Atul Kasbekar is majestic and magnificent. A thorough gentleman and an equally good lensman, Atul is an institution in himself. He also owns and runs one of India’s biggest celebrity management companies, Bling. He enters into a freewheeling chat with IWMBuzz.com. Excerpts
At a time like Covid, when regular flow of work has stopped, what is the biggest challenge as a Celebrity Management agency?
Well, these are unprecedented times. It’s only logical to expect budget cuts from brands and people who conduct events.
Some of the biggest challenges right now would be working together with brands and stars right now to ensure that a bulk of the contracts are retained with extensions duly given. We also anticipate negotiations to happen in the existing movies. The challenge is to convince people to work together so that we all can sustain until there are better times. As far as revenue is concerned, we have had an extremely robust digital cell which has been doing a stunning amount of work. Recently, we did the hair dye commercial with Karan Johar for Godrej that went completely viral. From concept to pitch to execution, they have all been done internally at Bling.
What is that one thing you are trying to do differently and uniquely during the time of COVID-19 to manage your clients?
Well, our client servicing team is constantly in touch with the clients to check on their well-being. We are doing our best to keep them in good spirits. It’s a time where one can easily get into a depressing mood, and that applies to all of us. We are evaluating a lot of scripts and are having engaging conversations with potential production houses and directors. We are encouraging them to work on new skills to keep themselves amused and entertained. Furthermore, whenever there’s been an option of doing something uniquely online, we have backed them as much as possible. For example, the amazing Shreya Dhanwanthary wrote and directed ‘A Viral Wedding’ which was completely shot inside individual homes and has been released on Eros Now in conjunction with Rj and DK.
What do you think will be the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic in the entertainment sector when things start to normalize? Do you see this as a strenuous situation?
Well, it’s very difficult to say all this in brief here given the situation. One will need a lot of cooperation from assorted unions like lightmen, spotboys, dress department, production departments and so on for shoots to resume in a healthy manner and it’s also important that they be financially viable at the same time. Let’s wait and see because it’s going to be impossible to predict how things will pan out.
Tell us a bit about your Bling journey? From an ace photographer to a business guru, how did the idea weave in your head?
When I came back from the USA after studying photography, I started looking for a photography agent to handle my work. Then I realized, there was no such thing in that time. The people whom I assisted in Los Angeles all had their representatives. That’s when I realized in India, this was a crying need. I personally feel no creative artiste should talk about his or her business directly.
What is the most challenging aspect of managing celebrities or influencers?
The most challenging aspect is truly the expectation management part. We really are in the business of what people perceive themselves to be. Very often, these expectations are overtly optimistic and need a reality check. We, as a matter of routine, have constant meetings to analyze where we are at, what realistic and challenging targets are there which we can mutually settle to be able to work together.
Any specific deal/brand association which is close to your heart?
At a personal level, I would say that my personal association with the United Breweries Group and the Kingfisher brand as an advertising photographer is very special. There probably isn’t a single instance in Indian and maybe even International advertising history that there has been an unbroken chain of assignments that have happened for 19 years in a row. From concept to execution, the onus is upon me and clearly we seem to have done a decent job for the assignment to keep re-apprearing.
How do you stay ahead from competition and on a personal level, what are you doing during the lockdown days?
Actually, to be very honest, we just put our head down and do our own work. We don’t bother about the ‘competition’ so to speak, I’ve realized that it’s best to be blinkered and focus on the work in hand. There is far too much time spent by many people in the business, especially one particular lot of people basically causing chaos while trying to check on other people’s affairs.
At a personal level, I really decided to watch my fitness. I focused on what I’m feeding my body and from the beginning of the lockdown till now, I am 8 kilos lighter with a much better proportion of lean muscle mass. On another note, I decided to re-learn French and I even downloaded an app with the help of which I am practising it. I’m a long way from writing poems or doing crossword puzzles in French though.
Lastly, when the lockdown ends, what do you think will be the new normal?
Well, the new normal will be extremely challenging. A lot of people who depend on human interaction for their work, like say photographers, production units, restaurant business, theatre business etc will all be massively challenged and find it very difficult to come back to levels that they were used to. In such times, I guess there’s a vaccine and most of the planet is inoculated and I can see that it will be very stressful for some businesses, ours is very high on that list. In short, I am not excited about the new normal at all. Besides what I’m really dreading is the imminent advent of ‘designer face masks’.