Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Business of Drama

The charisma of Mr Sunil Vishnu K kept the audience captivated as he narrated each anecdote and hit the bull’s eye again and again. A native of Bhopal, Sunil is a graduate from Mudra institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA). Mr Vishnu is the co-founder of Evam Entertainment Co. which has been entertaining its audiences for the last 10 years.
He started his talk with a simple thought: ‘Education and learning are not the same. Learning is anywhere and everywhere.’ Here, he very subtly sent the message of knowing each other and working with people.
Neither a borrower, nor a lender be” –Shakespeare
He emphasised the need to be a man of your own respect and the importance of taking matters into one’s own hands.
He connected with his audience at DoMS 101 by explaining the dichotomy of society between which his world lies. His maternal side being the one which had little faith in his career so far while paternal one having an image a tad far-fetched. His initial education years were typical: merit lists, PCM average worries etc. While his interests clearly lay elsewhere like singing, working with people and acting, he settled with a B.Com degree rather than graduating as an engineer, doctor or CA. It was during his time at his CA classes he realised that he was stuck in a place he didn't like. This was when he decided to drop a year.
After researching about and applying to various colleges, he zeroed in on MICA. It was here that he got a feeling of belongingness. Although he faced a cultural shock, it was here that he met Karthik Kumar with whom he planned and executed first play. The subsequent ones followed suit. They got their first sponsor: Eveready from Kolkata for a play in Ahmedabad with Rs 5ooo as seed capital. And so followed four plays in Natrani, the local play theatre.
While learning about brands, marketing, theatre, as part of the course thesis topics that were popularly taken up by the students were the usual ones such as: ‘Will the Internet be the next media storm’ or  ‘Will Salwar-Kameez ever have a brand’. But Sunil wanted to do a thesis on the viability of theatre as a business. The response he got was: ‘You can’t make money in a theatre company’. But Sunil was not ready to give up yet. He wanted to try it. Aged 26 he saw no harm in failing and Karthik and Sunil decided to do a thesis on the viability of a company in theatre. After working for 2 years and saving about Rs 1 lakh each, he packed his bags and shifted to Chennai. Thus started his 10 year long journey, of entrepreneurship in arts in India.
He went on to explain his analysis of the current situation and issues faced by the performing arts in India- the alternatives, information available and perception of performers as well as organisers and finally the challenges for an entrepreneur who wanted to make a mark in the forgotten medium of theatre. He explained how venues proved to be the biggest cost of all and how each segment of the market was catered to. Often this industry is plagued with low funds and high competition which again showed greater need of better management expertise required for a venture which handled mostly amateur talent and where business models are non-existent.
The session settled into deeper insights of theatre such as relationship between different theatre players, international versus Indian plays and how Evam planned to tackle such issues. He takes pride in the fact that currently Evam works on 100% earned income. It comprises of only 7 employees and 2 art directors only. The decision to work for profit versus not-for-profit in situations demanding their presence led to him reveal the 30(breakeven shows)-70 (pre-sold shows) model of business being followed by Evam. He disclosed the number of projects as 30 on which an additional 23 people worked as a second layer. This layer had mostly youngsters who worked for less pay when they could easily get higher paying jobs elsewhere, but they were working for different reasons with Evam as Sunil explained. They were doing what they wanted to pursue and where they saw a future for themselves. Evam mostly recruits first year college students who evolve from ‘try- me-outs’ to full timers. They feel a sense of ownership and believe in leaving a mark.
Sunil’s plan to evolutionize India’s theatre is already in action as he explained. Evam has organised various tours, shows and fests such as the MetroPlus Theatre festival and many more. He has also plans to start an art school which he believes will bring a paradigm shift in perception in the minds of the audiences. ‘A Play is screened only for 1 weekend; a movie for 4 weeks. Which is more exclusive?’ argues Sunil. Some future theatre experiences to look out for are Improv(Second life in play) and 3D versus 4D.
Words of wisdom for the young class of MBA students gathered there were: ‘Be comfortable with the choices you make’ and ‘Be the change’. He encouraged the need to make more interesting life choices. He implored the budding entrepreneurs to involve themselves in the activity of business not for the money or risk, but for the love of doing it. They should keep asking themselves “Am I still in love?”
To sum it up, business as he perceived is about standing there and saying:
"I love doing this!"

Hakimuddin Rassiwala
Class of 2014

Photo Courtesy:
Vinod Ellamaraju
Class of 2014


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