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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



FICCI-FRAMES 18, V: Keynote address of Mr. Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom 18

FICCI-FRAMES 18, V: Keynote address of Mr. Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom 18

After Sunday evening’s inaugural, where Ms. Smriti Irani, India’s Federal (Union) Minister for Information and Broadcasting & Textiles, was in an Q & A with one of India's biggest film personalities, producer-director-actor Karan Johar, Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18, a leading TV and film company, started the day’s proceedings on the first functional day at the three-day Convention, FICCI FRAMES 2018, on Monday, the 5th of March.

“Once upon a time, a village was ruined by a strong earthquake. The villagers who survived had to move and over time the village grew deserted. Soon, a bunch of mice started inhabiting the village--it was perfect, some food leftovers, some structures--and a source of water nearby--a fresh lake. Over time, their numbers multiplied several times over. There were thousands of mice living in this village. Soon, a herd of elephants became aware of the location of the lake and started visiting it regularly, for their daily dose of water.

"Unfortunately, each time they would pass through the village inhabited by rats, and, in the process, end up trampling a few hundred rodents each time they came. The mice decided to hold a meeting, and the Mice King went to the ‘Elephant King,’ to address their problem. He said, “O king of elephants, please change your route, so that my brothers and sisters can live.” The Elephant King replied, “What can you do for me in return? The Mice King said--and I hope the folks from Disney don’t ask me for a royalty--this is an Indian Panchatantra mouse – not your kind of mouse--, “Elephant King, if you give me your word that you will change your route, I promise to help you in times of need. The Elephant King said--actually, why Elephant King?--Elephant Queen--let’s make her a queen--as a sector we mustn’t reinforce gender stereotypes—said, “You mice are too small to help us--but we will oblige and change our route.”

"Over the next few days, the mice again began to move around freely in what was now their village. A couple of weeks later, a bunch of ivory traders entered the vicinity--to trap and poach elephants. They had these thick, strong nets that they laid near the lake. When the elephants visited the lake next, next they were trapped. They were about to lose hope when the Elephant Queen remembered the promise of the Mice King. She asked the crane nearby to send word. When the Mouse King heard about the plight of the elephants, he immediately ordered thousands of mice to go to the lake. Over the next few hours, they nibbled away at the nets at numerous spots simultaneously. At first, it seemed impossible, but over time they managed to free the elephants.

"The moral of the story is simple: It’s not size that always matters. Sometimes, even a small mouse can be more important than a large elephant”.

“Now you might be wondering why I took ten minutes of your time, trying to remind you about a story that you might have read in the first grade, or even earlier--well, ladies and gentlemen, I want you to rethink our obsession with size. As industry leaders, we take pride in setting huge billion-dollar milestones, that, we hope will make others ‘respect and admire’ us more. We hope that the government will take notice of us--we hope that our boards and promoters will reward us--we hope that leading talent will work with us and so on. But if you step back and think about the linkages our sector has with other sectors---the role it plays as a force-multiplier--the sway we hold over our audiences--every Indian around the world---and others with a shared culture---we suddenly realise that we are far more important than a number or a target.”

“Think about it. Where is it that you first heard about the mobile phone in your hands? Why do you even use it? How did you come across the shampoo you used this morning? What did you do in the car while driving to this conference? Well for most of you, the answer will be some form of media, be it print, or digital or electronic.”

“Let me deconstruct this in terms of numbers--hard numbers. Our industry has added over INR 50,000 crore in output in the last five years, and has a revenue size of INR 130-135K crore. Indirect and induced benefits to the economy of the total industry size is ~INR 450K crore, with a contribution of 2.8% to GDP. The industry also employs, across both formal and informal sectors 1-1.2 million people, contributing significantly to India’s job creation.”

“Did you know that by several estimates, video streaming accounts for over 50% of total mobile internet usage in India? This is expected to touch 75% over the next 3-years. Today itself, the contribution of data to revenue from telcos stands at 20-25%. Imagine what will happen when VR becomes a commonplace phenomenon?”

“Travel & Tourism is a 150Bn USD industry, and a significant employer for the country. By some estimates, it is responsible for ~9% of the country’s jobs. Did you know that after Padmaavat (the controversial Hindi feature film that had to struggle to get even a partial release late last year), several newspaper reports indicated that the interest around Alauddin Khilji, the marauder-villain in the historical fiction)’s tomb in the Qutub Complex in Delhi has actually increased substantially?”

“Let’s look at the garment industry. Did you know that after Padmaavat---bear with me for bringing it up again---but we are---like all Indians--immensely proud of that project--has reignited an interest in Rajwada (royal) dresses. It’s too early to say, but it might even ignite a renaissance of sorts in age-old techniques of embroidery that would have otherwise been lost.

"There are other sectors – the satellite industry, Set Top Boxes and other equipment-- including telecom handsets, events, food and retail--that we drive.”

“While I stated earlier that the direct revenue generated by the media and entertainment industry is ~INR 130-135K crore, when considering the total economic impact including direct, indirect and induced benefits, our contribution is almost 3.5 times that, today. Imagine our multiplier effect when India becomes a 5 trillion dollar economy in the next 8-9 years!”

“There is another aspect to our industry that makes us special. I am talking about the nature of jobs that we can generate. Today we employ 1-15 mn Indians directly and indirectly. Let’s say we’ll add another million over the next five years. This might seem small, given our total workforce of 460 mn, but these are jobs are non-routine--meaning they are the least likely to be automated, given their nature. More importantly, most of these jobs will need ‘on-the-job training’--meaning that we don’t need to wait for our education infrastructure in the country to catch up.”

“You see, the question to ask is given our role as force multiplier, how much steam do we have left? Because, if the engine starts to weaken, it is obvious that our role, as a force multiplier, will also diminish. Well there’s a lot of good news on that front. Our ad-spend to GDP ratio is still 0.4% compared to 1% in developed economies. The total sector is ~1% of GDP compared to 2.5% or so in developed economies.”

“While our TV audience of 780 mn is bigger than that of the total population of Europe (745 mn), we still have only 64% penetration, with 183 mn households. With electrification (many Indian villages have no electricity) progressing at a blistering pace---imagine future growth.”

“Every time, we end up at the forums, we prescribe a to-do list for the government. This time I want to leave you with 3 things that we need to do---one for the government, one for us as the industry and the final one for us as society. From the government, my 'ask' is what I’ve been asking for some time now--an e-enabled single window clearance. This will go a long way in enhancing the ease of doing business and facilitate the growth of our industry even further. This is needed for films, events, licensing, et al.”

“We need to learn to collaborate as an industry. We need to collaborate with competitors at times so collaboration and competition can co-exist. The scale of industry is such that innovation and disruption is bigger than what any single one of us can achieve. It is only when we form partnerships....collaborate, that we can achieve greater heights. We need to become comfortable with data because we need to bring in more transparency, authenticity and objectivity to our data. If a new-age entrepreneur comes to us, we are sceptical of his idea or technology. If someone approaches us with a new way of measuring say our audiences, we are dismissive. We need to change this attitude. We need to change this mindset. Like the Queen Elephant and the King Mouse did. At our end, we have just started a pan-network engagement programme with start-ups where we partner and help them with validation--it’s called VStEP--the Viacom18 Start-up Engagement Programme. You can check it out at”

“Finally, my third ask is that as a society let us learn to laugh at ourselves, sometimes; loosen up a little. This is an industry that has creativity at its core and we will be able to scale greater heights when we learn to afford creative people some leeway. We must operate within a larger boundary towards our responsibility to society but be cognisant to not take ourselves too seriously, lest we stifle the creativity that lies at the heart of society.”

“I want to sign off by saying that let us, the media and entertainment industry, be the force multiplier for growth, the force multiplier for change."



About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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