Work from home could mean that these spaces would now need to be replaced by virtual interaction but given the nature of our work, hopefully this time will be used for creators to develop new content and work on new ideas,” says Meghna Ghai Puri, President, Whistling Woods International. Daughter of top Bollywood director, producer, and Screenwriter, Meghna brings to her job great passion for cinema and education. Under her leadership, Whistling Woods, today ranked among the top 10 film schools in the world, has transformed the way the industry works, by producing highly trained and educated talent to fill the ranks of the next generation of filmmakers. Meghna was speaking to Creative Brands about the idea of working from home in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Excerpts)

K. G. SREENIVAS

For the foreseeable future, most people are expected to be confined to their homes for what has been called ‘WFH’ or ‘Work From Home’. How does it affect the creative industry, where a person to person or team to team interaction in a physical sense is of the essence. Sure, technology steps in, in a big way — conference calls, zoom calls, Skype calls and so on. Does it alter the nature and process of creativity and its output?

MG: While collaborative work like shoots are of course affected, I think that the majority of creative industry jobs are similar to other industries. We have finance, accounting, and administration too. All these jobs can be done from home with the use of technology as an enabler. In fact, it is these jobs today that perhaps need a physical space where people can interact, find information, see bills, invoices, and letters for processing. Luckily, a lot of this is now also online but more creative roles, at least in our industry have never been about a physical space. People have met in coffee shops, clubs, and hotels to discuss and move business ahead. Realistically, work from home may mean that these spaces would now need to be replaced by virtual interaction but given the nature of our work, hopefully this time will be used for creators to develop new content and work on new ideas. 

Meghna with her father and legendary Bollywood filmmaker and producer Subhash Ghai.

CB: For some solitude — or social distancing, if you will, as is the norm now in the times of Corona — lies at the heart of creativity. Work from home might work well for the creative animals at the company or production houses. What of the other sides of the business — planning, account management, media management, budgeting, PR, and so on. How will the such a company as we know it, continue to work in a manner it hasn’t quite known?

MG: As mentioned, it is these parts of companies that perhaps will be hit the hardest as they would have needed a physical space to collaborate effectively. This is now done virtually and if the organisation is well drilled with conference calls, coworking platforms like Slack, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams, then they will have already moved a lot of their interaction to these spaces anyway. Scheduled and dedicated workers will ensure that this interaction is smooth and in the age of WhatsApp Groups, a lot of information needed for people to function effectively, is already online.

A view of Whistling Woods International at Film City, Mumbai.

The hope is the industry does its bit to protect workers and the most vulnerable at this time and then depending on the scale of the situation after Corona, works with all the stakeholders to ease the pressures on companies in the short-term. It is a time for us to stick together for humanity and I would urge everyone to be compassionate and responsible
by doing their bit.

— Meghna Ghai

CB: WFH is likely to stay for a while now. It is a seismic change, no less. How are diverse organizations such as yourself going to manage — getting used to new ways of working, new routines, new ways of co-working, and even new ways of trusting and managing, without giving in to the temptation of micro-managing, and, of course, operational integrity. How do you visualize the whole picture?

MG: I think the key here is the last part. Trusting. When people are working from home, then you need to trust the work they do and understand that it is not the same as working in office. There are natural distractions and not everyone is lucky enough to have a room to themselves to work in. Therefore, flexible deadlines and deliverables need to be given which managers can check progress on periodically through coworking platforms. Intrusion can lead to a belief that you are checking up on someone but if you have a coordinated conference call every two days, like a meeting at office, then deliverables can be checked.

Meghna with her husband Rahul Puri. Puri is Head of Academics at WWI and is also the MD of Mukta Arts, the film production company, founded by Subhash Ghai in 1978. WWI is a subsidiary of Mukta Arts.

CB: From a business perspective, it’s perhaps going to be the most challenging, given that large parts of the world are going through what can be nearly called a full-blown recession. Brands need newer ways of communicating and stimulating the customer’s mind, markets need assurances and stimuli of their own, governments would need extraordinary political will and economic foresight to be able to ride the crisis. How do you see entertainment industry— digital or otherwise — coping with these challenges?

MG: The challenges are extensive. The industry will have lost at least two weeks and probably more than a month of earning potential. A lot of people see that films will be postponed and released at another time, and think so it won’t matter, but the reality is the next three weeks at least will see no production so loss of workers’ daily wages, no income for theatres, advertising on hold, and plenty of other issues. This offline income will not be compensated by more and more people hopefully tuning into streaming services or platforms. Therefore, there will be a big loss and the hope is the industry does its bit to protect workers and the most vulnerable at this time and then depending on the scale of the situation after Corona, works with all the stakeholders to ease the pressures on companies in the short-term. It is a time for us to stick together for humanity and I would urge everyone to be compassionate and responsible by doing their bit.