The Talent Managers TALE
Ever heard of the term ‘talent management’? If you have, then meet AFSAR ZAIDI, who coined it through his brainchild Exceed Entertainment. Over the years, Exceed has forayed into many other media avenues. Society settles in for a round table discussion wi
It’s already past lunch time but no one seems to have gone for lunch in Exceed, at least not Afsar Zaidi. An important meeting seems to have been going on behind the glass doors, which he later reveals is about an E-Gaming venture, the first of its kind by any company in India. Zaidi takes a break and sends the other attendees of the meeting for lunch to join us for the interview. He categorises these as the daily challenges at work. Clearly, he does a pretty good job in ‘challenge management’ along with ‘talent management’.
Tell us about the inception of Exceed Entertainment?
I had worked with Mahesh Bhupathi in his sports management firm, Global Sports. While working there, I realised that there is a lot of potential in the management business of the entertainment sector. So with Mahesh’s blessings, I moved out and started Carving Dreams, which was what Exceed was called in October 2005.
What were the initial hurdles in starting the company?
Matrix and Carving Dreams started together within few months from each other and are the pioneers of talent management in India. So we were the first people in the business. Every day was a challenge as you had to explain what
you were going to do and how you are going to manage talent. But I personally don’t consider a challenge as challenge, but rather an opportunity. No one had spoken to an artist about talent management before us. So it was an opportunity.
Who was your first client?
My first client was Saif Ali Khan whom I had known from my Global Sports days. We signed him in one meeting as he just loved the thought of a corporate representation and a corporate entity involved and managing certain things in his life. By the very first month, we had a roaster of Ajay, Kajol, Hrithik, Bipasha and a few more.
What is your personal definition of ‘talent management’?
A lot of people misinterpret the talent they possess when they are managing a talent. They become more difficult for reasons beyond understanding. A talent manager’s responsibility is to ensure that the talent is at a certain position and the talent manager should protect, guard, understand, provide, support, project, package and present the talent in the best possible manner. That is what talent management is to me.
Tell us what happens at a talent management company on any given day?
There could be a film contract happening where we are representing the director and the actor and negotiating with the studio. There would be a web series casting audition happening for some of our talents with an international production house. There would be a corporate brand endorsement pitch meeting happening where the marketing head of the company, the agency and the talent are sitting together. There could be a script narration happening where the manager and the content team is sitting. There could be a book acquisition meeting call with a publishing house where a production house has given us the mandate that they want to buy the book. We could be negotiating an award show performance for some of our artists and we could be talking to Amazon or Netflix for a comedy show for some of our YouTube talents that we manage. And of course, there would be discussion happening in some corner on building brands around artists. Though one thing would be consistent at a talent management company in all this chaos – lots of firefighting happening everywhere.
Tell us an interesting client bagging story?
Years back when we started, there was a celebrity couple who had broken up. The agency head was sitting at the table along with the couple, when the male star said that he doesn’t want a manager but ‘you will not manage her.’ So that agency had called me and asked me to talk to the couple. The couple sat in front of me and I said that, ‘If this is how it’s happening then I don’t think either of you can work with the agency.’ So the female star joined me and the male star decided to do things on his own.
What is the most successful association you have had with a client?
There are many. Ajay Devgn’s first endorsement, TV show, stage show and appearance… everything had been done by us. We are working with Ajay from the last eight years and he is a delight to work with every time. Exceed as an organisation has been a partner with Hrithik in a brand called HRX. That brand, arguably now, but definitely with god’s blessings will be the number one brand in fitness in India in the coming years. Saif is with us from the last 14 years. There is also Akshay Kumar whose TV shows have been done by us.
Tell us some lesser known facts about talent management?
There is nothing glamourous about it. There is a lot of hard work that goes into it, which people don’t get to see. There is absolutely no understanding of how much pressure these artists are under on a daily basis. An artist could be in the car, on a call where he is grieving about his mother’s illness, but when the car door opens, he has to be at his best. The glamourous part is only after the hard work, effort and sacrifices have been put in by the artists and the team around them, that comes on the camera.
What could be the reasons behind any artist leaving the agency?
The only reason why an agency and artist relationship will end would be because there is boredom. That will happen if we remove our feet from the pedal and are not pushing enough. Also, we have managed an artist for a very long time, like Hrithik for 13 years, Bipasha for 14 years and Shilpa Shetty for eight years. So Exceed as an organisation wouldn’t know any other reason why an artist would break the relationship. There are other people in the business who are probably six-seven years old and their relationships are also one-two years before they ended. So they would probably know better.
Your clientele includes a lot of lesser known celebs along with the big stars. How does the approach differ with both?
There is a different point of view that comes on the table when you are representing an actor or an artist – a star can survive even without acting. There are multiple examples of this view but that’s created by the media. Ultimately what matters is that you have to package it in the right way and sell it. For instance, Deepak Dobriyal is a multifaceted actor. He may not be a star, but the content around him is what defines him. We have managed Darsheel Safari – the child from Taare Zameen Par – on Aamir’s recommendation and the kind of revenue we generated for him at that time was unbelievable.