After finishing Masters in English Literature, I did not see a clear career path that an MA in English could give, apart from becoming a professor. It was not exciting at all. Instead, I chose to do an MBA (1989-1991) from S P Jain Institute of Management & Research primarily because I've always had an entrepreneurial streak in me and also because I thought it would give me a definite career wherein whatever I had learnt from literature could be utilized in terms of consumer insights. It was during my MBA that I got a pre-placement offer from Colgate Palmolive. I joined as a management trainee and went on to become the product manager. It was then that I realised that there was a definite career in creative when it came to advertising.
Aha! an ad-filmmaker
All said and done, the role of a copywriter was restricted to only ideating and writing. Now, since I had directed plays in school and college, I would get a little frustrated with the kind of audio visuals produced because, many times, the ad-film directors would not explain the nuances of acting to the actors. I saw another opportunity for myself. I understood writing and performances. I decided to quit Lintas (after three years) and set up my own advertising production house called Creative Compass in 1999. I ran it fairly successfully for three years since advertisers found me a one-stop shop - I wrote the script, made it in a limited budget and delivered it.
The 22-minute canvas
In 2000, I was offered a job to write and direct a sitcom by an acquaintance, Kishen Bhutani, who was a famous voiceover artist in radio and advertising. Here was an opportunity to express my creativity on a 22-minute canvas. So, I took it up, wrote and directed the sitcom, Chonch Ladi Re Chonch. I realised how much more flexibility, freedom and fun there is in television compared to advertising.
I joined UTV Television as head of its comedy cell in 2004. The company was doing fairly well and there I steered Shararat, the magic comedy on Star Plus. Finally, the literature bug in me caught up once again after the copywriting stint. I decided to focus on writing and for a couple of years, I only wrote a lot for television shows in India and Indonesia.
As I was doing this, the business head offer at SAB TV came to me in 2007. The reason why MSM (the owners of SAB TV) wanted me was simple - I had done hardcore FMCG marketing for Colgate, had been a copywriter and an ad-film maker. Also, because I had run my own production house, I understood the intricate costing structure while shooting an ad. The third department was programming.
SAB TV was a wonderful opportunity to harness everything that I had done in the last 20 years and enjoy the 360-degree experience. The reason that I could exactly manage with far lower budgets compared to the GECs - or create a new genre within comedy and yet make a business success of it - is because of my hands-on experience across departments.