‘For other institutes a mass media course is just an extension wing but for me Whistling Woods International is a core activity’ – Subhash Ghai

Director and producer Subhash Ghai’s 15 year long dream of building an institute for film, television, animation and media came true on 18 July 2006 in the form of Whistling Woods International (WWI).

 


With an investment of Rs 800 million (Rs 80 crore), Ghai also had 70 per cent of the Indian film and media fraternity supporting and encouraging him for building WWI.


 


Recently the ‘Showman’ has been shuttling between Mumbai and Chennai where he has music sessions with Rahman for his forthcoming film Yuvraj.


 


On 18 July, 2007, Ghai was in Mumbai to celebrate the first anniversary of his institute. On this occasion, he spoke exclusively to Businessofcinema.com about his journey and strategy in setting up the institute and what lies ahead.


 


Excerpts:


 


How has WWI shaped up since its inception in 2006?


When WWI started, I was quite nervous whether it will work or not because in the last 100 years of Indian cinema nobody has tried something like this. People built studios but not a media school.


 


I had this thought in mind for 15 years and finally worked on it for five years as I wanted to give importance to the courses and curriculum. The WWI building may look good from the outside but I wanted the quality of education, students and faculty to be far better than that, which we have achieved.


 


In the first year one generally learns and at the same time makes mistakes. We may make a few mistakes in the next year too but regardless of that we have achieved a lot, thus surpassing our expectations. This is due to the sincerity of our professional faculty and student’s determination. Students have found the course worth their every penny; they study from 7.30 am to 8.30 pm, watch movies in the library and have discussions.


 


In fact what the students have learned here in one year, they wouldn’t have been able to learn even if they worked in the industry for four years.


 


How had the industry reacted when you first made an announcement of the institute? Have you noticed a change in the industry attitude towards WWIL? Have you also noticed a change in general public outlook?


Vivekanandji had said that whenever you start a new movement you have to go through three things – humiliation, opposition and acceptance.


 


So initially people humiliated and suspected why Subhash Ghai was doing this… is it to gain fame and name? But people have to understand that in the last 25 – 30 years Subhash Ghai has earned a name for himself. So there was absolutely no intention of becoming famous. Then people starting suspecting that I am doing this to make money, so you see there are 10 different reasons that people may come up with.


 


In a lifetime a person meets two kinds of people, those who support him and those who oppose him, be it Gandhiji or Sunil Dutt they too had to go through this. But if one is sincere in their thoughts then there is no reason to be afraid of opposition.


 


I have been lucky that 70 per cent of the industry is supporting me. When Naseeruddin Shah saw the institute and I informed him that he has to take charge of the acting department and he promptly said, ‘This is the kind of institute that I have looking for since so many years, which can train kids in a good way.’ The dedication and determination shown by Naseer cannot be put into words.< Page Break >


 


Which courses have been attracting most students?


Fortunately or unfortunately students have a wrong notion that only actors and directors and respected in the industry, so most of the applications are for these courses. But students forget that they have to carve their own space here. Just by joining a course you cannot become a director or an actor, you have to reevaluate your own talent.


 


After attending the six month foundation course at WWI and reevaluating themselves students sometimes change the preference for their specializations.


 


There has also been a rise in the intake of NRI and international students. So at what scale have you been promoting WWI internationally?


In this world of internet, international promotion is not tough at all. Except for giving out brochures and attending to all the enquiries from all across the world, we have not set aside any advertising revenues for international promotions.


 


In five years from now approximately 400 WWI students will come into media and entertainment industry, how do you envision them spreading their wings?


The industry will get actors, directors, writers, production designers, animators, sound recordists and these students will be absorbed rapidly because the expansion of channels, radio, event management and internet will require more and more trained professionals.


 


The students who are interested in working with us will also be encouraged.


 


On one hand the media space has been undergoing changes due to corporatization. Your students will also pass out and step into this corporate world. So how do you see the two affecting and supporting each other and are you also training your students accordingly?


The corporate world streamlines a system to produce and sell a thing. Even if a corporate company has $ 2 billion but no creative talent, then the money means nothing, so they have to depend on the creative talent.


 


We started the Business of Films and Television course to create entrepreneurs and producers for such corporates, because they will need producers, executive producers, production designers and first ADs.< Page Break >


 


There are few media institutes offering similar courses as your institute at cheaper rates. So by making your courses so expensive don’t you think you are eliminating a huge chuck of students?


I have spent Rs 80 crores on this institute so I ought to have some returns. For other institutes a mass media course is just an extension wing but for me this is a core activity.


 


WWI is a high tech and focused institute. We are not here to make profit but we definitely have a structure of fees and for students who cannot afford our fees we also have bank loan schemes and scholarships.


 


The cost of studying in WWI is one third compared to studying in a school in America.


 


By positioning WWI as Asia’s biggest media institute are you pitting it directly against schools like London Film School, New York Film Academy and UCLA?


All I can say is that when the Dean of UCLA- Robert Rosen visited WWI, he told students — ‘I have gone through the curriculum and the facilities at the institute and I can tell you one thing as the dean of UCLA that this is not one of the best, it is the best film school I have ever seen in the world.’


 


So, what more can one ask for.


 


With an investment of Rs 80 crore when do you plan to break even?


God knows! I have done this for passion. The success of my students will be my dividend.


 


In the coming years are you planning to expand by introducing more courses and also start more institutes?


Many states and countries have been inviting us to set up institutes. We may add a radio course by next year or so.

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