Sunday, December 22, 2013

Indian Bollywood Blockbuster Movie Magic: Ten Management and Leadership Lessons

The last four months have seen the successful launch of four Hindi multi-starrer blockbuster movies from Bollywood, each featuring different pairs of actors, and each with a significantly different theme. These, as the avid Indian movie audience would acknowledge, are Chennai Express, Krrish3, Ram-Leela and Dhoom 3. Chennai Express has Shahrukh Khan in the lead, Krrish 3 Hrithik Roshan, Ram-Leela Ranveer Singh and the latest Dhoom 3 Aamir Khan and Abhishek Bachhan. Deepika Padukone is the heroine in two of the blockbusters while Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif are the heroines in two others. All the lead actors of the four blockbusters are top stars of Bollywood. The four films are lavishly mounted with high production values and deployment of graphics and special effects rarely seen on the Indian screen. All of these movies conform to the proven Bollywood formula of music, dance and heroics. And, all of these have proved to be international successes and national blockbusters.

Thematically, each film has amazingly different takes. Two of the movies belong to family drama genre and two to action genre. Chennai Express is a typical Indian lighthearted movie of fun and frolic, with a heady concoction of next door South Indian ambience and theatrical heroics. Krrish 3 is a scientific fantasy on the lines of Superman and Spiderman, with good triumphing over evil, but in a delectably Indian fashion. Ram-Leela is an intoxicating fusion of Shakespearean tale and Indian family rivalries, in a riot of color and beauty.  Dhoom 3, just released, is a tantalizing international escapade of a lovable soft heroic villain, as the lead of an antagonist pair. Two of the movies, as the suffixes indicate, are sequels. All the movies gained from superstar power and added power to stars as well. Each took several months to take, certain dance and chase sequences required days of practice and Crores of Rupees of spend. Uniformly, all the movies benefitted from snappy taking, notwithstanding the typical Indian proneness to lengthy introductions, inescapable song and dance sequences and the inevitable 150 minutes plus of movie length.
High style, some substance
Somewhat cynically, it may be observed that the history of successive blockbusters of either Hollywood or Bollywood demonstrates the power of high technology overwhelming the weakness of low rationality. Whether it is Harry Potter, Avatar or Batman, Spiderman and Superman movies, the intent is clearly to transport the audience to newer thematic universes through a slew of special effects covering up slender storylines. The four Bollywood movies probably have uneven storylines, but have immensely benefitted from deployment of high cinematic technology. The important factor in all the four movies has been that none of the movies was un-Indian, in fact all of them, and certainly three of them, emphasize the indigenous and ethnic elements pretty strongly. This trend is also borne out in other blockbuster hits in other Indian languages, be it Telugu or Tamil. The plausible lesson is that an Indian blockbuster needs to disown nothing of its theatrical tradition but needs to layer it with dollops of technology.
The concept of ‘transportation’ of audience has significant differences between Hollywood and Bollywood. Having experienced to advanced living, the Western audience needed to be transported to sci-fi worlds of outer universe, repeatedly. Probably, the only successful Hollywood franchise that stayed on in physical locations for audience transportation was the highly successful James Bond series.  For Hollywood, it is the virtual virtuosity of science and technology creating new universes. For Bollywood, however, it is more of transportation to more exotic physical locations of India and the advanced countries, including for the latest Dhoom 3 shot extensively in Chicago. Interestingly, Indian movies, more particularly the Telugu ones, have a historical tradition of transporting audience to mythological and folklore realms.  Be that as it may, the essence of successful movie making is transportation of audience to a world that is fantastic and fantasizing, not reachable except in the confines of the movie theatre. That said, the Bollywood blockbuster saga has many lessons for management and leadership, ten key ones being discussed below. 
1.      Integrated imagination is foundation
The greatest feature of moviemaking is imagination. Every department involved in moviemaking, be it story writing, screenplay writing, music creation, cinematography, choreography, art and set making or editing has the common characteristic of imagination, besides each department’s core competence. While moviemaking in general may have such departmental imagination, blockbuster movies are notable for the way individual departmental imaginations are aligned and integrated. The higher the level of integrated imagination the greater would be the blockbuster status. In contrast, business enterprises tend to be conformist and devolve the responsibility of imagination only on planning departments, and a few leaders. Even the few existent imaginative initiatives are not perfectly integrated. Ability to imagine departmentally and functionally, with alignment and integration, is a key aspect of successful organizations.
2.      Direction is execution
Business management theorizes and practices that the chief executive of an organization assisted by a team of functional leaders manages an entity and delivers success. In a typical business or industrial organization, the chief executive leads and directs but rarely executes by himself or herself. In contrast, the director of a movie dons multiple hats.  A great director not only imagines the entire movie but also drives and integrates imaginations of different departments. He not only plans and resources, but also actually executes his directorial responsibilities on a daily basis, covering all actors, and all departments of moviemaking, until the final product of a fully edited movie is censored and released. The chief executive of a movie thus overturns the conventional wisdom that leaders need to lead while executives need to execute. While establishing and running an enterprise is quite distinct from movie making, the lesson from movie making of the leader taking complete ownership and being associated with execution should not be lost sight of. Business leaders may derive greater success by emulating the concept to execution ownership of movie directors. 
3.      Sensory experience drives success
Each of the four Bollywood blockbusters mentioned earlier, or for that matter any blockbuster movie of any ethnicity or language, demonstrates that heightened sensory experience transports the audience to a world of acceptance and appreciation. While products and services of enterprises are not two-hour capsules like movies and are longer lasting, such a feature underscores even more the need for a higher sensory experience for users to be attracted and attached to a product or service.  This principle is relevant for leadership and managerial initiatives too. The success of the blockbuster movies indicates that the incorporation of varied emotions is an essential component of success in Indian ethnicity. The success of several market-facing multinational corporations in India, from Unilever to P&G, is based on their sales and marketing strategies that are ethnically emotive. Internal organizational processes that make and sell products as well as products and services that cater to users equally require ethnic sensitivity, albeit in different shades and emphases. 
4.      Creativity adds spark to success
Over the last 100 years of the Indian cinema, several thousands of movies in various Indian languages have been produced on the basic Indian formula of family dynamics and dance and song mechanics. The freshness the Indian movie technicians have been bringing to the celluloid screen with newer lyrics and tunes as well as energetic choreographic movements (notwithstanding the value erosion in some cases), integrating in the process modern technologies and global trends is truly amazing. Indian moviemaking demonstrates that even an age-old formula can be rendered fresh with a dash of creativity. Managers and leaders, who are often faced, with highly repetitive processes and are often expected to deliver the beaten messages, must take a leaf out of the Indian movie makers to add a dash of creativity to make the processes, procedures and deliveries fresh and appealing. Charismatic leaders and managers differentiate themselves from the pedestrian ones on the basis of creativity.       
5.      Age or culture no bar
Moviemaking is a universal art with no barriers of age, language, region or religion. This is one enterprise, in which the youngest technician can make the best of movies on a shoestring budget, and budding actors, musicians and lyricists can turn stars overnight. It is also an industry which can see the most seasoned and aged directors mount pictures of contemporary standards. Indian Bollywood, in particular, has been home for multi-religious prosperity. For the predominantly Hindu movie audience, the three superstars are Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan. Corporations need to look beyond the demographic profiles and focus on talent and performance as the primer drivers of acceptance, independent of preconceived perceptions on backgrounds or regions and religions. Corporations also must be willing to provide integrated project opportunities for youngsters to deliver and for seniors to reinvent themselves.
6.      Exceptional people, exceptional success
A review of the blockbuster movies reveals that they are made by teams of exceptional people in all departments, including the director himself or herself. While a few exceptional technicians tend to take other average talent in stride to make good movies, blockbuster movies that are differentiated in all respects tend to have exceptional professionals leading all the departments. This has an important lesson for those corporations which seem to treat performance appraisals as distribution of annual increments. The concept of normal distribution of ratings and increments is, in most cases, is justifiably reflective of the talent and profiles that calibrate themselves in a natural manner. However, like blockbuster movies, trendsetting organizations encourage and institutionalize top-ranking talent across the organization. This approach reflects a penchant and passion to accept nothing less than exceptional talent and hold back nothing in rewarding such talent exceptionally (even if it covers the total organization) for exceptional performance.
7.      Job clarity delivers clear results
The art of moviemaking, often considered unregulated and self-taught, is quite scientific, and reflects the highest principles of organizational design and organizational behavior that are not seen commonly even in evolved business organizations. Moviemakers provide the greatest respect to departmental structuring. Each department, be it production, art, photography, music, lyrics, dialogues, dress, lighting, logistics or editing, has its core competence and core delivery clearly defined. Each department knows how it can add value to the other departments and the overall movie but is resolutely focused on its core delivery. Unlike the complex organizational structures where accountability is often confused with collaboration, and functional delivery is obfuscated with value chain management, moviemaking has clear departmentation. Blockbuster movies get recognized for superior departmental delivery as much as other movies are noted for any slippages that could have led to less than optimal performance. For corporations as much as for celluloid, job clarity produces clear results.
8.      Nativity is not naivety
Despite the sweep of modernity in the Indian society and the overwhelming influence of Hollywood on the movie scene, the Indian movies continue to retain their nativity. In fact, reflection of native values and practices is an integral element of successful Indian movies. This is not surprising as the centuries old hoary traditions of India have not only withstood the ravages of multiple foreign invasions and occupations but have consolidated themselves, globalizing with integration of modern trends. Some corporations tend to think that they must bring in change for change sake, often viewed in terms of Western practice and wisdom. On the other hand, more successful organizations respect and cater to nativity, leveraging nativity for acceptance of modern requirements. As the resurgence of practices of Yoga and Ayurveda across the World demonstrates, nativity is not naivety but is representative of authenticity.   
9.      Global quality, Indian costs
The newer Bollywood blockbuster movies represent a step-function jump in quality, almost to the best global standards, and have called for significantly higher production budgets hitherto unseen in India. Even so, the production budgets of the four movies cited were around USD 12 million each for the family drama genre and around USD 20 million each for action genre with special effects (even including shooting in overseas locations). This contrasts extremely favorably with the very high production costs that were upwards of USD 280 million for the likes of Titanic, Spiderman 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean. Clearly, Indian movie magic can extend to achieving global quality with local costs. Of late, there have been doubts whether India would consolidate its advantage as global manufacturing hub. The Bollywood movie magic demonstrates that India still enables a unique paradigm of global quality with local costs. The Indian movie industry and the Governments must seize the opportunity by setting up the likes of Universal and Disney studios in India.  
10.  One for all, all for one
The most interesting aspect of blockbuster moviemaking is the interest the director takes in all the departments for functional perfection and the interest all the departments take in matching up to the director’s vision. From listening to and improving upon the storyline through music sittings to determining shooting angles and playacting for the actors in each day’s shooting, to quote a few, the director participates in every function, and collaborates with each departmental head. The situation that obtains in business or other enterprises is starkly different. From the Chief Executive down to the Functional Heads, the practice is to let the others perform to their goals, with the heads and chiefs limiting themselves to reviews, assessments and management of performance and consequence of their reporting executives.  The assessed individuals also strangely disregard any partaking of functional interests by their superiors, criticizing it as micromanagement. Managers and leaders should emulate the way a blockbuster movie director and his team members work on a ‘one for all, all for one’ principle to realize the director’s vision of a blockbuster movie in the making.
Movie magic, leadership logic
Movies are often seen as nothing more than 150 minutes of entertainment. Indian movies, anchored in their templates of emotions, songs and dances, are seen as even more escapist entertainment. Worse still, most professionals and leaders have a marked disdain for moviemaking as a poor cousin of any organized enterprise. However, behind these 150 minutes of celluloid experience lie important lessons of management and leadership which can be imbued in the day to day as well as strategic business and corporate management practices. There is, in fact, no project like making of an intended blockbuster movie, translating a directorial concept into a magnum opus, working in the process with hundreds of talented leaders and individuals on a daily basis. There is no power like the power of a blockbuster movie in riveting the attention and collecting the adulation of the society. Successful moviemaking is dexterous management of total uncertainty and creation of a creative extravanganza from the simplest of ideas, based on talent, imagination, creativity, passion, dedication and team work.
The history of Indian film making has several chapters scripted by movie moguls and actor stalwarts through their cinematic contributions. In several cases, from the popular Raj Kapoor to the legendary NT Rama Rao, hugely successful moviemakers demonstrated synergistic core competencies in a number of domains such as acting, screenplay, scripting and direction, to name a few. People who are familiar with the Telugu film industry aver the kind of deep research and strict discipline that NTR brought to his inimitable mythological roles. Aamir Khan reportedly practiced for over 45 days to get his tap dance in Dhoom 3 to perfection.  Successful movie stalwarts never stopped learning; they continued to learn and demonstrate personal leadership in multiple domains, spurring imagination and creativity, and seamlessly merging with every element of the movie making system from light boys to musical geniuses. The ten principles of successful movie making identified in this blog post have relevance and applicability in the broader realms of management and leadership for all enterprises and for all organizational endeavors.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on December 22, 2013