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.

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