When I joined my first job at ITC (after my MBA), after the customary selling ITC products on a bicycle in the Ahmedabad June heat for two months, I was told that I was going to be part of a core team to launch a new cigarette brand in the whole of Gujarat. I was thrilled at the responsibility and worked for another month with my boss to figure out a project report – ‘To launch the new brand across lakhs of retailers in Gujarat, how much time would it take, and how much would it cost, including all media costs”
It took us around 30 days to figure that it will take around 72 days and around Rs. 44 crores (this is the 1990’s). The head office in the picturesque Virginia House, Kolkatta, took around a month more to approve that plan and we got down to work. Finally, the brand was a big success, launch in 69 days, and under Rs. 40 crores.
It was my first big project, achieved under budget and under timelines and I went and hugged my boss- the pipe-smoking half Brit with a handlebar moustache. He looked at me up and down for manhandling him in front of everyone and said in his clipped accent “Sandeep, we did add buffers, didn’t we?”
I learnt my first lesson in professionalism. To be able to plan and predict accurately is not an achievement if you want to be world-class. It’s hygiene – par for the course.
Years later, I moved into ad filmmaking and believed the first budget that was given to me by my line producer. I asked him – ho jaayega na? He replied with a cryptic – Sir, aap start karo!
I started and ended being 5% over budget. And I was hugged by that line producer for ‘us managing within the budget’
I made scores of ad films after that, and soon enough learnt the 10% rule in Indian Film making. Whatever the final budget with buffers, presume it will go at least 10% higher. And overshoot timeline by the same percentage. Or more. That’s fine. Accept it. If you want to be accepted.
Then I did my first feature film ‘Manjunath’, in which apart from being director, I was also designated as co-producer. The same budget tolerance of 10% in a feature film means crores of rupees – money that my dad didn’t earn in his entire life. All this while I had been told that ‘it’s a creative field, so the director can have a change of mind, therefore things go over budget’. But I was the director’ of Manjunath, and I didn’t change my mind. And most of the decisions didn’t even involve me. Why would I even be bothered with which hotel my unit of 60 would stay for 45 days in Lucknow? Or even where we got the camera from, as long as it was as specified?
I realised I had been fed rubbish and I had digested it thinking I don’t know enough. A lot of times, it was just a lack of planning, or plain inefficiency, or kickbacks, or just not enough information.
I’ve seen the COO of a top studio tearing his hair out for a large budget film of Rs. 50 crores budget going over budget to Rs 60 crores, and no one batting an eyelid. And the blame being laid at the door of the top star in it, who would probably count as one of the most professionally managed stars around.
This has got to change! We cannot be the largest film-making economy in the world and be so archaic in how we make those films.
Then I met Rajesh Butta, my BITS Pilani batchmate. Unlike me, he had remained loyal to the tech field.
We discussed why all this may be happening, and he brought great technology insights on how all this can be changed slowly. So that’s how it came about – a combination of domain expertise, feet-on-street and technology.
Enough now! It’s time for a change.