By Meghna Ghai Puri
President, Whistling Woods International
All marriages are complicated, especially if the ‘partners’ are pulling in different directions. So imagine what I felt when ‘orchestrating a three-way marriage’ turned out to be the first challenge in my professional life.
Despite being the daughter of film director and producer Subhash Ghai, the creative or technical side of the film business never attracted me. But the management side did. After completing an Advanced Diploma in Communications, Advertising and Marketing and a degree in Business Management from King’s College, London, I was all set to storm the corporate world when I got my first and (hopefully) last job offer. My father wanted me to help him complete his vision – to marry art, technology and commerce to create Whistling Woods International, and make it a benchmark of Media, Communication & Entertainment education.
Right at the outset, we decided not to replicate any global educational model at WWI. To be unique, it had to be created from scratch. The metaphorical journey began with a physical one - a roundthe- world trip visiting scores of film schools and learning from them as much as they would divulge at no cost, and in many cases, at a cost. We looked at curricula, faculty profiling, infrastructure, facilities, educational models, student profiling, industryconnect models, campus designs and more.
Then came the big conversation with the Indian greats – from Shyam Benagal to Kiran Karrnik, from Anand Mahindra to Karan Johar, from David Puttnam to Ashutosh Gowariker. We did the rounds of almost everyone who mattered in India and abroad. Sometimes, we were welcomed with open arms, sometimes we were not.
The next stage was like assembling a millionpiece jigsaw puzzle with no base picture to help you put it together. That’s when the parties in the ‘three-way marriage’ started to pull in different directions.
Art said, “We have to introduce students to the aesthetics of film-making. They have to watch hundreds of films from the global masters and ensure that they have a deep understanding of the theoretical and aesthetic make-up of films, their social connect and how to convey layers of subtext in them. Films are not only about the box office.”
Technology said, “The next generation’s content will be determined by the technology they use. We need to look at the future, not at the past, and ensure that students handle as much technology as possible. If technology is not handled well, all the money and all the creativity goes down the drain, as people can’t see or hear anything.”
Commerce bellowed, “For too long, only 10% of the films have made money and more TV channels are losing money than making money. We have to educate students that this is the business of entertainment first. They have to be introduced to the real world of the industry and be informed that money makes a film, aesthetics and technology are assistants.”
Meanwhile, we set up technical infrastructure to match the future needs of the industry, drew faculty from among global giants in the field and developed a challenging international curriculum. The journey was so intense that I never really had the opportunity to step back and look at what we had created from a distance. Even as the Press praised the faculty and infrastructure of the institute, we were too taken up with our next challenge to notice.
In late 2010, ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ listed Whistling Woods International as one of the 10 best film schools in the world. It was a great surprise and allowed me a few moments to lean back, and take in the enormity of what I, with great support from my father, husband and a fabulous team, had pulled off.
A decade into it, I have realized that our efforts will never be complete. The kind of changes we are interested in bringing to the Media & Entertainment industry will not permit us to sit back and relax. My life’s goal, therefore, is to ensure that this three-way ‘marriage’ works!