Slumdog Millionaire’s Loveleen Tandan

On Monday evening in Delhi, we were lucky to meet with Loveleen Tandan, Co-Director: India for the Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire. Over drinks and North Indian snacks, we were all captivated by her charisma and stories from her career.

Tuck students with Loveleen Tandan

Tuck students with Loveleen Tandan


Loveleen is a rarity in India, as traditionally most women in India’s film industry are actresses and concentrated in the colorful Bollywood industry. While Loveleen loves Bollywood flicks, she comes to filmmaking rooted in the documentary style but years ago switched to fictional films based on her belief that once you turn on a camera, you immediately alter reality.

After graduating from Hindu College, Delhi University with Honors in Sociology, she pursued a Masters in Mass communication from MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia University. Starting as a production assistant, she quickly advanced by becoming a de facto Casting Director on Mira Nair’s 2001 film Monsoon Wedding. Following several more casting director or advisor roles (e.g. The Namesake, Vanity Fair, Tandoori Love) she landed the role of casting director on Slumdog.

In many of her career moves to that point, Loveleen would step up to fulfill a role beyond her initial assignment – and on the set of Slumdog her role grew substantially to the point that she was given the unique title “Co-Director: India” as a recognition of her contributions. She served as a check to ensure that the characters, settings, and tone of the movie matched with reality.

But most critically, she was the driving force behind the decision to use children from the slums as the young characters in order to capture the raw reality of India’s slums. Since these children do not speak English so she first had to sell producers and the studio on taking a large risk by filming their scenes, almost one-third of the entire film, in Hindi. Based on her persuasive arguments, Loveleen stepped in to rewrite the children’s lines as well as direct those scenes.

Loveleen was candid about many of her casting and directorial decisions, particularly around the use of the street children. Obviously, nobody knew during filming how successful the film would be – but Loveleen was acutely aware of the impact she would be having on their lives financially as well as psychologically since they would be on a movie set. Therefore, they were careful to have parents on set, as well as start the children in formal schooling (setting them up for future success after the shoot ended). In addition, their share of Slumdog’s profits were put into a trust until their 18th birthdays.

Currently, Loveleen resides in Goa where she is working on the manuscript for her directorial debut. It will be the first time she works with her own content, instead of adapting and reacting to another’s work. While her career in cinema is a far cry from the more traditional business avenues that all of us will be pursuing next year, my classmate Mike Friedman made a great connection between us and Loveleen. Many of us come from hierarchical organizations where a lot of content, ideas, and overall strategy were set at a higher level before we were able to react, contribute, analyze, etc. But as we step into our post-MBA careers, we will find ourselves in leadership positions, mentoring younger colleagues and assuming increased responsibility.

Much like Sindushree Khullar at the Planning Commission earlier in the day, Loveleen also served as an inspiring, strong female perspective (most of our conversations in India were with men). She embraces the fact that she is a woman, and noted that it is something she must negotiate every day in her career. But she does not want to simply be a “female filmmaker” – she is hoping to leave her legacy as a filmmaker who happens to be a woman.

Categories: Delhi | Tags: | 1 Comment

NDTV: A glimpse into Indian news media

On Tuesday morning we got a glimpse into the pioneer station of private television news in India. NDTV was the first non-state media outlet that was allowed to report the news. P1030383We got a behind the scenes tour of many of the different departments and sets. First we stopped into the post-production editing area and spoke with an editor about how he cuts the film for different stories to slice together the images that are seen as the anchor speaks. Usually, he only has twenty minutes or less to create the final product.

Next we spoke to a reporter about his job chasing down stories nationwide. He travels with just one cameraman and has to fight the intense traffic to reach a scene in time to report back. We then got a view into the main control room, where staff pieces together the different shots and stories in real time. There is one for each of the channels that NDTV runs, an English and a Hindi news channel, a business channel and a lifestyle channel. We got to peek in on a live set and watch an anchor conduct an interview with the head of Indian sports commission about a recent scandal. Next we were introduced to the team who runs a political satire show with huge, life-like puppets- think Sesame Street meets The Daily Show.

Finally, we had an hour with Prannoy Roy, the CEO, founder and founding anchor of NDTV, who was described to me by an Indian friend as India’s Tom Brokaw. Mr. Roy discussed his views on the tabloidization of India’s news media, ethics in reporting and the future of news in the internet age. It was fascinating to hear from someone who had been in the business since its inception and had seen the TV news media market grow from one channel to hundreds of channels nationwide. What was particularly striking to me was that the challenges were in some ways extremely similar to the American market, the diversity of channel offerings, a shortening attention of viewers and the rise of sensationalist tabloid style journalism. But one of the major differences lies in the proliferation of internet access, which we heard numerous times would rise quickly by huge multiples in the coming years. NDTV has an opportunity to remain at the forefront of Indian news media by figuring out how to convert their programming to the mobile web, which before long, will be the main way that hundreds of millions of Indians consume their news.

Categories: Company Visits, Delhi | 3 Comments

Meeting with Sindushree Khullar, Secretary of the Planning Commission

Monday was a fascinating introduction to the Indian political system.  After sitting in a Parliament session and meeting with the Prime Minister of Tribal Affairs, we had a wonderful meeting with Sindushree Khullar, Secretary of the Planning Commission.  The Planning Commission is responsible for creating the five year plan budget and the allocation of resources to various industries and regions.

Overview:  The Planning Commission was set up by a Resolution of the Government of India in 1950.  The impetus to form the commission originated from the objective to raise the standard of living by leveraging the resources available in India.  Efficiently taking advantage of the resources would create jobs and accelerate the Indian economy and export industry.  Specifically, the Planning Commission is responsible for assessing the resources available in India preparing plans to efficiently utilize the resources, and prioritizing where and how these resources are allocated.  The Planning Commission accomplishes these goals by publishing Five Year Plans.  Currently, the twelfth five year plan document has been placed before the National Development Council for discussion on December 27th.

Areas of Focus:  Historically, the planning system was highly centralized and government-run.  During the liberalization of India in 1991/92, the Planning Commission went through significant change as it had to navigate issues brought by the new open economy like import/export industry and foreign direct investment.  The Commission has evolved tremendously and today it takes a holistic approach to budgeting and planning by bringing together industry experts and leaders from over 30 different sectors.  Some examples include Rural Development, Health, Infrastructure, Decentralized planning, Panchayati Raj and Special Area Program, Environment & Forests (Including Climate Change), and Financial Resources.

Major Challenges:  Themain challenges the Secretary discussed were bringing the current account deficit to a reasonable level, increasing foreign direct investment, and reforming the tax system.  At a state level, public service delivery, health, and education are the major issues.  The Secretary describes her job as an “Essay in Persuasion”.  She lamented the fact that it takes at least one year to get just about anything approved.  With so many worthy causes, her main challenge is prioritizing and funneling limited resources appropriately.  The last year has been especially tough for India as the world economy continues to recover from the financial crisis in 2008.  India’s current account deficit has increased as the demand for Indian goods and services decreased.  The Secretary emphasized the importance of private sector investment and strategies to help foreign countries feel comfortable and excited about investing in India.  For example, $1 trillion is needed to improve India’s infrastructure, and the Secretary estimates that 50% of these funds should come from the private sector.

The Secretary said she is “hopeful” about India’s future.  She feels the Indian economy has bottomed and reemphasized that tax reform and deficit reduction are key to garnering funds to support these important initiatives.  Our group came away extremely impressed with the human capital at the Planning Commission, but the issues are incredibly overwhelming and it is difficult to see a clear path to generating the necessary funds in the near term.  We share the sentiments of the Secretary and are hopeful and optimistic for the country over the long term.

Categories: Delhi | 3 Comments

Visiting the Bharat ki Sansad (Parliament of India)

We had the honor and privilege of visiting the Parliament of India yesterday in New Delhi. The Parliament of India is bicameral with the upper house known as the Rajya Sabha and the lower house Lok Sabha. The MPs of Lok Sabha are directly elected by the Indian public and the MPs of Rajya Sabha are elected by members of the State Legislative Assemblies. The parliament is composed of 790 MPs.

Getting into the Parliament was quite the ordeal. Many of us, I believe, had not been subjected to such high levels of security. We were questioned regarding our families and underwent at least 6 pat downs at multiple security checkpoints. At many of the checkpoints, the security guards also seemed perplexed whenever Phil Kim T’13 mentioned that he was from Canada (Note: He is of South Korean descent). The high levels of security are due to a previous terrorist attack on the parliament in December 2001 that led to the death of six military personnel in addition to one civilian.

After passing the security checkpoints, we had the opportunity to sit in on the proceedings of the lower house (Lok Sabha). The topics of the day included (1) RFID schemes to improve the collection of tolls and reduce traffic and (2) the safety of fishermen off the cost of India near Sri Lanka. The discussions were lively and full of animation to say the least. Members of opposing parties were continually hounding each other and engaged in traditional parliamentary debate.

Most surprising to us were the strict parliamentary codes of conduct for visitors. Mike Friedman T’13 was accosted for leaning forward and for not sitting straight with his back to the bench. Karen Olson T’13 was also warned for crossing her legs during the parliamentary procession. We were also constantly monitored to make sure we weren’t engaging in any improper behavior.

We were all fortunate to have had the unique experience of witnessing the legislative proceedings for the largest democracy in the world. If we had waited an extra day, we might have been able to witness the heated debate on whether to allow Walmart into India!

Parliament of India

Lok Sabha (Lower House)

Categories: Delhi | Tags: | 1 Comment

Last stop in Agra: Itimad-ud-Daulah

Before leaving Agra on Sunday, we made a final stop at the lovely  tomb, Itimad-ud-Daulah.  Although it is overshadowed (rightly so) by the Taj Mahal, it is an exquisite structure with beautiful designs inside and outside that probably would receive tons of tourist attention if were located in any other city.  Itimad-ud-Daulah was built from 1622-1628 by Nur Jahan, the wife of the Mughal emperor Jehangir, for her Persian nobleman father who was Jehangir’s chief minister.

The Tomb

The Tomb

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A number of aspects of the tomb make it a really unique building for India.  First, it is very rare that a woman would be responsible for building any structure at that time.  Second, tombs of this size were typically reserved for emperors.  The story goes that Nur Jahan hid the tomb as it was being built to not cause a stir by locating it on other side of the Yamuna River, away from the main activities in Agra.

Beautiful pietra dura (inlay) on the white marble

Beautiful pietra dura (inlay) on the white marble exterior

The beautiful ceiling

The ceiling of the dome

Unique for most buildings at the time, this tomb features wine flasks and glasses, supposedly because Nur Jahan's father liked the bottle

Unique for most buildings at the time, this tomb features wine flasks and glasses, supposedly because Nur Jahan’s father liked the bottle

A combination of fresco art and pietra dura in the interior of the tomb

A combination of fresco art and pietra dura in the interior of the tomb

What makes this tomb really special though is its link to the Taj Mahal – it is nicknamed the Baby Taj as it was erected 30 years before the Taj and has a number of similar artistic/architectural elements.  For example, this is the first Mughal structure built completely from marble and the first to extensively use pietra dura (the flower inlay designs).  While not as overwhelming as the Taj, it is beautiful and was a perfect end to Agra.

A view of the gate/entrance to the tomb area from one of the carved windows inside the tomb

A view of the gate/entrance to the tomb area from one of the carved windows inside the tomb

The gardens and tomb from the corner of the space

The gardens and tomb from the corner of the space (the smog is obscuring the Yamuna River, which is just on the other side of the red building in the back)

Our nemesis: the first time we were asked to move quickly in India was to escape this guy

Our nemesis: the first time we were asked to move quickly in India was to escape this guy

Categories: Taj Mahal | 2 Comments

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