Business, creativity have to exist together: Zarina Mehta
UTV's co-founder tells Deepak Ajwani and Abhishek Raghunath how the network kept hits coming.
Education: BA Economics from St Xavier's College, Mumbai
Last Position: Cofounder and Chief Creative Officer, Broadcast, Disney UTV
New Position: Managing Trustee, Swades Foundation
Interests: Food, books, music
Q. You've been one of the cofounders at UTV. What's it like leaving it all now?
A: Letting go is the hardest thing to do in life. I thought I would never be able to do it. UTV was my first job and it is my last job. I have done it for 27 years. And leaving it has taken me four years. For the last four years I have wanted to do something different. I wanted to apply my mind to different problems. Earlier I would say every two years, 'I think I want to move.' But I never knew what I wanted to do next, so I never left. Then we sold UTV to Disney. That's when I thought everything will be fine if I leave.
Q. How does the creative process work for you?
A: Suppose there is no idea. You first speak to people and do your research. Then look at the numbers. Numbers speak to me. I can crunch numbers better than most people. We have charts and charts of numbers which tell us when to put our show, what's the demographic that's watching us, etc. Then we start talking. There's nothing like a good brainstorm. Call people from all over the organisation. When I used to brainstorm on Bindaas, I would call people from movie marketing, from Disney, and producers' ideas would come out. There are many ideas on the list and then I pick one. Now, don't ask me how I pick because even I don't know that. I just know that's the idea. It's probably 27 years kicking in. At that point, don't listen to anyone. Trust yourself and your instincts. So the process is like a pyramid. You have this base of ideas, then your inner team and finally you. Then your job is to go back and push your ideas down again: First to your own team, then your layers of teams and then the public.
Q. How do you balance creativity and commerce?
A: You need to give creativity equal value to commerce. Creative people need to understand numbers if they want to understand their audience. There is a purpose. If there is no purpose, why are you creative? Creative and commerce have to be in sync. When a Doraemon and Shinchan are rocking, I don't need to create new content. I need to market them. That's what I did. Creativity doesn't always have to be original content. And this is a content person talking.
Q. What's the next step for you?
A: I wanted to help people in a different way. It's been brewing in my mind for years, [I] didn't discuss it with anybody, not even Ronnie [husband]. We have this foundation called Swades. Our aim is rural empowerment through the best modern practices, technology and values. We have been working in rural Maharashtra for the last five years and impacted 70,000 people in 117 villages in Raigad district. Our plan is ambitious. We want to empower one million people in rural Maharashtra in seven years, the keyword being empower. We aim to spend around Rs 500 crore in the next five years of which Rs 250 crore will be from our foundation.
And if I don't do it now when I am 50, when will I do it?