Lessons from Bollywood for Indian IT industry

Updated: Dec 31 2013, 20:43pm hrs
I admire Bollywood for many valuable management lessons, particularly for us in the Indian IT industry. Take for example the idea of reinventing oneself. From silent movies to the talkies, from black and white to Technicolor, from analog to digital, from cinema halls to multiplexes, Bollywood has made sure that technology has never stayed more than a step ahead of the film business at any time. The same has been the case with storylines; it is amazing how scripts have changed even as the boy-meets-girl core is a constant. Fifty years ago, Bollywood wove magic and mesmerised audiences with stories of Rani Sahibas and the Raj Mahals;

today it covers a wide canvas from cricket patriotism to counter insurgency, and does not shy away from topics such as mental illness, homosexuality and caste-based violence. The heroes and heroines, villains and vamps have been constantly reinvented; stereotypes have been challenged with consistent regularity.

In all these, people usually forget to note a fundamental thing: that Bollywood has never seen shortage of great talent; there never was a famine for any single category, from light boys to music arrangers to editors to screenplay writers. But most significantly, there was never ever a dearth of heroes and heroines. The industry has consistently produced great talent and has a superb sense of overlay and smooth transition so that never ever anyone had to wonder what would happen after one superstar or the other was gone. Prithviraj Kapoor to Amitabh Bachchan to Ranbir Kapoor, from Madhubala to Madhuri Dixit to Deepika Padukone, there has never been a moment of anxiety about who would fill anyones shoes. People have certainly mattered, giants have been born but they have not made themselves indispensable.

As a result, the industry has prospered; it has remained recession-proof, it has globalised, and it has remained aspirational. Like everything else Indian, dynastic advantages have been there but those alone have not helped anyone to get to the top, far less, stay there. Audiences and hence, producers, have been cold to anyone foisted upon them who did not bring more than DNA to the party. But fantastically, Bollywood has done two remarkable things with unwavering consistence: it has mentored new talent, and though it has challenged these new actors so they can earn their own place, there are several stories even in this heroine-eat-heroine world about how older talent has showed younger ones how to act, and sing, and edit, and manage the supply chain of the celluloid. The other thing that Bollywood has done remarkably well is that it has celebrated its success and glamourised work. It has created its own Oscars, and wiping a tear under the strobe lights while delivering an acceptance speech is as aspirational as having sold-out shooting dates.

The Indian IT industry has done the country proud through its many achievements over the last four decades but today, it needs to pause and reflect on what it wants to be in the decade ahead. In doing so, we, in the Indian IT industry, should learn a few lessons from Bollywood. While Bollywood has never lost a beat when it came to talent transition, we wonder about what will happen to company A and company B after this leader and that is gone;

unlike our thespian friends, ours is a progressively ageing industry in which heroes and heroines are ageing as against getting any younger. Unlike Bollywood, we have seldom seen our leaders from different companies come together in public events where young people can see them and sigh and gasp and one day outgrow them and do even better. Mentoring has been, by and large, HR jargon; our industry hasnt seen learning as the very intense, personal and sometimes private affair that is endemic in tinsel town.

Interestingly, and more than ever before, 2013 has been the year of leadership departures for many Indian IT companies. Never before have we seen as many senior people make news leaving companies than for their unusual new passion in life or a major contribution in or outside work. Many high profile departures involved abrupt, clumsy handling between the employer and the employee; some have been self-immolation at the public square, not knowing that such acts make news only for that day. As an industry we have not learnt to handle fame.

The future of the Indian IT industry depends on several things: like Bollywood, we must know how to continuously reinvent ourselves; like Bollywood, we must learn from unusual new sources. Like Bollywood, we must consistently bring in fresh new talent to positions of leadership, and while we compete fiercely for every role, we must build a celebratory culture, shake hands and laugh and hand over the awards to each other. We must spend more time with our next generation so that they push the envelope further and finally, our leaders must learn to say their goodbyes with grace and know how to ride into the sunset, just a little before the audience asks for it.

The writer is chairman, Mindtree