From IIM to Ashta Chamma
Ram Mohan, an engineer and an IIM-A graduate has dabbled in investment, stock broking, entrepreneurship, media till he turned film producer with Ashta Chamma (released last September).
Now his life has been compiled as a case study and included in the entrepreneurship course at the Indian School of Business (ISB) in 2009. He reminisces about his past and the making of Ashta Chamma and how he became the subject of the case study at ISB with Radhika Rajamani.
I grew up at six or seven places as my father was a Chief Engineer in the government department. After I completed my electronics engineering in Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad, my heart was set on going to the US but I joined IIM-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) instead.
Image: Ram Mohan
'I realised what it meant to carry the IIM-A tag'
It was a whole new world at IIM-A. There were people from other prestigious institutions and I experienced a culture shock. However, the assignments brought people together, and a bond was struck with a cross section of people.
IIM follows the case study approach which is a huge plus in terms of experiencing real life situation. I took most courses in marketing and finance. Interacting and understanding people helped me when I entered media.
Post-IIM years -- highs & lows
I passed out in 1991 when we were hit by the Gulf war. Placements were difficult. I joined Ranbaxy Laboratories, Delhi in their product management team. This was the first time I realised what it meant to carry the tag of IIM-A.
After some time I quit Ranbaxy and joined my friend in a stock-broking firm. The thrill and adrenaline was there in the stock market but soon I wanted to do real business. Thus, I started an ad agency and continued the stock-broking. Later I sold it off to the partners.
In 1995, I opened Eersha, Hyderabad's first retail store at Banjara hills with my friends. But there were lot of problems and I ran into debt. However there was a positive outcome. I gained in friendship and marriage as I married the fourth partner. But the business went down. Two of my friends helped me through those hard times.
Image: A scene from Ashta Chamma
'I want to remake Ashta Chamma in Tamil and Hindi too'
Making of Ashta Chamma
I had met Mohan (Mohankrishna Indraganti) in 2002 when he had returned from York School, Canada. We shared similar middle class values and sense of humour. In 2007 I called Mohan and told him that I wanted him to direct a film. I wanted a movie in the genre of comedy which would not offend anyone. It had to be good enough so that even my good friends wouldn't look at me and say, 'what have you made?'
Initially we did try big stars but things didn't work out. So, I had Ashta Chamma with newcomers and Swati who had done a fantastic job. The challenge lay in how to make people know about it. Here my IIM-A background helped me. We devised a game and ran it on idlebrain.com which had 150,000 visitors. We wanted a visual which was enticing enough for the audience. One image for publicity was new to Telugu cinema though it's the norm in Hollywood. We zeroed down on Nani looking at Swati's arm.
As we came closer to the release date, I realised though we had a good film on hand. But the distribution managers were not as excited as we were. I spoke to Ronnie. He advised me to have a screening for the channels and give it to whoever bids the highest. When Zee TV bought the rights, that was a big boost. I got in touch with Sekhar Kammula who bought the overseas rights after watching the film.
That left only the final frontier, which is the box office. Three distribution managers thought it to be a multiplex film. We had a public screening in Vizag and then in Vijayawada four days before release. People thought we were mad. And then everything changed. Buyers and theatre owners came forward. We got media support. From a 'multiplex film' Ashta Chamma was released in 22 theatres.
On the day of release, we got tickets at Brahmaramba theatre, I checked and before the show the whole theatre filled up. We had a phenomenal opening. Ashta Chamma got critical acclaim as well was commercially successful. It was a great journey.
I held back the DVD and remake rights. I want to remake it in Tamil with Swati. I have plans to remake it in Hindi too.
Image: A scene from Ashta Chamma
'I wanted to learn the core DNA of how to make a hit film'
Bond with Suresh Babu
I suddenly saw the world balance itself and people coming on their own to help me. It was in the retail store that I met Suresh Babu (of Suresh Productions). We became friends and he became my mentor and continues to mentor me. In that lean and dark period, I wrote a script "Cyclone".
Suresh Babu asked, " Why don't you join me? You can give me your creative and management inputs." I am not a film buff but I joined Suresh anyway. I learnt that the film industry deserves a lot more respect than what public think of it. It is organised and cost efficient with a dedicated work force. There is a lot of hard work and passion which goes into it.
Moving on to UTV & others
My wife Sheila is from Mumbai. After some time, we thought we should re-locate to Mumbai. Somebody passed my resume to UTV and Suresh gave me a good reference, and said I was CEO material. I joined UTV as GM in their TV business. UTV taught me ambition and confidence. Sky was the limit for Ronnie Screwala. Rewards came in fast.
But I wanted to return to Hyderabad as my mother was diagnosed with cancer. So I went back and joined Suresh. This time I was not keen on management but wanted to learn the core DNA of how to make a hit film. Suresh and his father shared it.
In fact, Ashta Chamma is a tribute to Suresh Babu and Rama Naidu as they transferred the DNA right from scripting, dialogue to the actual shooting.
Image: Ram Mohan and Suresh Babu
'One of the professors in IIM wanted to do a case study on Ashta Chamma'
Subject of study
The germ for the case study was sown in an IIM-A Alumni meet held at Ahmedabad some years ago. One of the batch mates suggested giving case studies to the Institute instead of money. I held a preview of Ashta Chamma for the IIM-A people here. One of the professors agreed to do a case study. Five students over six to seven months held interviews and compiled the case study in 2008. It was included in the curriculum of the entrepreneurship course taught by Proff Rama Velamuri in 2009. I interacted with the students through the Q & A which followed the lecture.
There were two highs of the case study. I was repaying the debt of the brand IIM-A gave me -- giving back to the academic field. I was able to give back something to the community (as I grew up as a middle class boy in a middle class locality).
A very strong stable marriage and having a partner who completely believed in me without no expectations whatsoever is the crux of my standing today. Bad times give you the opportunity to realise that you are an actor in a drama. I've lead my life in pursuit of knowledge.
Image: A scene from Ashta Chamma