Tanvi Gandhi, Executive and Creative Producer | Mumbai, India
Monika Samtani in conversation with Tanvi Gandhi in Mumbai, India - 2018.
Take us on the journey of your career path, the dreams and aspirations that you had, and what led you to do what you're doing today.
Wow, the journey actually began, when I think about it, such a long time ago. I think the germ of it sort of happened when I started doing theater, which was roughly around '97, '98, over 20 years now. Cable television had come into India and we were first watching international shows, getting exposed to the world of families and emotions and drama outside of India. And it was very intriguing, almost inviting us. At least I felt that about myself. I remember finishing graduation and going to my father and saying that I think I know what I want to do. I was clear about the fact that I wanted to do something in media and entertainment. I went up to him and I said, you know what, no engineering, no medicine, this is the line that I want to go into. And I think I was fortunate to have family and parents that said, "Okay, go ahead, try what you want to try." But I did not not know what the next steps would be. I ended up working at a news channel in a Delhi called NDTV, did about three and a half years of hardcore news television but I got fortunate because I ended up working on a TV show, which was based on a British series called, Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister, so I was fortunate to not restrict my learning to the newsroom, but also be on a set, understand what angles are, how acting is done, and I think that's when I decided that, okay, so I'm going to move from here, I'm gonna move to Bombay, and I'm going to enter the big bad world of movies.
What are some of the challenges that you faced in the movie industry since then? You're a woman in India at the top of your career and obviously it took strength to get there, and determination, and grit. What are the challenges that you've faced as a woman in your position?
We've got to prove ourselves at every stage. I remember when I was a younger person, trying to explore this new avenue, I had an inner voice saying that, "this is what you want to do, this is how I want to express myself.”
The journey, once I started, I sort of took it step by step. I realized that it's not easy to do this in a world full of men. It's not easy to position yourself where you want to. We were slowly inching towards a very competitive, toxic world. Everybody was wanting to get into media. And I think there was such an immense rush, pretty much half of people my age were wanting to do this. And then to find your identity in that, trying to figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are and what should you do to stay in the game, stay afloat. It took a while and I think the main thing that I realized my strength was to still stay emotional about things. I think, you know, to still stay intact. You can easily become a person who becomes so hard because you want to win, you want to lead, you want to create, you want to be ahead at all times. I'm just glad that I feel I still have retained some of that softness and the ability to be okay if I feel.
Tanvi what you're talking about here is so important. I mean, it's the biggest movie market in the world. you work in this space every day. so, give us the day in the life of Tanvi Gandhi. To be in this position, the challenges that you're facing in a male-dominated industry - how do you deal with that?
You know, very honestly, I think I hadn't anticipated the journey, and the different twists and turns my life took. I'm very happy with where I am. You know, what is interesting is that women my age never really actually had any role model when we were growing up. There was nobody. I think wherever we have reached, women my age did it on their own. I think it's good wherever we reached because we didn't know that coming this far could also be an option and an opportunity. So, everyday for me is so fruitful and actually happy because it's a blessing that even this much is happening.
A normal day is full of doubts, it's full of questions. It's full of whether if what I'm doing is good enough, whether I can better this, what if I was to do it some other way? What sort of gets reassuring a in way is when your team around you makes you feel like they are inspired by you, or the fact that they're learning from you, or the fact that they actually want to be like you. I think that reassurance, helps you take the next step. Could be right or wrong, could be not so good, but the next step is easier when a team believes in you. And I'm glad, I think I invested in and I built some really good team members who've left, who've gone on their journeys and become independent producers and just become stronger individuals, stronger women.
I think just the fact that they constantly let me feel that, hey, we want to be like you. I think we wanna learn things from you, makes me overcome a lot of the challenges that we feel we face. It's a man's world at the end of the day. You're still jostling and trying to prove to every single person that I know my job, I know what I'm doing. And it has nothing do with the way I look or the way I behave or my choice of being single or my choice of having multiple people. I know my job and that's the only thing I want to be looked at for. But, it's so easy to judge and eventually all you're doing is praying that I just get thick skinned. Yet, I retained some part of my softness because the day it stops affecting me, I think I won't be able to create. In our line, all we do is create. We want to be able to create and feel like that childlike innocence everyday to be able to create something new. And that's the constant struggle actually, to not be cynical.
You are now the role model that you yourself never had. Why is it so important for women to advocate for each other today?
You know, I often say this, that boys over a drink become brothers, but women take a while to become sisters. And it's true because the complexities that we as women feel for each other, feel for ourselves is immense. It's actually, you know, half our problems are self created because somewhere we're still dealing with understanding who we are, whether we're actually women who want to achieve what we want to be, women who want to nurture, or we want to be aggressive or we want to be soft. I think we are still trying to figure out who we truly, truly are. Therefore it becomes even more critical to be able to understand the other woman who sort of is a threat in your head, who sort of is as good as you. It's so important to try and understand that together as a force we'll be able to change things.
If we believe in each other, if we push each other and have each other's backs, change will happen where we'll be able to make a larger impact than our own personal journeys. The only way any kind of change, any kind of movement for women can happen is if we actually hold each other's hands. It's a tough one, because it's so interesting how female friendships can become so messy and yet they can become so good that just to be able to understand women itself is another journey. If you're able to crack that and are actually able to build a good team with another woman, there's no stopping. But, it's a tough one personally for me.
what do you see happening in India right now that’s good for women?
It is such an exciting time right now actually not just in India, but world over, in our line of our profession. There's such a strong transition happening from just pure television and film content and creation to digital platforms. And I think it's pushing everybody to think out of the box, to not have sensor issues, to not have structured storylines. It's pushing us all to give our best because the consumption of content has gone so high and the level of what all of us are being exposed to world over with platforms that are streaming across the world. It's only making all of us push harder and harder, which is also giving us many more opportunities because there are that many more roles to perform and grab.
So, I think it's a very exciting period. The advantage that we have is fortunate in that sense because we've already spent about 15 to 18 to 20 years, and now at the threshold of that change, you're one of the few that have experienced and actually helped reach here. So I think it's damn exciting. What’s also happened is that a lot of families have opened up in India, especially to let their girls go and work in the media. So you have girls and boys coming from good families, and not so privileged families. Everybody's now open to understanding this as a respectable medium and a choice of profession, which wasn't the case in our time. We had to go through a series of discussions and explanations with our families to make them understand that this is legit, this makes sense. We want to do this.
I think we've paved the way for a new generation of young girls and boys who, in their early adult life, are seeing such great content. I mean, they've grown up seeing that. So I can just imagine when they will take this ahead. The one thing that sort of bothers me is their inability to restrain, to hold back, to let things be, to be in it to appreciate and respect people they've learned from. I think they want to just move so quick that sometimes I look at my team and I'm like, hold on, you'll still reach where you want to, but just hold on. Just breathe and see what's around you, but that's their time. And I think it's our time too because I think people leading, people deciding, people creating, are our people from my sphere. I think it's sort of privileged to be around that energy and aspire to eventually create some good content yourself.
Describe a moment when you felt most powerful.
I'm not sure when I've actually felt truly powerful because I think there's still a long way to go to feel that I still have the power to make very big choices, very big decisions that could change things. I think I still have a long way to go there. But in the journey from then to now, I feel that I've had the power to make changes within the way my family has thought and looked at life. I think when I look back, I feel like I did have that power to change their mindset, to argue things out, to debate, to discuss with them - with their age old thinking and upbringing - they actually let me fly. With all, I attribute all of it to them, but I think somewhere I felt that there was something that I was doing right, which made me feel powerful to be able to have the choice of what I wanted to do. So I think somewhere I've felt that the journey from then until now there've been moments where I felt that I made that change.
What would you say to a girl, a woman listening to you right now who says, “wow, if she could do it, maybe I can too”?
Trust me, if I could do it, anybody could. It's not like I was acing school, it wasn't like I aced college. I was pretty average/above average student trying to maximize the day and what I was doing. But what I feel is that I listened to my inner voice There was something that was knocking saying that push for this, this is what you want to do. It's either your gut, your instinct, your soul, something is talking to you. All you need to do is listen to that. And I feel the biggest thing is - our journey is our own. We do not need to compare it to anybody else because the decisions we take are our own, the circumstances are our own. What our lives and our situations are our own. So, there is no point in looking left or right and saying, why is she or he ahead of the game? No, the fact that I'm even here is a big enough step, and it's a journey. It's a long journey. All any one of us needs to do is listen to ourselves and take the chance. I think it's all about just taking the chance. And if you don't succeed, change the route. That's all. That's all there is that we can do. Change the route. That's all.