Saturday, December 24, 2011

Up in the Air

I’m home. Finally.

After spending the last two weeks in India, I get another two weeks in Texas.  In my penny pinching mode, I neglected to review in detail the route that STA travel gave me on this leg home.  I ended up spending a full 24 hours in the air and several more in airport layovers…ugh.   I learned that joints will swell with prolonged time in the air, and my wonky ankle suffered quite a bit (gah…I’m ready for this to heal already).   Anywho, I made it home and am now playing Christmas catchup.   Over the next few days, I’ll make some more India-related blog posts.  Excuse the backwards nature of this.

On my flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta, I sat next to a gentleman who was also on my Mumbai to Amsterdam flight.  A few courtesy words ended up becoming a 3+ hour conversation (and I generally avoid talking to people on airplanes).   John noticed the mehndi (aka henna) tattoo on my hand and asked if I went to an Indian wedding.   I thought it was quite perceptive and clever for him to guess that.  Over the next few hours, I learned that he married an Indian woman, has two kids with her, and makes a family trip to India each year.  He also quit his engineering job and is investing his retirement savings into producing a Bollywood film that he wrote.  This piqued my interest, and I couldn’t help but respect the fact that he is pursuing his passion for film-making in the latter half of his career.   And, it’s quite impressive what he’s been able to accomplish as a white guy producing a film on India. 

He wrote a very touching story based on his own life experiences in the US and India as well as things he wanted non-Indians to learn about India.   He then found an Indian script writer who has been in the industry for 40 years to help polish it.    Then, he met with A. R. Rahman (Academy Award winning singer, songwriter, producer of Slumdog Millionaire fame).  Rahman couldn’t write the songs for John’s film; however, he offered the students of Rahman’s music school for this work.    John also has made several trips to find ideal shooting locations and local people to provide technical skills for the filming and production.   The casting has been a work in progress with several prominent Indian actors and actresses at least expressing luke warm interest in taking a role.  He even met with AB Corp. (Amitabh Bachchan’s company) and got a hint that Amitabh (the most famous Indian actor/celebrity) would make a cameo appearance.

This is incredible progress for a middle class American, and it just goes to show how resourceful we can be.  From my Paths to Power class this fall quarter, I learned to rethink the way I view the resources I have in my possession.  It is amazing to think what we can accomplish with the seemingly little that we think we have.   If you don’t believe me, check this out:   A man was able to trade a paperclip for a home.

John is making good progress with his film but still has a ways to go.  And then he found me in seat 23J.  I was able to help him out in a few ways.  Firstly, one huge constraint he has is funding.  The Indian film industry is quite interesting.  The message he has gotten is that funding will depend on whether he makes his film an American film or an Indian film.  It is likely difficult for most people to understand the differences.  However, the subtlety of this issue has enormous impact on funding and marketability.   Indian films tend to be colorful, romantic, fantastical, conservative, star-oriented, and predictable.  They are also in Hindi with English subtitles.  American films have more creative freedom, are less formulaic, and plot-oriented.   I helped John think through the tradeoffs in this big decision he has.  And it would make a fantastic business school case given the many issues and people involved. 

I also helped John edit the way he pitches his film to production companies and investors to make the message more “crisp”.  I think he’s got a great story, music, knowledge, potential.  But, it’s got to be packaged in a way that resonates with the people that will fund and distribute his film.

I’m no music afficianado, but he also asked me to give him my opinion on the soundtrack for the film (which he had on his iPod).  I was very impressed with what Rahman’s students made and the professional nature of it.  There are a few catchy tunes that have mass commercial appeal.  We also discussed various plot themes and scenes.  John and I both have 1) an American understanding of India and 2) first hand accounts of India and Indian culture.   I wish I could write about some of the very interesting and nuanced things that this film will show, but you’ll have to wait to watch the film ;).   The one thing I can say is that John has altruistic motivations to not only educate but enlighten audiences with his work.

And finally, I offered to introduce him to a classmate of mine who previously was an entrepreneur in the indie film industry in Hollywood. 

It was incredibly rewarding for me to help John out.  I enjoyed learning about the film industry and his experience.  And, I hope that my nebulous skill set as a former consultant, current MBA made a difference for him.  He needs all the help he can get, and I have my fingers crossed on this one.  

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what an interesting encounter. I will keep an eye out for such a film and your name in the rolling credits! All the best to John with his venture...