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Guru, Deewar and My Lessons From Bollywood

I’ve written earlier about the parallels between film-making and entrepreneurship. Much like management guru Philip Kotler’s 4 Cs for marketing, we can also define 4 Cs for entrepreneurship, and these can be illustrated with scenes from Bollywood movies.

 Clarity Intellectual and operational clarity come from continuous effort and relentless application. In Mani Ratnam’s Guru, which is an unofficial biopic of Reliance founder Dhirubhai Ambani, the protagonist Gurukant Desai, also known as Gurubhai, is asked to defend himself from charges of tax evasion and bribery in front of a government investigation panel. Gurubhai begins his speech by asking, Khada ho jaaoon, ya iske liye bhi license chahiye? (Should I stand up, or do I require a license for that too?). He goes on to question the very legitimacy of India’s now-infamous license-quota-permit Raj and government interference in the economy, which strangulated entrepreneurs through the 1970s and 1980s, and continues to constrain entrepreneurial activity today:

In the full glare of the media and a powerful, antagonistic government commission, Gurubhai unapologetically explains why he did what he did, and how his actions were necessitated by government policy. He is able to hold his own and emerges triumphant because he has an uncommon clarity of purpose. He rejects the charges of government, saying he does not feel the need to apologize for building a world-class business. Agar paisa ban sakta tha, to maine banaya hai (If money could have been made, I made it), he says.Confidence Kishore Biyani, founder of Pantaloon Retail, was asked at the TiE Entrepreneurial Summit in Mumbai last year what he felt like when deep-pocketed companies like Reliance Industries entered the retail industry. Mr. Biyani gave a pithy reply – he recalled the confrontation scene between Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor from Yash Chopra’s classic Deewar, released in 1975. Amitabh Bachchan chastises his younger brother for being impractical and idealistic. He tells him that his honesty and commitment have earned him no material gain, to which Shashi Kapoor delivers one of the immortal lines from Indian cinema, Mere paas Maa hai (I have my mother).

Kishore Biyani, known to be a movie buff, invoked the scene in the context of his response to seemingly unbeatable competition. He paraphrased Mere paas Maa Hai to Mere paas Indian consumer ki understanding hai (I understand how Indian consumers think and behave). That was his competitive advantage, and he was quite unperturbed despite the perceived threat to his business because he knew his strengths and weaknesses well.Entrepreneurs typically don’t have enough resources, they have to be resourceful. Just money doesn’t always do the trick – and this applies as much to startups as it does to large companies attempting to do something path-breaking. It has been several years since Reliance and others entered the retail industry – while Pantaloon has managed to scale and grow profitably, the deep-pocketed contenders continue to struggle.This is part 1 in a 2-part series on Bollywood and Entrepreneurship.

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