Behind the Curtain: Similarities between Bollywood and Technology Services

Behind the Curtain: Similarities between Bollywood and Technology Services

cropped-posterOn a lazy Saturday afternoon, browsing through my RSS feeds (do people still do that in this age of dynamic newsfeeds from every social media outlet?), I came across an article in LA Times, which talks about the Indian film industry moving beyond Bollywood. I was instantly intrigued, especially since the title was provocative, and I had been thinking about Bollywood and technology after attending a concert by the celebrated Indian music composer, AR Rahman recently (which was sponsored by my employer, Harman)

The article talks about two Indian movies, which have broken into the Top 10 at the U.S. box office this summer: “It is staggering that ‘Baahubali’ opened in just 170 locations in the U.S. andmade over $3 million in a weekend,” Rentrack analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. “It was competing with movies that were in two to four thousand locations and yet made it to the top 10 in a sea of summer movies.”

The success of the films mirrors the surge of the Indian American population in the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of people of Indian ethnicity grew by nearly 70% between 2000 and 2010 to more than 2.8 million..”.

The article also referenced that the movie was partly successful because of the computer graphics being used at a massive scale. Now fully interested, I started doing more research, and came across two fascinating pieces of work.

BollywoodThe first was a study done on “Uncovering Randomness and Success in Society in 2014, which was featured in MIT Technology Review. In the study, the network scientists tried to do a Bollywood version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and found some interesting correlations.

“…And their network provides some fascinating insight into the nature of the Indian film industry and its links to broader Indian culture as well. It shows not only how combinations of actors have been particularly successful but also how the industry has waxed and waned in response to the broader economic and social conditions in the country at large…”

However, the key paragraph for me was :“…Instead, the best-connected actors turn out to be prominent supporting actors who can take on more projects in a given time period and therefore end up collaborating with a larger number of other actors. That’s similar to the Hollywood network, where prominent supporting actors such as William Hurt and Kevin Bacon are also better connected than superstars such as Tom Cruise and George Clooney…”

boothThe second piece of fascinating work I found by was a book called “Behind the Curtain: Making Music in Mumbai’s Film Studios by Gregory D. Booth. India‘s prolific film industry, sometimes called Bollywood, produces over 3,000 films a year in multiple languages. Most of these films have music – be it for song and dance sequence actors spontaneously break into, or background scores. Booth traces the journey of making the music with classical instruments in Mumbai‘s studios, to the modern day trend of using samplers and synthesizers to produce music. However, the part which impressed me the most was the immense human and cultural change brought about by introducing technology to something which was considered pure. (A telling interview was with a oboe and English horn player called Indorkar, who is asked to play various notes on his instruments by Rahman – and was never called back by him, as he had him now on his sampler)

The book describes how these musicians worked as a family, in obscurity, to produce some of the most memorable music of the twentieth and twenty first century – a must read for any Bollywood fan…

So what does all this have to do with technology services? In both these cases, the importance of the supporting cast is highlighted – be it actors or musicians – which makes the film or music successful.

In today’s technology projects, with focus on agile processes, cloud infrastructure, always-on interconnected devices and globally distributed teams, we sometime forget that it is the supporting cast which makes the projects successful. We hear platitudes about teamwork everyday – but how many times have we paused to analyze how to make it better.

As Andrew Carnegie said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results…”

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