a greater role.

“I have been a cricket fan since my childhood! You see my left eye is damaged…I damaged the retina while playing in my younger days. I couldn’t play for Ranjit Trophy because of circumstances and that is something that still pinches me. To fuel my passion for cricket, I am currently working with GCA”, there is an apparent spark in his eyes again as he speaks about the sport.

Talking about one regret he has in his life, he says,

“I could not enjoy Dhanraj’s (son) childhood because of my work. He was completely raised by Varsha (wife). He secured admission in a college in London and till the time when he was leaving, I had no idea about it.”

Mr. Nathwani recently lost his mother to age. Recalling of her, he shares,

“In my college days, I took up the habit of drinking beer with friends. I drank 3 bottles on Diwali. My mother figured and had tears in her eyes. She made me swear on her to never drink again. Since then, I’ve attended and hosted several parties where alcohol is served, but I have never touched it.”

“What is one thing that life has taught you?”
“Believe in the almighty, take chances and do not settle.”

7 months ago 1 Comment Views

Rahul Narvekar — Dejected boy from a Mumbai chawl to creating a company valued at 85 million USD

He got on stage at the IAMAI conference, began narrating his story and two minutes after he started, I knew I wanted to tell you his story.

In 20 minutes, this man managed to mesmerise every single person in the audience. There was no powerpoint, no bullet points, no speech prepared. Just a story — A story right out of his latest travel diary. He talked of fear, of passion, of adventure. He didn’t speak much about his stints with startups, yet, he managed to infect everyone with the essence of entrepreneurship.

Meet Rahul Narvekar. He is a well-known name in the entrepreneurial ecosystem for his work with Fashionandyou and Indian Roots.

After IAMAI conference concluded, we caught up with Rahul and settled down at a coffee shop of the venue.

“Yes, what do you want to know?”, he asks. His tone tells me he is well-acquainted at giving interviews. Why not.

“Umm…people know everything about you as an entrepreneur. You are quite famous. Tell us about you.

“Hmm..that’s a tough one.”

He pauses for a few seconds and The Vadapav club is the first thing he chooses to speak about.

“It began 15 years ago. Delhi mein na, Mumbai wale bohot crib karte hai for the quality of Pav. Woh maza hi nahi ata yaha wale bread mein.” (Mumbaikars, living in Delhi, crib a lot about the quality of Pav(type of bread). The Pav available here is just not the same as in Mumbai)

A Bombay boy living in Delhi Narvekar decided to form a community of Bambaiyas to connect over Vadapav.

“We sourced Pav from Mumbai and invited other Mumbaikars in Delhi — we just eat vadapav, keemapav, bhajipav, have beer and bitch about Delhi. It’s like a reason for us to get together..you know — paav aya hai asli wala.”

Typical Mumbaikar in Delhi.

“Initially, it was all friends from media coming over, then the word spread out and CEOs and CXOs started joining in, now it is a lot of startups. It is a good mix. We make nice chutneys and vadas. This time we are planning a big vadapav bash — pool-side, dance bar setting wala”

We share a hearty laugh before he instantly begins to speak about his childhood.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=”Read: http://goo.gl/W9YCjD”]Mein paida hi fighter hua tha[/inlinetweet]. My mother had a miscarriage once before I was born, so my chances of being born were slim. When that happened, I was born premature. There was little hope for me to survive but I did. The doctor, Mr. Bhatia, nicknamed me Pehelwan. Growing up, I suffered from double pneumonia, had to lose a year at academics. Fight hi raha hai.”

He takes a brief pause, fidgeting with his phone.

“The reason I am telling you this, is that this is one important trait I think I’ve carried from my childhood. I have fallen several times, but I have always bounced back.”

Rahul was born in a small room in a chawl in Mumbai.

“My father worked in a rubber factory, which closed down during the Great Bombay textile strike. With the leadership qualities that he had, we were a very well respect family in the chawl but with the mills shutting down, it all fell apart. For the next 3 years, I clearly remember, we were the poorest family of the chawl. I was the eldest of my siblings, which meant that I was not only aware about what was happening but at the same time responsible for it too.”

Rahul’s parents would do odd jobs to run the family.

“My father would take up chuttak kaam(freelance work) and my mother would make some money from sewing. Despite the financial condition, they ensured that we got a decent education. Earlier, I was enrolled at Xavier’s, however, I was moved to a little un-fancy school — Sardarni Pratap Singh Janta Vidyalaya.”

The spirit that Rahul had, however remained constant. Rahul was a topper throughout irrespective of what school or what class it was. He was one of those students, who prepares notes anone year in advance while you’re busy figuring out what weird sport to join these summer holidays.

“I was a fast learner”

Rahul shares the story of how his love for reading and lack of money made him a quick reader.

“I loved reading, but paisa nahi hota tha magazine ya books kharidne ka (But I didn’t have enough money to purchase books or magazines). I would want to read TIME and Fortune so I would go to this raddiwala’s (Scrap dealer’s) place and would scurry caches of these magazine from it. These papers with words on it were my inspiration. The articles gave me hope to reach where people they wrote about were. I never stopped dreaming.”

This constant consumption of well composed information turned Rahul into the odd one out, he found it difficult to gel with friends that his school or neighbourhood had to offer. He was good at studies and tight at money. A really weird spot to be in.

“People living in the Chawl used to watch movies together by collecting money to rent a VCR, and I chose not to attend. I was very clear, we were not in a condition to pay and if we weren’t paying, I wouldn’t watch.”

Adversity came as an opportunity for Rahul. While everyone would watch movies, with nothing to do at home, Rahul picked up any book that he could get his hands on at the time.

“The Raddiwala(the one who recycles books and papers) gave 2 hours to read anything on the spot, for 4 aana(25 paise or 1/4th of a rupee). So I’d read things as fast as I could to avoid paying extra and this is what gave me a phenomenal reading and assimilating speed.”

There were times, he says, when he used to ride the local train longer just because the book was interesting.

“What was your favourite subject at school?”, I ask.

Top toh har subject mein karta tha mein(I used to top in every subject), except maths.”

“Why?”

“With other subjects, I could teach myself. But with maths, I had to understand it at school, which I couldn’t, because my eyesight had gotten weak. I couldn’t see what the teacher would write on board.”

At this point, Parth, who had also joined us for the interview, remembers he has to be at some other place. He gets up to leave and waves a cordial good-bye to Rahul. In an all-together different zone, Rahul mumbles,

“Dost, baad mein aram se baat karte hai hum. Abhi mein thoda bachpan mein hun.”

Rahul continues telling us about his childhood. A faint smile crosses his face as he recalls an incident.

“Our school transitioned from half pants to full pants — green trousers and light cream shirt. We were all dark kids and it looked horrible on us. So when my mom asked me to buy the fabric so she could sew it, I bought the cheapest one available. She made a nice pant out of it but on first wash, the bloody thing shrunk to a shockingly smaller size. And I had no other option but wear it to the school everyday till it was worn out”, he describes tragicomically.

In the chain of comical instances he describes an incident at school, I couldn’t let slide.

“I was such an idiot at that time, this one girl wrote me a love letter. I went to her and pointed out all the grammatical errors in the letter. It didn’t stop there, I even showed it to my English teacher, dekho ye Sangeeta ne likha hai(look what Sangeeta wrote to me).”

I ask him about his college years. He recalls yet another incident.

“One day there was this girl in our class, Rashmi. She asked me out by sending me a ticket for the movie via her friend. Woh time pe ese hi hota tha(In those times, this is how it happened), people in the chawl gathered around because I was refusing to go out on a date with a girl like Rashmi, as I did not have shoes or good clothes. These guys arranged Reebok shoes, brand new shirt for me and collected some money so that I don’t go empty handed.”

Rahul pursued a B.A. in economics from KJ Somaiya. He shares one of the incidents, which he believes formed a cornerstone of his professional career.

“I had never attended lectures by this one professor who taught political science. Since I used to read a lot, I was always updated with the latest information. In the exam, there was some question that I had answered, which was factually correct but opposed to regurgitating the textbook.”

The professor called him up and to what Rahul presumed would be to scold him, he advised him to participate in debates.

He then moved to KC college, since he didn’t have enough money to pay for the fees. This is where he wrote a policy paper on technology that would be used in politics in the future. Pramod Mahajan got hold of this paper and that got Rahul a call from BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party) for a project. But somehow at that time he couldn’t get associated with them.

Rahul took up a sales job during his college years to survive.

“Working, studying, and trying to survive, were the three things I juggled with, simultaneously. During my stint as sales person, I learnt how to compartmentalise to manage time. Hustle karna sikha diya uss waqt ne.” (That time of my life taught me how to hustle)

Rahul took up several small jobs, like that of a delivery boy, working as a ward boy in the night shift, selling crackers.

“I’ve also sold watermelons”, he adds.

Rahul took a break from his college to pursue a full-time entrepreneurship course from Burhani Institute of Business Entrepreneurship.

At this point of time he was also working at TSN(Tele-shopping Network) with Ronnie Screwvala, attending customer calls from 6:30 PM to 2.30 AM. Even though teleshopping is considered a fad these days, Ronnie Screwvala, brought in what was a revolution in the media industry by introducing the Network channel into the unichannel environment. One of the most famous products included the Roti Chef.

With his experience at sales, he constantly questioned his faculties at how theoretical cases of a different country were being taught here without any context whatsoever. This led to his exit from the college.

“Eventually I was asked to leave as I would always question the curriculum and the pedagogy. They were teaching a10 year old curriculum and with marketing and entrepreneurship, the change is so rapid that it was not at all in line with the current practices! Since I was studying on a scholarship, the authorities thought I was being a rebel despite them paying for my studies.”

Around this time, Rahul experimented with his first venture — Yash Advertising, which dealt with selling advertisements on cable.

The onset of this channel brought a new wave of placing ads though cable companies via independent certification.

“Though we managed to scale the operation, we couldn’t sustain. Plus, cable is a different industry, usually run by mafias. Getting through them was tough

His next plunge was at starting Channel Oxygen with 5 other friends. This was in 1999, India was introduced to its first online jukebox.

After another short stint as a trainee screenplay writer with Anurag and Abhinav Kashyap, Rahul moved to Delhi. He joined an agency there and was preparing to tie knots with Pallavi (a popular RJ).

“On the day of our wedding, I lost my job. We even had to give up our honeymoon plans”, he shares.

After a few more stints here and there, Rahul did an executive MBA program from IIM-Calcutta to gain more knowledge. Pallavi, who was one of the topmost RJs then, gave birth to their son.

“She was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis — a neuromuscular disease that caused her to lose her voice temporarily.”

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation later — Pallavi bounced back. However, Rahul had quit his job to be by her side. Talking of that phase, Rahul shares,

When both of us were doing well with our professional lives, we were “the” couple in all Page 3 parties of Delhi. But soon after her illness, we became nobodies. We didn’t have the so-called ‘right brands’ by our side. Thanks to yoga and pranayam, Pallavi made a miraculous recovery.”

Rahul joined DLF and then co-founded Fashionandyou.com in 2009. However, Pallavi’s illness relapsed and Rahul decided to quit again.

Around 2013, while Palllavi was on her way to recovery, Rahul happened to meet representatives from NDTV who were enthusiastic to launch an e-commerce portal to sell ethnic and designer wear all over the world. Rahul took up the opportunity and launched Indianroots in 2013. After raising 5 Million USD last year, Indianroots’ current valuation is 85 million USD.

Hmm, I know this story. It is everywhere. The story of this rising star is everywhere.

“Have you ever been put down by people?”

He takes a long pause.

“Going by the socially defined gestures of putting down, yes, I’ve been put down many times. So many times that I became immune to it. But I’ll tell you this one thing — it is always my choice. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=”http://goo.gl/W9YCjD”]Saamne wale ne mujhe kuch dia, mujhe lena hai ya nahi lena, is my choice. [/inlinetweet]Encouragement milega toh lunga, insult milega toh nahi lunga.”

Rahul comes back to the current day, tells me that he has recently taken an exit from Indianroots. So what next?

“I am figuring out. My agenda for this year is to have atleast 2 friends in every tier 2 and tier 3 city of India”, he says.

For a final wrap, I ask him to share some key learnings from life. He shares,

1. This comes from the time I worked with Ronnie Scewvala at TVC. It was a small office, he was the boss. But for everyone, he was Ronnie. He would often come and chat with the sales team, the one that I was a part of. He would regularly ask us what customers were saying and would use it as a feedback to structure the business better. I learnt from him the importance of listening to your customers something that has always helped me make a business work.

2. Life has made me a fighter. Like I said in the beginning, bohot baar giraya hai life ne. But I have learnt to gather myself back up and bounce back. My upbringing has taught me to never shy away from hard-work.

3. Agar success chahiye, toh besharam bano. Ask. Shamelessly.

I hope Rahul’s story inspires you, encourages you to stand up and fight back — fight back with all those adversities and limitation that are holding you back to be the best version of yourself. Like he did. And I hope Rahul’s story motivates you to encourage those around you to make their dent in the universe, no matter what.

Do you think you have a story that could inspire several out there? Email us on contact@chaaipani.com, or join us on Facebook and Twitter (@chaaipani). To get inspiring stories on WhatsApp, just drop your number here.

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9 months ago No Comments Views
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