Vishnu Kant Mohta is the executive director of Shree Venkatesh Films (SVF) and co-founder of the Bangla-content streaming platform Hoichoi. The digital content streaming platform has recently been launched in Bangladesh, and will premiere Amitabh Reza Chowdhury’s first web series 'Dhaka Metro' on Thursday. In a tête-à-tête with the Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Faruque Ratul, Vishnu explains the vision behind Hoichoi, and his belief about 'Dhaka Metro'
Tell us about your journey with Shree Venkatesh Films
I joined SVF in 2004 or 2005. I have been with them for about 12 odd years and I think it has been an amazing journey. Personally speaking, it was a rewarding journey, because I had the chance to see a lot happen in the Bangali content ecosystem. The first wave of technology coming into this industry was in the form of digital cinema, where cinemas were digitized.
That was my first challenge, which was being able to release films across all cinemas simultaneously. Previously, when print or celluloid was being used, films were released only in certain cinemas. Celluloids were really expensive. So digital cinema made films easily available, and they can be released in different theatres simultaneously.
Now, Hoichoi was a global Bangali idea. It was about uniting people who speak Bangla. Bangalis live in both West Bengal and Bangladesh, but there are not that many differences [between them]. Very small, minute, differences exist between different cultures. People of the world needed to see the talents among Bangalis, who live in this South East region. Internet came as a blessing to distribute content much more easily. Hence, Hoichoi had to become a platform for talents. It is not just a content business or a content company.
In the last year-and-a-half, we managed to create a loyal fan base, across the globe. We have been able to showcase some of the best talents, which came out of this part of the world. I think there are some unbelievable talents that exist in Bangladesh. “Dhaka Metro” started more than a year ago, as we discussed today. We wanted to perfect the idea, and we wanted to perfect the slate of ideas that will come out of Bangladesh. “Paachforon” is the first true-born Bangladeshi content that is available on Hoichoi. Now we want to take more content from here and spread it across the globe, which is only possible through the internet—and in our case—it is only possible through Hoichoi.
You are a business graduate, yet you work with so many people from the entertainment industry. We know that the work cultures of both worlds are quite different. How do you balance the differences in your roles?
I do not completely agree with the statement, that the work cultures are very different. Maybe, from a generic point of view creative content makers may appear chaotic, with work going haywire. However, that is how creativity thrives. Creativity is the process of dealing with chaos. It is about dealing with things that happen spontaneously. You have to allow that chaos. Unless, you do that, the best ideas will never appear. It is the same as doing a brainstorming session at a business meeting. It is okay to let that session go haywire, and go all over the place; so that some of that which comes out is brilliant, and some of that would be stuff you can never think of with very structured thinking. Hence, I value creativity, ideas and stories more than anything else. And that applies, similarly, to the business world today. The best ideas come from places or sources that you have never even thought about; not conventional sources.
The same applies to content, where you need to allow that process to happen with chaos. This is where creative people excel. They deal with chaos really well. They don’t always have all the answers, but they try to figure it out as they go along. It may appear disorganized, but it is meant to be disorganized. It is designed to be disorganized. If you structure everything in a set way, then the magic does not happen. You have to allow ‘on-the-fly’ thinking. Even the business world is adopting this mindset. They are encouraging everybody to speak up, and hearing a lot of different ideas.
I never thought about it as dealing with something. I always thought about it as an extremely rewarding experience, because, I work with people who think differently from the way I think. I want them to think differently. You have to believe in them. Ideas are words, but you have to bank on them. And eventually, they will turn into something that is magical.
What is your long-term vision for Hoichoi?
Hoichoi is meant to be a 360-degree entertainment platform for global Bangalis. It is not Indian. It is not Bangladeshi. It is not just for expatriate Bangalis, who live in Jackson Heights in the US or Cambridge in the UK. It is a global Bangali platform. If tomorrow some Bangali living in the UK comes up with a great idea, then we would love to work with that person.
The internet is not limited by boundaries. It is not limited by geographical divisions. It is available globally and instantaneously. The distribution problem is solved by the internet. Hence, there is no reason to limit the vision of Hoichoi to any specific area, border-line language or dialect, etc, as there are so many things you can do. It is available to the global Bangalis.
And you have 250 million Bangalis, outside of Bangladesh and India, who all speak the same language. Bangla is the seventh-most spoken language in the world. That is something, we should be extremely proud of. You will never run out of people to talk to, or you will never run out of people to cater to.
It is a very beautiful fact about the internet, that it is a very unifying medium. And entertainment content is also very unifying, as they do not always have to have specific language. Content is all about having great stories to tell. For example “Narcos” is in Spanish, but we enjoy it nonetheless. The content, the stories, and the dialogues sink in. We resonate with it.
So I think Hoichoi is a beautiful opportunity to take things that are world class, with the best mix of talent.
Tell us a bit about how excited your team is about “Dhaka Metro?”
We started discussing “Dhaka Metro” in 2017. I have known Amitabh bhai for a number of years now. We have always wanted to work together. When we heard of "Dhaka Metro," for the first time, we thought this story would go very far. We had not done any other stories at Hoichoi before, that depict a slice of life; a human journey based on introspection, to find one’s inner-most self. That was what was most interesting for us. We have not done stories like this before.
Since it was from Amitabh bhai we knew it would be in the most caring hands. The story would not get lost in any way; it would only get better from the stage where we read the script, to the time, when we would see the actual show. That is where we had total confidence in Amitabh bhai and his team; in being able to handle such a tricky story, and such a mature story with deft hands. That is why I am very excited about “Dhaka Metro.”