Midas Touch - Tanuj Garg

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When Tanuj Garg came on board Balaji Motion Pictures, he had his work cut out for him. There was no doubt that Balaji was a name to reckon with in the television industry and the intention was to ensure that the film division saw the same growth and success. The challenge was not only to enhance the strategy that had already been created at the company but also to make great films! Armed with great work ethic, intelligence, experience and strong principals, Tanuj managed to meet both challenges in a short span of time. Under his tutelage, Balaji Motion Pictures has spun out one commercially successful film after another. Along with his team, Tanuj is responsible for protecting and growing the Balaji brand, encouraging the creation of content that will be accepted and loved by audiences and make profits for the company. Tinsel Gupshup brings you lessons directly from the CEO – Tanuj Garg



TG: You came into Balaji in 2010 and you do seem to have the Golden touch – LSD, Once Upon a Time, Shor in the City, Ragini, Dirty Picture, Kya Super Cool…what is your magic mantra?

TGarg: See, I basically came on board after LSD had released and Ragini was midway. So I took over from the point of Ragini, Shor in the City, The Dirty Picture, Once upon a time in Mumbai along with the host of projects that will be releasing next year. I have been with Balaji for two eventful and very productive years now and, I should not be taking solo credit for the successes because it has been a team effort – Ekta, me and our entire team. I am extremely happy to say that in the past two years, Balaji has seen a complete turnaround in the film business – from what it used to be to what it has become now. We have fast tracked our growth curve and evolved exponentially. Balaji is now ranked amongst the top three film production houses and that is no small feat. I feel very proud that not only have I been a part of this phase but also a contributor to the company’s growth.



TG: Balaji is an established brand so when you came on board I suppose you had your work cut out for you. What were your priorities at that point?

TGarg: See when I came to Balaji, the company was only 2 or 3 films old. There were no formal teams and there was a bit of arbitrariness in the film area because the focus and specialization had obviously been in the television area. So at that point the priority and the biggest challenge were to sort of formalize the film making business for the company. The job was to put proper teams into place, create clear cut divisions, teams, responsibilities and job definitions. Most importantly, I had to take control over the company’s prior commitments and past projects. So my immediate task was to complete Ragini and Shor in the City because Ragini was about to start and Shor was almost midway. Once I had cleared the backlog, I could then start focusing on the new developments. You have to understand that it is not an easy process to build good teams because that does not happen overnight; it is an evolving and continuous process. So we started identifying the right team members – passionate, driven individuals who enjoy their work and understand the industry. At the end of the day, this is not a 9 to 5 desk job so the people we chose had to be the right fit for us and vice versa. Also, I wanted to instill a very positive, formal corporate culture because I like to run my part of the business in a very proper, methodical and formalized manner. So, I had to create an acceptance of a corporate culture and that was a task in itself. Next steps were of course getting people into the business, working on the new projects, putting them out, marketing them and most importantly building the brand of the company in the industry. We aimed to become a brand to reckon with and I think we have been able to create that for ourselves. So, now our job is to keep building on what we have created and take the brand to new levels.




TG: I read that you are a ready adviser, critic and contributor. In a day and age when CEO’s like to take control and have the last word, can you tell us a bit about your work style?

TGarg: I don’t believe in getting complacent with success and it is true that I am extremely hands on with all my projects. Eventually, everything that happens is my responsibility so I tend to get involved to the extent of micromanaging a lot of things. Sometimes, it might not necessarily be the best thing to do and while I do delegate, there are certain core issues where I like to have the final word. So there are some key areas that I consider as very sensitive and I will oversee those areas, not because I am a control freak but because I am very particular about the finishing touches. I am very meticulous in that sense – I like to ensure that the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted. So, yes I am very hands on and I do believe it is extremely important to delegate and empower your team. The other principal I follow is that of an open door policy. So, even though we have a formal hierarchy, I like to treat my organization as a fairly flat organization. I would much rather treat my team members as colleagues rather than subordinates. They know that they can walk into my office to chat to me, discuss issues and problems. So the idea is to have a flat, closely knit organization while maintaining certain protocol. However, the protocol should not become a hindrance in terms of the company’s growth.



TG: Instinct, gut, vision, research…what according to you is key in the selection of a subject?

TGarg: I think it has to be a combination of knowledge and guts. Both are just as important and it would be incorrect for me to say that it should only be guts or knowledge. Operating just on guts can be very risky and operating just on the basis of knowledge can make your thinking very narrow and straight jacketed. I have been in the industry for over a decade now and I would like to believe that I have elaborate domain knowledge of this business. Also apart from the experience, I am inherently a very instinctive and intuitive person. I consider it critical to be able to forecast a potential problem. So when something comes to me, be it a problem, a project or anything of that sort, the answer starts manifesting in mind almost immediately on an intuitive basis.  



TG: You have a MBA with a double specialization. What are your thoughts on higher education and business acumen?

TGarg: I completely disagree with the people who say that education is not necessarily important and start giving me names of people who are successful and might not have adequate education. There is always this debate about education versus experience or instinct. There is no doubt that there are people out there who are doing extremely well and don’t have MBA’s etc but I still believe that had they gone for a specialized degree, it would have given them that extra edge. There is just no substitute for quality education and that is what separates the men from the boys in any industry. I was very clear that I would go for the MBA because it gives you a holistic business perspective and you can apply that knowledge to any aspect of life. I do have a double specialization in Marketing and Strategy and there is no doubt that the degree has added shape and structure to the way I think, logic, analyze and reason. I don’t operate in an arbitrary manner and it is very important to have that rationality in your thought process. Also, an MBA really adds value in other areas such as presentation skills, leadership, human resource management, dealing with teams etc. People who are self taught might be successful but they might lack the finishing touches. I truly believe that an MBA polishes a person and that is the value addition aspect of education.







TG: Balaji does not acquire ready off the shelf films, you like to live the dream from the beginning. Has that been the business model at Balaji or is that something you brought in when you joined the company?

TGarg: Well, I’ll be lying if I said that I brought that business model into the company. See, Balaji is renowned for its formidable creative content on television. So, the company is a content creator and we wanted to replicate that philosophy in films as well. I believe that every studio in the world derives credibility, goodwill, market standing and reputation when it is known as a content creator and not just as a content trader. Balaji is an extremely creatively oriented and driven organization, you can see that in the kind of skill sets we possess, the relationships we enjoy with the talent in the industry and also the kind of driven individuals who work for us. We have established credibility for ourselves within a very short span of time so much that when the audiences see the Balaji logo, they know that there is a certain promise attached to the project. 



TG: I know that a lot of things fall under the umbrella of your job title but what excites you – making new movies, discovering new talent, a style of film making…?

TGarg: Well, when I started my career in the industry, I was involved in the creative and production aspects of film making. When I moved to London, I got into the business side of film making. So, I had the advantage and privilege of being exposed to all areas of the business – a 360 degree grasp, including an understanding of the international side of the business as well. This inherent advantage makes me much more confident and well equipped at my job. If you want to know what I enjoy the most personally then I’ll have to say that I find the entire marketing process very exciting! The entire marketing landscape in the industry has changed over the past few years. Now it’s all about innovative, specialized and concrete marketing. I work very very closely with my marketing team and I involve myself in their plans, visions and execution. A large part of marketing boils down to communication and presentation skills and I am very particular about oral and written communication. I like to make sure that my team members are writing proper mails, punctuated, grammatically correct, the use of proper terminology, vocabulary because these tiny things make a huge difference.



TG: Who is king in making a movie – the actor, the director, the studio, the producer?

TGarg: I would say that making movies is a very collaborative process. A producer has to very hands on and involved, similarly the actors and director have to be just as involved. It cannot be treated merely as a job.  Also because it is such a collaborative process, everyone involved have to be likeminded and passionate people. Once that fine tuning between the team has been achieved then you want to keep working with the same group. This is why certain partnerships in the industry work better than others because that ‘click’ or work chemistry is so hard to achieve. A lot of successful products are an example of quality team work whereas fractured teamwork will always show in a film.






TG: Impeccable taste is scripts, rapport with filmmakers, the ability to bring warring factions to a creative compromise? What factors contribute to making your work relationship with Ekta so strong?

TGarg: Ekta and I have known each other for a while now – close to a decade. Tusshar and I were friends and I got to know Ekta through him. So, by virtue of being in the same industry we kept in touch and every time I went to Mumbai or she came to London, we would catch up. At that time I was in the film business and she was actively involved in television. A couple of years down the line, once I had completed my stint with UTV and Viacom 18 in London, she asked me to come on board and look after Balaji’s film division. We understand each other because we have known each other for such a long time. Our work chemistry is very strong because we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. There are certain areas where Ekta expertise is absolute unparalleled and she knows that I excel in certain other areas. So, we complement each other very well and all those factors make it a strong working relationship.



TG: “A CEO’s success or failure will not be defined by whether he gets good people to work for him. It'll be determined by how good the projects he green-lights are and how good the execution is.” Do you think that stands true?

TGarg: I think what’s more important is to be able to get good people to work for me. Green lighting good projects is just part of the job so that is a given.  It is understood that the functional side of the business is to be able to put good projects together, market and distribute them well. So that is my responsibility but as a leader, as a CEO what is important is to be able to work with the right people and to instill a culture that is founded on professionalism, trust and faith.



TG: You had stated that every time a film fails marketing is made the scapegoat. Does that stand true?

TGarg: Yes, this is something I have noticed over the past few years. As a professional, it really disappoints me when people are quick to blame marketing or the lack of it for the failure of a film. I think marketing has become the most convenient scapegoat. I am not saying that marketing is always perfect and there are so many cases when it has not been up to the mark but what I vehemently oppose is blaming the failure of a film to poor marketing. To a very large extent, a film working or not working comes down to good or bad content. So if the content is not good, then trust me, no amount of marketing can save it. A bad film is a bad film and people need to realize where the fault lies. We are in the business of Cinema and that is all about passion and creativity. I have always maintained that we are a company driven by creativity rather than other aspects. Creativity is the foundation of our business. Yes, once you have excellent content, marketing can optimize the personality of a product and enhance its prospects. However, if a film has been rated 1, marketing cannot drive the rating up.




TG: Commercially successful or critically successful? What is more important for you?

TGarg: For sure commercially successful…at the end of the day we are not running a charity. We are a commercial organization and that comes above anything else. What I will add is that we have created certain films that have been commercially successful and received critical acclaims and appreciation as well. That gives us our brand an edge. Movies like The Dirty Picture, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, Ragini did very well and received excellent reviews as well. So our objective is to create quality content that is commercially successful.



TG: You are the co-producer in most of the films. How involved do you get in the creative aspects?

TGarg: By virtue of being the CEO of the company, I co-produce the films that the company creates. It is not humanly possible for me to get involved in all the nuts and bolts which is why we have departments that look after the fine detailing and creative aspects. My job is to see things at the holistic and macro levels and ensure that the visions of the teams are working well individually and in tandem with each other.



TG: 14 years in the media and entertainment industry…how has the journey been? Anything you would do differently?

TGarg: No. To be honest, with me, one thing always led to another. I never planned anything and things just kind of happened on their own. Call it luck, my abilities coming to the forefront, had work…I don’t know…but things have always just happened for me. Years back when I was in college, I was into freelance writing and that led me into becoming a freelance critic. I joined Applause Entertainment where I worked on a couple of film projects in the creative and production capacity. Then Ronnie got me involved in UTV and moved me to London where I was looking after the company’s overseas business, this was followed by Studio 18 and finally Balaji brought me back to Mumbai. So, one thing led to another and it has been a very successful journey marked by very quick growth and I am happy about that. At the point I became a CEO, I was the youngest CEO in the organized, corporate film industry. So, by the grace of God it has been very good and I plan to build on whatever I have achieved. 


You can follow Tanuj Garg on twitter: @tanuj_garg


Photo credit: Tanuj Garg & Balaji Motion Pictures


©Tinsel Gupshup

Nov 28, 2012
wow..fantastic interview..something which we dont get these days..am reading about tanuj for the first time..his words are quite inspiring..thanks TG :)..keep bringing more such stuff..!!!

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