Kandaswamy Bharathan Professor, IIM-Ahmedabad and Executive Director, Kavithalayaa Productions relates how he helped design and start a course on the business of films in Bollywood
In 2008, Kandaswamy Bharathan, film producer and an alumnus of IIM-A, got a surprise phone call from his alma mater. The institute’s management wanted his help in designing and delivering a course on the Indian film industry. A course on the business of films was unheard of but then that was precisely the reason the institute wanted to start it.Though Kandaswamy had never taught before, the institute believed his experiences in the film industry coupled with his management degree would help in creating a comprehensive course.
“The institute approached me as I am familiar with the style of teaching at IIM Ahmedabad and also have extensive domain knowledge and experience, from working as an executive director at Kavithalayaa Productions,” says Professor Kandaswamy, now a visiting faculty at IIM-A.
Professor Kandaswamy joined Kavithalayaa Productions, a Chennai based production house, in 1991 and since then has produced films and television shows in four languages—Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi. The brainchild of veteran filmmaker and Dadasaheb Phalke Awardee, Dr K Balachander, Kavithalayaa Productions is hugely popular in South India for films such as Roja, Ek Duje Ke
Liye and Muthu and introduced stars like Rajinikanth, Kamal Hassan, and the music genius A R Rahman.
Though it came as a surprise, the idea of the first ever course in India on the business of films hooked him to the project. And thus was born the course— “Contemporary film industry—a business perspective”.
“Bollywood is fast maturing as an industry, yet until now no one had looked at the production of films from an educational perspective. Even institutions such as Whistling Woods, Film & Television Institute of India and Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute, only impart training in acting, direction and editing.”
Explaining why it is important to have a course on the business of films he adds, “The Indian film industry is the biggest in the world in terms of number of annual productions with an output of 1,000 films in 16 languages. It stands to reason that this burgeoning sector will need qualified professionals in the years to come.”
Challenges of designing a relevant course
Putting together a course that would hold the attention of students was the least of Prof Kandaswamy’s worries. It was actually the fact that anything related to films is so entertaining that became one of his biggest worries. He says: “One of my biggest challenges is finding ways to engage students in an academic way.” Creating a new syllabus was another challenge. “Being the first course of its kind in the country there was no ready material for reference. Listing the course modules was easy but initially, I struggled to put together material for 90-minute long lectures,” he recollects.
To prepare relevant material he turned to the West for ideas. “Universities in the US like Wharton, Kellogg, Colombia, UCLA offer well-designed courses on the movie business. But their courses are based on practices in Hollywood, which is much more mature than the Indian film industry. But studying their concepts was a good start. I adapted their modules to Bollywood and added new concepts and
the best practices in the Indian film industry,” he shares.
It’s been five years but Professor Kandaswamy believes his course is continuously evolving and will continue to do so —“It’s important to give the course a fresh look every year. I pick new examples and applications to illustrate the concepts. This keeps the course relevant.”
Highlights of the course
While the course keeps evolving the following features are a constant:
COURSE CONTENT: Students learn about production, financing, marketing and the human resource management aspect of films. They are taught to look at films as products—to be creatively designed, efficiently produced, financed at the optimal costs and innovatively packaged and marketed across multiple channels to maximise ROI.
MANAGEMENT LESSONS: When students study the concepts of popular Indian and overseas films they also learn management
lessons. For instance films like Chak De India and Border send out a strong message — building great teams is essential for success. In context, students also understand the role films play as sociocultural communication tools. Although making films is essentially a creative process, it brings together a medley of professionals including non-creative ones.
TEACHING PEDAGOGY: Students are taught to build business strategies for films through “virtual movie business workshops”- an experiential learning methodology. Working in groups of 6 or 7, students attempt to produce a virtual movie. They ideate a story, write a business plan for the project, decide who they would cast in the film and create a detailed marketing plan including publicity posters.
“They do everything, but shoot the movie,” explained Professor Kandaswamy. Nevertheless, he encourages students to create 90 to 120 second trailers for their projects using interesting related footage and/or animation. “Nothing beats getting your teeth into a project to learn both about the art and business of films,” observes the professor explaining the rationale behind his teaching methodology.
Two interactive guest sessions are also an integral part of the course. One visitor is from the creative side of movies and the other is someone dealing with the business of films. Aamir Khan, Karan Johar, Madhavan and Dhanush (of ‘Kolaveri Di’ fame) have delivered lectures to students as guests from the creative side, A recent guest from the business aspect of films was Sudhanshu Vats, CEO of Viacom 18 Media.
Growing takers for business of films elective
At a global conference on management education, held in IIM-A in July 2011, the course “Contemporary film industry— a business perspective” was recognized as an “Innovation in management education in India.” “This course exemplifies how management education can be made more interesting and relevant for our time,” says Professor Kandaswamy.
Its success is best reflected in its growing numbers of takers. In 2008, barely 25 students registered for the course, and that too, “mainly out of curiosity,” says Professor Kandaswamy. The ensuing year, enrolments reached 70 and by 2010, registrations had crossed 100, a healthy number for an annual intake of 440 in the management programme.
In the current year, Professor Kandaswamy is teaching two batches of 135 students. “It has become the elective with the highest number of registrations,” he notes with satisfaction.
Business schools across India have taken note of the course and as a result Kandaswamy has started a similar programme in ISB, Hyderabad, and IIM Lucknow. He is also delivering guest lectures on the film industry at other IIMs. Very soon, Professor Kandaswamy will also launch a parallel course in the business of television. This elective, to be offered to second year students of IIM-A’s flagship post-graduate management programme, builds on the growing viewership of daily soaps, talk shows, reality and game shows, music and dance programmes and film-based programmes.
It will provide an insight into different business trends in the electronic media. Many leading Indian television channels are already hiring regular MBA pass-outs for their marketing and advertising functions. A formal course in the business of television will help to prepare students better and also make them job ready