The Maverick Moviemaker

The Maverick Moviemaker

Rule-breaker.  Moviemaker.  Maverick.

 

For 12 years, Bhavan Rajagopalan (39) from Chennai, India, has relentlessly pursued his dream of making a feature film.

After a few false starts with his first two original screenplays, Bhavan finally achieved his goal. This year, following almost four years of intense graft, his third feature screenplay – VIVESINI – will see the light. All because Bhavan made the decision to never give up.

I caught up with this intrepid writer/director/producer in August, shortly after his private screening at the Conway Hall in London. What follows is an in-depth interview that I’ve been breathlessly waiting to release. (It’s all about timing, darlings!) So brew a cuppa or grab a glass of what you fancy and settle into your sofa.

For ease of navigation, I’ve divided this interview into sections. If your time is limited, just click on a bulletpoint below to go directly to the subject of your choice.

Alternatively, to read the FULL INTERVIEW, just scroll down…

MAKING VIVESINI

– Convincing The Investors

– Breaking The Rules

– Pushing Through

– The Release!

– Why This Story?

TV Interview (no English subtitles, sorry! But it does include BEHIND-THE-SCENES CLIPS of acclaimed actor, NASSAR, as well as yours truly.)

BHAVAN’S JOURNEY

– How It All Began

– First Big Break 

– Paying His Dues

Corporate look

Making Vivesini: CONVINCING THE INVESTORS

Bhavan, how many potential investors did you approach?

Around 400-500. Out of which I got less than 20 people to put money in.

Wow. Your passion for this movie shines through. It’s clear that the people who have invested believe not just in the film but in you. Not only have you put a ton of your own money into Vivesini, but you’re a man of your word; you have made this movie despite Covid, a lack of funds and many stumbling blocks. And now you’re about to release it, ensuring that investors get their money back plus, hopefully, sizeable returns.

See that’s the tricky point here. Every filmmaker believes that they are going to make their film. But to convince another person – especially an investor – that they are going to see the end of the tunnel is the toughest part. I feel proud in that regard: that I was able to convince these 15 people to invest money – especially for a film that doesn’t have ‘stars’.

This is an independent film; and most indie films – not just in India but all over the world – don’t get completed. They’re shelved halfway through – mostly due to lack of funds, although there are other reasons. They don’t have someone who is willing to see the project through to the end over a few years if necessary, because nothing is holding them to it. They get bored, their passion for the project fizzles out, they lose interest.

Also: indie films are usually easy on budget, whereas Vivesini’s canvas is so big to be an indie film, it was even tougher to get investors. And most of them didn’t even believe that I could actually finish this extravagant script within the projected budget.

At the end of the day, there has to be some binding factor. I think I should be proud of that: I was that binding factor. Despite a lack of funds and no big names, I was able to transfer this confidence to my whole crew and cast.

What you’ve done, and what you’re accomplishing, is incredible. Did people tell you along the way: ‘It’s impossible. You shouldn’t even bother carrying on.’?

Yeah, sure. Mostly they said: ‘I don’t think this will work out.’

Because they saw other indie producers shelving their films?

Yes, sure. See, the way films are marketed in India is like this. The first and foremost thing potential investors ask is: who are the actors and who is the director? They want big names. Box Office names. So that they’re assured they’ll make a profit even before the film is released. They don’t even need to wait for box office returns, because the sale of the film to a distributor will usually give them a profit; the producers become ‘safe’. As soon as you sign a contract with an A-list actor, you’re good to go. But you have to finish the film. There are some directors who don’t manage to finish the film (after convincing the producer with these A-list actors in their project). Mainly because they haven’t budgeted correctly. As a result, they go way over budget and can’t afford to carry on. So that’s a problem with producers; they get carried away with A-list actors and end up spending more than what they were actually told.

But when you talk about a film without A-listers, or any kind of stars, then it’s going to be a big task – because you don’t know when it’s going to be released. There are hundreds and hundreds of unfinished Indie films just lying on shelves all over the world.

That’s very sad…

How did you manage to raise the crucial funding for post-production?

For five or six months I spent almost all my time looking for ‘closing’ funds (to complete post-production and produce the first full copy of the film, ready for distribution/exhibition). As I was getting nowhere, I had to slow down post-production work. During this time I was trying to get someone to be the Tamil voice of the British character, Alice, for dubbing. One of the audio engineers had been great in recommending other people for character dubbing, but the person for Alice was eluding us. Incidentally, there is a small role in the film, played by a child. His mother is an actress who speaks Tamil, so I thought maybe she would work well for ‘Tamil Alice’. I needed someone whose voice was strong; not a typical feminine voice. So I called this woman, and she was happy to do it – she’s very considerate in that way. She came in and did the dubbing really well.

At that time, I was asking everyone – everyone – for funds to help me complete the film. Without shame. Now, two or three weeks before this woman came into the studio, I’d asked for her help with funds. But she said she wasn’t sure; she didn’t think she wanted to invest in films. So, anyway, this was two or three weeks later, and she was in the studio with me, kindly doing the voice acting. And while she was recording, she was watching the footage pertaining to Alice’s scenes. Once she’d finished recording, she looked at me: her expression told me she was impressed with what she’d seen. And she told me that she would be speaking with her husband that night about funding for the movie. A week later, she came back to me with her husband and they invested the crucial funds.

But that’s not all. When I say ‘closing funds’, this is what I mean: Let’s say I needed 80 lakhs (approximately £87,000) to finish everything – I would not ask for 80 lakhs because it’s too much money to ask for in one go. So I would ask for only 5 lakhs, for example, so I can finish a certain amount.

So when this couple invested their portion, I was able to complete an integral part. Then I required another closing amount. And I found that as soon as people watched the trailer, things changed. People started believing in me. Because it looked like a proper film – an extravagant horror/thriller! Until that moment, they were all thinking: OK, this guy is doing something stupid. Let’s see what he does. But when they saw the trailer, the change in them was incredible. It was like they could see what I saw: a proper movie that you can actually go and watch at the cinema!

So this woman’s husband then put me on to his friend who’s a big shot in East Africa. He’s actually from a film background, but he hated films because his grandfather lost all his money in films – so he moved to a different industry and is doing really well. So I had a conference call with him, with the help of our mutual friend. But what he’d apparently told his friend – the husband who’d invested in my movie – was: ‘Listen, I’m not planning to invest in films. I saw the trailer, it’s very good but I don’t want to have anything to do with films.’

So I got on the call and spoke to this guy… And I told him I didn’t want him to invest in the film – because the moment you say ‘film’, it’s a gamble. I understood that. He did too. I just asked him to hear me out. And I proceeded to give him the same ‘speech’ I’d given hundreds of times already.

At the end of the call, he said he wanted to invest. Everything. Not just a part of the remaining funds, but everything.

I couldn’t believe it. A lot of people say they’ll invest but don’t. But this guy did. And it all happened because my audio engineer couldn’t find me a good option to do the Tamil voice of Alice.

There were several instances in the making of this film where something would elude me… and then I’d end up with something better than I’d hoped for.

Ally grins

Making Vivesini: BREAKING THE RULES

I understand your casting decision for the Protagonist/lead female actor breaks all the rules. Tell us how that came about.

I happened to sign a well-known (not A-list but a ‘name’) actor. She loved the script and she was studying anthropology at the time; I was thrilled because she was so close to the character. But a month before filming began, she pulled out. I think it was due to a better offer elsewhere, but I’m not sure. I’d prepared everything; we were almost ready to start filming and the protagonist had disappeared. So I found someone else. But I wasn’t happy, initially.

When I saw Kavya’s headshot, I thought: No. I can’t see this young woman in the role. But she insisted: she wanted to audition. I felt so bad! I told her not to come, because I knew I was going to just reject her; I didn’t want to waste her time. However, when she carried on insisting, I gave in and said she could send in a self tape. So she did.

Well, I was impressed. My co-writer was impressed. I showed the tape to my wife, to get an outside opinion; she was impressed too. But there was a problem. In Tamil cinema, the ‘look’ factor is considered a big thing. There is a certain type of look people expect when they watch a movie. In India, fair skin is a huge thing. Just like Caucasian people tanning themselves to look darker, bleaching over in India is a very big thing. So this particular young woman, Kavya, is not your typical ‘lead actress’ material. Usually dark-skinned female actors would be typecast in certain roles, restricting them to be a servant maid or a mother of a small child in the slums, in the ghetto – because Indian people associate dark skin with this. (They are not cast as higher/middle class, English-speaking, progressive, fashionable, learned women.)

Now hold on. Kavya is stunning! And talented! How could she not be considered a lead actress?

Exactly. It’s just the way people are. I mean, I was quite impressed with the audition, but when I told my team I wanted Kavya as the protagonist, they were not happy. I understand where they’re coming from, but after watching her audition, I’d changed my mind about her. She was phenomenal, and her dark skin perfectly suited my needs. Getting them to change their minds, though… I actually had a make-up man booked, and he did a couple of make-up tests with her. But every time he finished, he moaned: ‘Why do you want to do a film with this girl? Do you want this film to bomb? I have seen people – extras – who look fair and better.’

I wasn’t angry with him; I understood where he was coming from. It’s drummed into you from childhood; it’s part of our education and upbringing. His outlook. But he didn’t understand what I saw in terms of what I was trying to accomplish with the script. So I didn’t say anything. But I had to get a different make-up man because he would’ve remained prejudiced against her. Every time he made her up, he tried to make her look fair – I didn’t want that. (In fact, we actually dropped two shades down to make her look a little darker than she is.)

This film is breaking a lot of rules in a lot of senses. For example: how actresses are projected in the film. If you compare my film with any other Indian film, you’ll immediately see what I mean. In Indian cinema, you will not see a shabby female protagonist. Or a dark one who is from an upper middle class, progressive family. In typecasting, their characters will be found in ghettos.

What made you want to break the rules?

As a filmmaker I want to break clichés. You’ll see a lot of what I mean in Vivesini. I’m not happy with the way fair vs dark skin is being treated in India. Especially in cinema. Especially with women. Male protagonists can be dark and clumsy. They’re considered masculine. Female actors have to be clean, fair-skinned, and neatly dressed. Even if they roll on the ground, they have to look perfect. Especially their hair. I just can’t digest this. So finding this protagonist was a big thing for me because I had to convince a lot of my chief technicians and others that she was right for the part, and I think she did a very good job in the film. She’s believable and she portrayed the lead character, Shakthi, really well.

Why do you believe Vivesini will be considered a benchmark?

Because of the roles I’ve given to two foreign actors. Getting foreign actors to participate has been a highlight. It was a huge task because it involves a lot of processes. The way it usually works is this: when Caucasians are used in Indian cinema, they’re almost always in the roles of ‘puppets’, much like when Asians are used in Hollywood. Mainly because the producers over in India can’t always afford a proper ‘Hollywood’ actor; the cost would be way more than the Indian producer could afford. So what they would do is – because they can’t write a screenplay that has scope for an actual actor of foreign origin (as they won’t be able to afford one) – they will hire extras from Pondicherry. (It’s a French-dominated city, so there are lots of Caucasians – more Eastern Europeans or French people than Americans or Brits, but they work just fine because they’re merely ‘props’.) You’ll never see them portraying a serious role in an Indian film. So that’s why my movie is going to be considered a benchmark.

Would you say Vivesini is a ground-breaking movie?

I can’t say that, as it’s my film. Someone else could say it, but I definitely think my film will stand out as a benchmark film because I can say that with absolute certainty that there aren’t any films in India with foreign actors playing important, defining roles. I’m not only talking about ‘stars’; there aren’t any foreign actors. Because the films don’t allow them to have an additional language. The moment you bring in a foreign actor, the script has to have space for whatever language that actor speaks. (For example, I cannot have a Chinese or eastern European or African actor in the film unless the script demands it). Whereas Vivesini’s screenplay accommodates foreign actors – making it a transnational film.

I’ve borrowed that term from a professor: the head of the film department in the University of Michigan. He saw the film and really liked it. He said it’s the first transnational film from India.

What made you decide to make a transnational film? Wasn’t your task of producing your first feature film ‘impossible’ enough?

I wouldn’t consider this an impossible task. I’ve always known there would be hurdles. My approach to almost everything is to add additional challenges to it. So it seems impossible for someone from outside – getting foreign actors on board, with all the visa issues, etc. – but the script demanded it. Once you see the movie, you’ll understand. The influence of British progressive thinkers – their ideas – on India… There is a huge political debate happening in India, especially about the post-colonial effect. After watching the film, you’ll understand why I had to create an American character and an English character. It’s not just ‘for show’; they have distinct importance and meaning.

So you didn’t mean to go out and make a transnational film. You just intended to write a script, create a story, that meant something to you?

Correct. The script and the research work took me to these places; these characters were born out of the Journey I took while writing Vivesini.

Making Vivesini: PUSHING THROUGH

When you started producing Vivesini, what were your ‘release’ expectations?

We were planning for a December 2020 release. Production began in November 2019, and we’d planned to complete production by April/May 2020 and then spend five or six months on post-production. But Covid hit and messed with our plans, and we had to close down in March 2020. Those 1½ years were complete hell.

What were your lowest moments?

Although there were low moments, I never had the feeling that it was over, that I couldn’t complete the film, because I have always been very hopeful about this movie – positive I’d be able to see it through to completion and distribution. Even during times when I didn’t see solutions in front of me, I just kept telling myself: OK, it’ll be OK; just a few more days, or a few more months… and then eventually everything will ease out.

The lowest point was during Covid. It’s not like I’m on the cusp of the industry, swinging between theatre projection and OTT (streaming services like Netflix, etc.). Initially I was orthodox about the movie: I wanted it to be showcased in the cinema rather than go straight to TV. So I was taken aback with the situation where movies were moving from being released in the cinema to going straight to OTT. At one point I remember (this was at the beginning of Covid, mid-2020), I was talking about this with my friend, my co-writer, and I told him that even if I don’t make enough profit – even if I make a loss – I think I’m going to wait for theatres (cinemas) to open, so I can release Vivesini the ‘traditional’ way. I’m not planning to release this in OTT.

By the end of 2021 I’d jumped to the OTT side of the fence. I told myself, ‘Bloody hell, I’m not going to care about whether this film is released in cinemas or OTT, because investors are at my back and I have invested a great deal in this film myself (time and cash), and I have to recoup the money.’ So I started thinking like a producer.

But my co-writer, who knows me well, wasn’t convinced. Two months ago, I was frustrated and told him: ‘I’m so tired; I just want to sell this film and get the money back; I don’t even care if the film is released or not.’ And he said nothing. He just looked at me knowingly. Then, two weeks back, I repeated my statement but I added: ‘I don’t care if I get the money back – but I do want the recognition.’

He smiled at that and said he was going to tell me that two months ago, when I told him all I cared about was the money. ‘This is you, Bhavan,’ he said. ‘I don’t think you’ll be happy with just the money because you have been starving for this for the past twelve years!’ (I’ve been trying to make a feature film for the past twelve years.) So I think this moment is probably about receiving recognition, or about communicating with the people. You feel happy when your communication with people – getting your message across – is successful, isn’t it?

That makes sense, that you’re looking for recognition. Because the exciting part about completing your first movie – besides getting to be creative and doing what you love, of course – is that it makes producing your next movie easier. Right? Once you’ve been recognised in the industry – once you’ve made a name for yourself as someone who’s written, produced, directed, and got distribution for, a high-quality, commercial feature film – people realise they can rely on you. This means they’ll give their money to you to make another movie. And you’ll no longer have to spend months or years raising funds. Right?

Right.

Who has been your biggest support throughout all of this?

There are a couple of people who have practically supported me. One of them is my co-writer and mentor, Gajendran Kannan. He’s known me since I was 20/21. He’s been instrumental in a lot of instances in my life. Emotionally, intellectually, he’s been very supportive. And my wife. Without Saya, I would not have been able to finish this project. She took care of our child by sacrificing her corporate career to enable me to chase my dream. And she’s a huge encouragement to me.

Bhavan’s Journey: HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Now, Bhavan, I understand that you completed your Masters in Film Production at Canterbury Christchurch University in the UK in 2010 – where you wrote, produced and directed the short, powerful sci-fi drama, The Grey Area. Then your long, uphill journey began. You worked your way up from the bottom in the movie and ad industry, producing short films, corporate documentaries and commercials until you founded Laburnum Productions in 2019. But what I want to know is: has filmmaking always been your dream?

No. In India, when I was a child, I didn’t even know what a camera was. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I developed the secret ambition of doing something in cinema. Not out of a passion for moviemaking – but because it was flashy. It took me quite a few years, and Gajendran’s intervention, I would say, after I told him what I thought I was good at. At the age of twenty, it all started for me. It was then that I started making films.

So before that, what did you want to be?

I started writing stories when I was a young child, around ten years old. But they weren’t original. I mostly wrote down a film that I’d watched – and I’d make some small changes, like I would give the films different endings that suited me better.

I didn’t even know at the time that this thing existed in life where you had to achieve something. I was in my own world. Before this, I used to delude myself that I would be a cricketer.

Were you good at cricket?

I was not. That’s the sad part. I was so deluded. Ignorant. I actually believed that I would play for India. Without any practise. I enjoyed it, though. But looking back at it now, I think I must have been a complete hypocrite. I knew I couldn’t do certain things but I acted like I could; I acted like I could somehow circumvent things and achieve what I wanted. You can’t do that.

I think that’s part of my Indian upbringing: that you believe you can circumvent anything and reach the top – not in an honest way.

I’m laughing because that doesn’t sound like the Bhavan I know. That sounds very rose-tinted.

I was. I broke my rose-tinted glasses a long while back.

How did you meet your mentor – and co-writer of Vivesini – Gajendran Kannan?

As soon as I finished my college years and got my filmmaking/visual effects diploma, I started working for an advertising agency, taking care of the marketing. That’s where I met Gajendran. He was a part-time writer there. A lot of things opened up after talking to him. Just for someone to understand they’ve been deluding themselves about their skillset – you need some sort of suspended observation, some kind of intervention to see yourself from a different perspective.

Whenever some part of my brain would ask me: Are you really good at…? I would just lie to myself. To give an honest answer (No) would mean I had some sort of understanding about myself, which I didn’t. Once that’s opened up, you will start giving yourself honest answers. This makes your life much easier.

How did you and Gajendran end up working together?

I wouldn’t use that term. It’s always been a mentor/student relationship, but I don’t think he ever thought about it that way. He’s an amazing guy. He can mentor anyone. I’m not his only ‘student’. We have a similar wavelength and he’s seen so many people in his life who were similar to me. He has a way – he will kindle your abilities, your skillset. That’s what mentors do.

Bhavan’s Journey: FIRST BIG BREAK

After the ad agency and before CCCU in 2010, what were you doing?

I became assistant to the late K.V. Anand, an important, award-winning cinematographer and director in India. Apart from Tamil films, he did notable Bollywood films too.

How did that happen?

Gajendran had interviewed K.V. Anand, and – realising the man’s love of literature – thought he and I would be a good fit. He said I should make a short film; that was sure to impress K.V. Anand. (At that time, doing a short film was a big thing; not many people were doing it.) So I did, and I approached this great cinematographer and gave it to him to watch. He was just about to start work on his first feature film as a director, so the timing was great.

Well, he loved my film; he told me it’s very good. But he said: ‘I’m sorry but I can’t take you on. I already have five assistants. I really like your film but I just can’t take you on. I have no space for you. Why don’t you try other directors?’

I told him, ‘I really just want to work with you.’

So you killed one of the five assistants and took his place?

Oh the truth is much more interesting – and legal. At this point in my life, I was broke. And I’d lost hope because K.V. Anand had told me several times that he’s not going to take me on. So I took a job in a law firm, doing graphic design. I’d worked there for just five days when I received a call from my previous employer at the ad agency. His grandmother had passed away and he asked if I wanted to pay my respects. All my friends would be there.

So I got permission from the law firm, which was only three streets away from the house where I would need to go to pay my respects, and I started walking. I was just a few steps away from the entrance when I got a call. From K.V. Anand. He told me his film had need of a visual effects person, so if I was willing to start as his assistant – with low pay – I could have the job. And I could start that afternoon.

I was so excited! Too excited, in fact, to be going to a funeral. I entered the home, where everyone was sad and I could barely contain my exhilaration. My previous employer asked me what I was doing as a job, and I proudly answered: ‘Oh you don’t know? I’m K.V. Anand’s assistant.’

After paying my respects, I had to return to the law firm and apologetically resign. But they were so impressed with who my new employer was going to be, they were happy. I left there and went straight to K.V. Anand’s office and started on my first feature film.

How did you find working with K.V. Anand?

He was primarily a cinematographer, so I learnt a lot. See, I believe that you don’t actually really learn anything from a director. Because direction is more like a curating job. You need to have it in you. It’s a style. In those days people arrived with a clean slate. They’ll work for seven or eight films with the same director and then you will see similarities in the films they make because they would have got everything they learned from the director. But it doesn’t work that way nowadays. Basically, you now work with a director for contacts. If any person comes to work for me in the future as my assistant, I don’t believe he’ll learn anything from me. He’s just coming to me because I have a name, so he’ll get some contacts and that’s how he’ll grow. Whereas cinematography isn’t like that. You learn from them. It’s a process, a technique. So, with K.V. Anand I learned a lot with respect to cinematography, stylised lighting and aesthetics. Not directly from him but from his assistants; that’s how it works with these stalwarts. So I’m strong in that regard.

Bhavan’s Journey: PAYING HIS DUES

What part-time jobs have you had throughout your life?

I liked doing part-time jobs because I liked having cash in my hand and I didn’t like to ask my father for money. But for each part-time job I did, I would have to bunk college. So I would do it discreetly. I didn’t want my father – who was paying my tuition fees – to know that I was missing some studies because I was working part-time so I could get a couple hundred bucks.

After finishing my under graduation, I started at the ad agency; and I worked there for less than a year. That’s when I made my first short film and screened it at a few local festivals. That’s when I found my path. I realised my content was completely different to other short films. This was back in 2003/4. At that time, ‘short film’ meant: ‘give a social message’. That’s what short films were all about. Complicated emotions don’t come into it at all. My film was about a complex point in a guy’s life and I’d added a huge sexual taboo in one scene. It all started there. That’s why I was not able to get too excited about my first two feature film scripts – because they’re too conventional.

What made you decide to go to CCCU to do a one-year post-graduate degree?

I always wanted to pursue higher studies in films, ever since I finished my digital filmmaking diploma back in 2003. But it didn’t happen. I tried going to Australia in 2005, but it didn’t happen. Then, eventually, in 2008, I made a 60-minute film. That film got me a scholarship to CCCU.

That was a turning point in my life. Until then I’d always considered myself as someone useless with academics. I thought I could never step into an academic life because I don’t have the skillset. I have a lot of difficulty in understanding a lot of things. So, getting a scholarship from a prestigious university greatly boosted my confidence.

Did you make the 60-minute film in order to apply for a scholarship?

No. I’d already made the film when I decided to make my application. When they asked me to submit what I’d already done, I submitted this 60-minute film. And I got in. I was one of only eleven international scholarships. For me, that’s something I cannot digest.

Wow, that’s huge. Congratulations. What a validation. No one at CCCU knew who you were; you had no contacts or connections there. You simply got in on the merit of something you had created.

Yes! It gave me the assurance I needed to know that I’m not deluding myself about being a filmmaker. Because remember, I deluded myself about being a cricketer. That part always plays on my mind and makes me doubt my abilities. But this achievement gave me what I needed to realise I’m actually capable of making films.

How did you gather the funds to make the 60-minute film?

A little portion was funded by a friend. Another portion was crowd-funded. And I put in my own money for the rest.

After CCCU, upon returning to India, what was your plan?

I was not planning to immediately make films. I knew it would be tough and I had to earn money straight away. So I started a production house and created TV commercials and corporate videos. That was a win-win. I earned money and I built a showreel I could show to potential producers.

How did you land such prestigious clients? I see two or three big names among your ads.

It was a struggle. Especially since I was in Chennai, not Mumbai or Bangalore – where all the big shoots (films and ads) take place. Chennai is a very conventional, orthodox market. They don’t spend a lot of money. But I was not willing to move. I wanted to eventually make a film in Chennai, so I stayed there. And it ended up being a blessing in disguise because I was able to make some really big films for peanuts.

Every time I attempt something big, I tell myself I’m learning something: something is going to come out of this. And that’s actually what helped me finish Vivesini.

When people watch Vivesini, they will see the scale of the production. It does not look like an independent film; it appears to be a studio film. I got this practise – perseverance and stamina – from several years of doing small films. It has become second nature for me, like muscle memory. If I don’t have money, I won’t think: I can’t do it. I will find alternative ways to do it.

I have trained my crew like that over the past few years. My crew understands that I will push them. Someone who has worked with me will not work in the same way with another director because he knows how I work. We have shot in idiotic conditions and in unconventional ways, but we have done it.

Making Vivesini: THE RELEASE!

Bhavan, how are you feeling right now?

Relieved! After almost four years of struggle. We all took an unwelcome break during Covid – even though I filled my time with post-production work and editing on the film, as well as fundraising. But I’m relieved the movie is now ready to be exhibited. I can see how people react. I’ve already received fantastic feedback, so I’m positive about distribution.

Fantastic! When are you hoping to release Vivesini in India?

I’m aiming for November this year.

I understand you’re looking at film festivals, but they’re secondary. Your priority is releasing the film, right?

You know, just like a lot of plans changed due to Covid, my initial plan was different. In 2018, we were planning on going down the traditional Indian marketing route. i.e. You make an independent film, you take it to festivals, you get laurels on your poster (if your movie wins anything), and then you start selling your film. But what I realised is: festivals are a huge commercial industry now. Especially over the last five/six years. There are hundreds of film festivals across the globe. So even if you make a terrible film, you just have to literally pay some money and you’ll get laurels from quite a few of them. So that rang a bell for me. I decided I’d never get into that. If I submit my film to festivals, it will only be prestigious ones – ones where winning or even just being nominated matters. But even if I get a screening at one of these, I won’t use it for promoting my movie. Because people have become so diluted. Filmmakers can now say that their film got into the Cannes or Venice film festival. But if you look a little harder, you’ll see it’s not the Cannes, etc. festival – it’s the Cannes Tamil film festival, for example. For these reasons I decided to stay away from the general film festival circuit and market this film like a typical commercial film. And my marketing tactics are interesting ones.

So you’re marketing it in India first, but you have English subtitles throughout the movie – does this mean you aim to market it outside of India as well?

I am planning to market it outside of India, but that’s not a priority. The reason the English subtitles are there is: India has close to thirty languages; at least ten of these are used in the film industry. People living in Delhi don’t speak Tamil, so they won’t be able to understand my film. But in southern and northern parts of India, people speak English – so even though Tamil is not their language, they’ll be able to understand my film. And of course, film festivals need subtitles for foreign films.

OK, so India aside, what are your next steps? Will you take Vivesini to Netflix or Amazon Prime, for example, or do you want an international cinema release in another country, or worldwide?

That all depends on the offers that come in.

Making Vivesini: WHY THIS STORY?

This isn’t the first feature film you’ve written. What made you choose to produce your third screenplay, rather than the first two?

I strongly believe the story transports you somewhere. Whereas the other two screenplays didn’t have the energy to ‘pull’ me, to keep me committed to them, this one did. I’ve pitched all three scripts to several investors, but this one had a different energy. I just knew that with this one, even if no one decided to put money in, I would make it. It’s a story that can’t just sleep. It has to see the light. It’s probably the Vivesini energy that the films speaks of that has awakened.

Do you think, of the three screenplays, Vivesini has the best ‘draw’ to give you acclaim? Whereas the other two will definitely get: ‘Wow, what a fantastic writer, director… What great entertainment!’ But this one might afford you the recognition, the acclaim, you deserve?

Maybe. I really don’t think about acclaim, to be honest. I’m just happy I made the film. But let’s assume this film affords me some acclaim – I’m pretty sure the other two films would not. If I look at the three screenplays from a commercial standpoint, this one is the riskiest to make. By far. The other two are also commercial, but superficial. They would have given me a very safe ‘landing’. A safe footing. Especially being the first film. But fortunately it didn’t happen, and they didn’t have the energy to pull me in. Whereas this, being so deep – that’s probably why I put in so much effort.

Why did you choose to make a film about rationality?

Rationalism is important to me because I am a perfect example of what happens without it. See, until I was 33/34, I was a strong ‘believer’; I would do the most irrational things. I made horrible life decisions because I believed in such irrational things.

Because of the religion you were brought up in?

Religion is a fundamental reason, but I wouldn’t blame it completely. As a character I had a lot of beliefs in irrational things. For example I would take life decisions on irrational things, believing something would happen. It stemmed out of religious beliefs, yes, that’s the root of it.

This film is like a catharsis for me. I want to show people that if you start going behind rationality, you’ll end up on the better side.

From the age of 22/23 until I was 34, my only aim in life was to make a film. So each of my decisions in life would move towards that. ‘If I do this, then I think I will make a film.’ It doesn’t have any rational connection. It’s a belief.

Let’s say: ‘If I move from a house that’s not auspicious for me to a new house that is, things will click into place and I will probably make a film.’ That’s one of the reasons I moved house. Because I believed silly things like that would propel me to do a film.

Is it like superstition?

Yes, but no one tells you that. I was in a state of madness. When you’re a child, for example, you tell yourself you mustn’t walk on the cracks in the pavement. If you succeed in this, you will have a better chance of passing your exam. See? The only problem is: I believed this sort of thing as an adult. As a result, I ruined my life.

I’m looking at you, Bhavan, and I don’t see a life ruined. You have a beautiful, loving wife and a gorgeous daughter, and you’ve achieved your dream of making a movie. You’re fulfilling your passion. You may have taken a longer route than you would have liked, but I think there’s always a reason. Some people, and I’m including myself here, take a bit longer to get to success – because if they’d got to it sooner, they wouldn’t have been able to handle it. Do you think you’re one of those people?

You can say that. But I wouldn’t give that as a reason. I would just say: one should not be so irrational in life. And in India it’s partly because of the upbringing, the social pressure that’s been put on you. For example, in India you can tell your child: ‘Go pray to god that you’ll do well in your exams. And if you do, you’ll pay god ten bucks.’ That’s where it starts. And it just gets worse. Every decision you make in life: marriage, children, moving house, buying a car, taking your parent to the hospital or not taking them to the hospital… You become a mentally ill person.

I can see that this movie is not just a life achievement or a career achievement for you. It’s a mental achievement, an emotional and psychological achievement.

Yes, that’s the right way to put it. It is an emotional achievement. It has cleared away a lot of clogs in my head.

The fact that Vivesini got screened in the prestigious Conway Hall in front of the members of The Freethinker magazine, as well as The NSS and other academics and intellectuals, was really a defining moment for me in this journey. The reception and the feedback I received really gave that morale boost that I was searching for.

Emma Park  (Editor of The Freethinker) & Bhavan in conversation with the audience during the Vivesini private screening at the Conway Hall, London.

Watch Bhavan’s TV Interview below. (No English subtitles, sorry! But it does include BEHIND-THE-SCENES CLIPS of acclaimed actor, NASSAR, as well as yours truly.)

Bhavan, I see why so many people have been willing – are willing – to support you. Because they see who you are: a beautiful, talented, lovely human being who has created something, and they want to be a part of it. Wishing you every success with Vivesini and for everything that comes after.

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

Never give up on your dream. Find a way to make it happen.

Break the rules!

BELIEVE you can do it.

Pursue your passion! 

 If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

NEXT MONTH on The Hopeaholic blog. . . 

Inspiration, motivation, hope. You’ll find it all here.

If you subscribe to my monthly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

CHANGING LANES AFTER 50: how to handle a mid-life career switch

CHANGING LANES AFTER 50: how to handle a mid-life career switch

Alex Doy is a formidable human being.

Having been raised on a farm in Lincolnshire, UK, Alex is no stranger to hard work. This woman’s got grit – tons of it. From the age of nine she was a logistics manager with a checklist a mile long. By the time she hit 16, she was independently forging her way in the world, working various jobs locally and abroad. At age 39 she bought a franchise business. Eight and a half years later she sold it at a profit and purchased a buy-to-let property. For the next three years, to pay the bills, Alex happily took on a smorgasbord of regular part-time jobs.

And now?

Now, at age 52, Alex has changed lanes again. And she’s relishing every minute.

Corporate look

Alex, what persuaded you to purchase a franchise business, and why did you give it up?

I’ve always worked in the service industry in some capacity: from waitressing and bartending to event coordination and management. So when the opportunity arose in 2009 for me to buy my own franchise – the UK’s no. 1 dog-sitting service – I dove in.

My ‘business owner’ journey was fantastic; there were many points I loved about the franchise and I was very successful with it. But it also had some negatives. It nearly killed me.

When I got to the stage where I was completely burnt out, I realised I needed to get out. And also, I was aware of where the business was at that time: it was running at an excellent capacity and it was in a very profitable state. And businesses don’t always remain profitable for any length of time. So I felt it was the right time to sell – and I successfully sold it in 2017.

The moment I stepped away from the dog-care franchise, I made the decision to never again put myself in that position – where it nearly kills you. A lot of that was based on the 24/7 communication that customers now expect in the 21st century.

Good point. So you re-evaluated your life?

Yes. Once I realised that for my mental state I needed to change careers, I vowed not to get caught in that rut again.

What was the result of your life re-evaluation?

I realised I wanted a job without the full responsibility I’d had with my own business. Also, I knew, after driving 22,000 miles a year – as much as I love driving – I was happier to be in a job where I could cycle to work; I get a great deal out of it.

Like a lot of people, I have bills to pay and I solely rely on myself. But although I could have taken on a regular nine-to-five job in Nottingham city and earned good money, I still wanted to be able to step back a bit and not rush straight into something like that. I didn’t want a full-on, fulltime career straight after selling the business. So I decided to mix many roles to make up my working week.

Magically, I was able to create enough hours through different roles. Variety is key! Also, by having several roles, you’re not placing all your eggs in one basket. And in the current climate, that’s very important.

All of the roles were fulfilling in the short term. My main source of income came from being a part-time delivery driver for a local supermarket – a set contracted period of three shifts per week. But the rest of the week was made up of roles I could say yes or no to (an important feature when you’re used to being responsible for yourself), e.g.: working at outdoor catering events, doing weddings, driving cars through a local auction house, event management relief…

Ally grins

Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash

These were all small contracts (a set amount of hours per day or week) where I was providing a service, but it was not my sole responsibility. I was just a part of the team support, and that was important to me. When I left each job at the end of the day, I didn’t give it another thought. For my mental state and peace of mind, this was the break I needed from life. And I pursued this path for three years.

An Empty Head When You Go To Bed.

During those three years you weren’t pursuing your passion, though, right? So what did you do in your time off that made you happy? For example, you woke up every morning and thought: I can’t wait to… today?

Well, because my mind wasn’t so challenged and overly busy as it had been when I was running a business, for a while I just really enjoyed having an empty head. And an empty head when you go to bed is all you’ll ever need.

The role at the supermarket was a means to an end, satisfying enough; it ticked enough boxes. So although, yes, driving for the supermarket wasn’t a massive passion, I got a great deal of satisfaction from what it gave me in life: money to pay my bills, an empty head, time to enjoy various outlets, like running, yoga, kayaking… and the ability to be present.

Throughout the time I had the dog-care business, I was never present in the moment. On holiday, out for dinner with friends, etc. – the phone would be going. There would be a request from a customer and my mind would be elsewhere. And now that I’ve been able to step back from that, I can see it in other people, when they’re doing it with their businesses, and I know I don’t ever want to be in that state again. So the gift from selling the business, and doing a job I wasn’t passionate about for a while, was getting my mental state back to where it should be.

Fit and fab

Photo by Alex Perez on Unsplash

Absolutely. You finally got to live, to be there. That’s so important. We don’t have to keep striving non-stop and be motivated to do, do, do. We’re human beings, after all, not human doings.

Exactly! So, whenever life is not perfect, a certain richness – a quality of life – can always be found in other areas, in other ways of living. And I certainly have gained that. When I read a book now, I enjoy every moment. Whereas, before, my mind would be so filled, I can’t say I absolutely enjoyed the book.

I can’t recommend this enough – this taking time out. Anyone who is feeling burnt out and needs a break can spend at least two or three years enjoying this existence, as long as their ends meet financially…

Until the next challenge enters their mind. Which is what happened to me after three years. The drive came again: to want to do something, but not jump into the same sort of business.

That’s vital, isn’t it? Knowing what you don’t want out of life. There are so many people who haven’t a clue what they want to do – but perhaps a good place to start is: make a list of things you absolutely don’t want to do, or results you don’t want.

Correct. So many feel that the moment they finish one project they must rush on to another, or they’re not valued or successful in some way.

All I can say from experience is: taking time out, two or three years even, and making ends meet with a role that suits you, but also where you can find yourself again, is priceless.

Sage advice. Care to share any more?

It’s important to know: it’s not all about money. And there’s no rush. It will come to you. Because you’re creating the mind space to be able to look out at what’s around you and what’s working.

Well, it certainly worked for you. Tell us how your latest venture came about.

My latest venture, and hopefully my last, came about from trying to replicate some of the good things about the dog-sitting business; aspects I really enjoyed, like driving to different places, being out and about, meeting people, and being responsible for my own work. Also, the freedom the business at times could give you was another vital benefit. But I knew I definitely didn’t want to do something as emotional as the pet-care business.

There was also another important driving force: I lost my dog, Ruby, last year. And I knew that unless I changed my working environment, my goal of getting another dog would not be achievable.

Sometimes people get to junctions in their life where they realise they need to make a change in order to achieve something later in life. I was at that junction. I knew that eventually I couldn’t continue working for someone else, because generally when you’re working for somebody, or a company, you’re restricted in many ways. I knew I couldn’t take a dog to work with me. But if I became self-employed again, I could control my day-to-day routine. And if you want a dog, that’s important.

So I became an inventory clerk for letting agents and property owners.

Zumbalicious
Zumbalicious

That’s quite a change. Where did this idea come from? I get the feeling you didn’t just wake up one morning and think, Ah! I’ll be an inventory clerk!

I’ve always been interested in property, but I knew I didn’t want to become an estate agent, taking on full responsibility for the big picture – because that would put me in the same situation I was in when running my previous business. So I took a good, hard look at other roles in property.

At the same time, I made a list of my skills and strengths, as well as my likes and dislikes. For example: I enjoy working alone and managing my own time and processes; and one of my biggest strengths is logistics.

When did you discover this strength?

In my childhood: I used to go to gymkhanas with my ponies. My mum was a great mother, but she was so busy with my siblings that she would turn up just in time to jump into the car to drive my pony and myself to the competitions. So if I wanted to be on time, I had to do all the necessary work beforehand.

From the age of nine it was my responsibility to get the pony ready, and the equipment packed in the car… I had to make sure I’d packed all the tack – because if you’d just driven twenty miles to a field and you hadn’t got the saddle loaded, your day was over. Consequently, I’ve always had a checklist-type mind that naturally goes through the entire process of what I need.

What other personal strength of yours would you consider essential for an inventory clerk?

An eye for detail. And I’m fortunate: attention to detail comes naturally to me. The second time I spotted this strength was when I was in hospitality. While working in a restaurant, I could spot a salt or pepper pot missing off a table in the furthest corner of the room.

These things pop up in your life that make you realise your strengths. However, at an interview, when people ask me what my weaknesses are, I will also answer: Attention to detail. Because I believe in excellence – but I know it can get on some people’s nerves.

But it’s necessary, right? That’s what makes you stand out from the crowd. Attention to detail is what sets you apart from another inventory clerk who would, for example, forget to note the number of carbon monoxide alarms on their report.

Exactly. And I’m not saying I’m perfect, obviously. But my attention to detail is not forced – it’s easy; it comes naturally to me. I think if you don’t have attention to detail and you want a role that needs it, it would be difficult and forced. And your enjoyment in that respect would be dimmed.

So I took my strengths – logistics, driving, working alone, attention to detail – and my keen interest in property, and put them together. And out came the role: inventory clerk. It just made sense. An inventory clerk is only responsible for a section of property; a fraction of the property-letting process. Which is exactly what I was looking for.

The Key: Do Your Research.

Once you’d decided to become an inventory clerk, what were your next steps?

The first thing that came into my head was: do I need a qualification to do this? And how easy is it to achieve? Whenever you’re changing or starting a career, you need to do it to the right level or your business won’t be successful.

After discovering that there is no ‘Inventory Clerk’ qualification, I thought: well, anyone can do it; you just need to have the knowledge. So I had to find out how to go about learning all there is to know.

While researching a lot of different courses, I took into consideration the way I retain knowledge. (You know how you learn best, so this is one thing to look for: the manner in which the courses are being taught.) At my age, I’m only able to retain a certain amount of information at one time, so I needed a course that provided all the necessary information but also offered ongoing support as things came up.

I think anyone changing career, especially later in life, mustn’t just assume they can go off and do a weekend course and it’ll all come together; there will always be ongoing questions with anything you do.

Once I’d decided which course to do, I then had to purchase the necessary tools: software, the system I would need to use, etc. For guidance on this, I spoke with the course provider, as well as others in the industry.

The Key: do your research. Before I parted with any money, I was put in touch with several people who were already doing inventory work, and I picked their brains. Also, as I’d decided I wanted to be an independent clerk, I had to ring round a few property agents to ask if they ever used or would use independent clerks, or if they had their own in-house team. I needed to get an idea of how much work there was, or if they could ever be swayed into using an independent clerk.

How did you get your first client?

By accident! Before I even had a website, or had properly set myself up. All I had was the name: ADR Inventories.

I’d previously rented out a property through a local estate agent, so I took a chance and asked him if I could possibly get access to some empty properties he may have – just to practise my inventory work. And even though my property is no longer with him, he graciously gave me the opportunity to go and do an inventory report.

Unfortunately, I had an extremely limited time in which to do the report, as the tenant would be moving in rather quickly. In normal circumstances, I would have been very nervous. But as I wasn’t expecting the agent to even look at the report (he already had an inventory clerk he used regularly), I simply went in and did the job to the best of my ability.

I totally expected to keep the report to myself, so when the agent asked for it – and then decided to use it as the sole, official inventory report on that property! – I was elated.

That’s an incredible testimony to your attention to detail, as well as your conscientiousness. And also, a fabulous example of rising to the challenge. Unless you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone and change direction, even slightly, you’re not going to discover your full potential, right?

Right!

Any last nuggets of advice you’d like to share with anyone who hasn’t known from a young age what they want to do – or anyone who hasn’t yet achieved their goals – or for those not content with their career choices?

I would say: first of all, don’t be negative about any of that. Accept that there will be many turns in the road – but they don’t need to be disasters or negatives in your life. You just continually need to do whatever makes you happy.

Re-evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. And as you get older and your wishes change, be prepared to sit and evaluate and decide to change course.

They may not be dramatic changes but just things you can do without, and things you want in life. Those are what you pursue.

And know that this is a positive thing. So instead of sitting in a negative job, thinking, I’m too old; or worrying about other people’s opinions or approval or disapproval… know that you have lots of other choices.

Take strengths and weaknesses out of every role, and think about what you’ve learned along the way. None of this is negative.

I think it’s important to note that mine was a very mild-mannered change. I didn’t go from being a street sweeper to a brain surgeon. I don’t find what I’ve done to be amazing. It’s more a case of being prepared to reflect – and I’m at a stage in life where I’m ready to reflect on, and accept, what I like and don’t like.

What I’ve done isn’t earth-shattering. I’m just continually searching for what gives me that empty head before bed. That’s all I’m ever trying to achieve.

Alex, thank you so much for your time. I’m looking forward to coming back in a year’s time to see how ADR Inventories has grown, and to find out if you’re still enjoying life and being present – or if it’s time to take another break and start a new venture.

I hope not! This role is taking me into my dotage.

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

Look after your mental state; take time out.

Pursue your passion, follow your heart.

An empty head when you go to bed is all you ever need. 🙂 

You’re a human BEING, not a human ‘doing’. Be present. Stop. Breathe. Live!

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward or commission for promoting any of the people or businesses on my blog. I just want to inspire & motivate as many people as possible to fulfil their purpose & potential.

 If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

NEXT MONTH on The Hopeaholic blog. . .

A 53-year-old man who’s only just begun to pursue his Big Dream.

Inspiration, motivation, hope. You’ll find it all here.

If you subscribe to my monthly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

Want a Healthy Life? Just Follow Your Bliss!

Want a Healthy Life? Just Follow Your Bliss!

Photo by Millo Lin on Unsplash

Four years ago, Chief Financial Officer Alison Stevenson was a tired and overworked 40-year-old who took no time for self-care and had no social life.

Then she discovered Zumba®.

In Alison’s words: ‘Zumba® isn’t just a business for me, it’s a lifeline. A way of life. A celebration of life.’ 

Want to know how you, too, can follow your bliss? Read on & be inspired. 

Corporate look

Ally, how did it all start?

It all started when I began experiencing headaches as a pre-teen. The doctor recommended I take up a hobby, because I ‘worried’ a lot about things that did not concern me as a child. Very quickly, dance became one of my favourite after-school activities, and I got my kicks from clubbing. But although it made me feel good, I didn’t realise the full benefits until I was much older.

What was your lightbulb moment?

The moment I stepped into a Zumba® class, I felt alive. Invigorated! My mind switched off from the constant planning and chatting, which was a refreshing change in my then constantly busy life as a working mum. By the third class I knew I had to be an instructor. I had found my second passion in life, which I hadn’t thought was possible.

Were your start-up costs affordable?

Very affordable, as one only needs to do the initial Zumba® instructor course and have a good portable music system. Hunting for suitable halls to accommodate my class was slightly challenging as I was new in the area, but I had lots of help from the locals and secured two great halls very quickly.

Was your age a hurdle in any way?

All that is in the mind. I’ve seen instructors as young as eighteen and as old as seventy-five. That is the beauty of Zumba®: it is for everyone.

Is your Zumba® business doing so well, you could quit your fulltime job?

Business is great, but I started from scratch and had a lot to learn over time, which has been very exciting at my age. I earn much more than expected from what most people would consider a ‘sideline hustle’ — but I’m only offering classes three times a week in the evenings. My class has been steadily growing, but I have a few more projects on the go, so not quite ready to quit my fulltime job yet. Being a CFO is my first passion after all.

What steps did you take to get your business up and running?

The first thing I did was take a break from fulltime work in order to explore other options for my life. I’d just moved from the UK to South Africa, and having discovered this exciting new dance opportunity, I was very fortunate that the timing was right and I could plunge myself fulltime into Zumba®.

It was amazing learning the ropes of running my own business. I began by visiting various gyms offering my services. Meanwhile, I tended to all the necessary start-up administration, advertising and promotional work.

I started with morning classes only as I thought my target market would be stay-at-home mums. After eight months, however, the numbers levelled out to around ten students per class, so I returned to fulltime work and used my free time to figure out a better plan.

It was disappointing when the classes didn’t increase to the level I’d hoped for. But it helped to get my name out there, and allowed me to secure halls and make decisions as to which slots to offer. I also realised I had a lot to learn in terms of instructing. This was one of the reasons I went back to fulltime employment. Now I only offer evening classes to mostly the working mums, and one Saturday morning session.

Ally grins
Ally grins

Is your Zumba® business doing so well, you could quit your fulltime job?

Business is great, but I started from scratch and had a lot to learn over time, which has been very exciting at my age. I earn much more than expected from what most people would consider a ‘sideline hustle’ — but I’m only offering classes three times a week in the evenings. My class has been steadily growing, but I have a few more projects on the go, so not quite ready to quit my fulltime job yet. Being a CFO is my first passion after all.

What steps did you take to get your business up and running?

The first thing I did was take a break from fulltime work in order to explore other options for my life. I’d just moved from the UK to South Africa, and having discovered this exciting new dance opportunity, I was very fortunate that the timing was right and I could plunge myself fulltime into Zumba®.

It was amazing learning the ropes of running my own business. I began by visiting various gyms offering my services. Meanwhile, I tended to all the necessary start-up administration, advertising and promotional work.

I started with morning classes only as I thought my target market would be stay-at-home mums. After eight months, however, the numbers levelled out to around ten students per class, so I returned to fulltime work and used my free time to figure out a better plan.

It was disappointing when the classes didn’t increase to the level I’d hoped for. But it helped to get my name out there, and allowed me to secure halls and make decisions as to which slots to offer. I also realised I had a lot to learn in terms of instructing. This was one of the reasons I went back to fulltime employment. Now I only offer evening classes to mostly the working mums, and one Saturday morning session.

Fit and fab

Who has been your greatest support?

My husband has been my rock. He is now a homemaker, which allows me the freedom to explore different options for my business and enjoy my various passions. He never questioned when I decided to take a break from work and try new things through the Zumba® business. He helps me achieve my goals and is always on hand when I go on various courses. He supports me with regard to the friendships I form too. And now that I have an online offering, he posts my class on the Zumba.dance platform and distributes it to my regular customers every day.

I also had lots of support from my mum and my sister, especially at the start. They came to every single class despite the fact I had no customers, or sometimes only one or two. And Zumba® has been a great support too. They provide their instructors with enormous resources to start our own business. 

How did COVID-19 affect your Zumba® business?

I was very lucky to have my fulltime job as CFO when the pandemic hit, and I could offer online Zoom and pre-recorded classes. Zumba® was incredibly responsive to our plight as instructors during lockdown. They supported us fully by offering various courses, which enabled us to successfully start up online.

My usual evening class had had a regular attendance of around twenty students. This dropped to five or six per Zoom session. However, I was also able to earn money with pre-recorded classes from students all over the world, which opened up a different demographic. 

Learning how to do online and pre-recorded sessions was exciting. It forced me to focus on mastering new skills, which kept my mind off the negative aspects of the pandemic. I used this time to improve as an instructor by taking all the courses Zumba® offered, as well as connecting with Zumba® instructors all over the world. This would not have happened in the past, and I’m grateful that so many positives came out of the pandemic.

Where do you promote your classes? And how important is word of mouth?

I use Facebook (my Zumba® group has a community of more than 500 people), as well as local advertising groups on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Word of mouth is very important, as someone might bring a friend or cousin or colleague. My class has become a buzz of people having chats before the session starts — a fantastic atmosphere.

Any highlights you’d like to share?

My best moments are when people send me personal messages thanking me for the energy in the class. How my classes helped them through a difficult period, especially during the pandemic. I also love that Zumba® has a lot of social benefits: I’ve made a lot of good friends.

Any lightbulb moments once your business was up and running?

Whether you only have a handful of students or a full class is not important. What is important is that you give the best class possible, as the energy you give off during the session is vital in securing future students. So far, four people who attended my class have become Zumba® instructors.

Have you experienced any big disappointments?

Big ones? None. I am in the business of fun after all. No matter if I have one student or thirty, I love to dance and instruct and will continue to do it as long as I’m having fun.

Zumbalicious
Zumbalicious

Where do you promote your classes? And how important is word of mouth?

I use Facebook (my Zumba® group has a community of more than 500 people), as well as local advertising groups on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Word of mouth is very important, as someone might bring a friend or cousin or colleague. My class has become a buzz of people having chats before the session starts — a fantastic atmosphere.

Any highlights you’d like to share?

My best moments are when people send me personal messages thanking me for the energy in the class. How my classes helped them through a difficult period, especially during the pandemic. I also love that Zumba® has a lot of social benefits: I’ve made a lot of good friends.

Any lightbulb moments once your business was up and running?

Whether you only have a handful of students or a full class is not important. What is important is that you give the best class possible, as the energy you give off during the session is vital in securing future students. So far, four people who attended my class have become Zumba® instructors.

Have you experienced any big disappointments?

Big ones? None. I am in the business of fun after all. No matter if I have one student or thirty, I love to dance and instruct and will continue to do it as long as I’m having fun.

I’d lost what makes me ME — and I didn’t even know it.

Ally and students

How has this addition to your work/life affected you?

It has given me a new lease on life. Before Zumba®, I went to work, came back, helped sort the kids with hubby, sorted the house, watched mindless TV, did the shopping, and so on. As a working mum, I didn’t really have a social life with girlfriends or any strong interests outside of work. I’d lost what makes me me — and I didn’t even know it.

Dancing has always been something that’s given me life — but I didn’t connect the dots that I could teach and get such a kick out of getting fit.
Mentally it helps me switch off, like meditation. When I learn a new song, I’m smiling, even laughing, at the antics of presenters who teach us new choreography. And physically, I am fitter now than I was in my twenties. The energy I used to expend in long working hours is now spent making a difference, helping others have fun and get fit. Learning new music is such fun!

I now make time every day for me and my passions (other than work). You know, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that God places hidden talents within us to find. And it doesn’t matter what age you are; people should expect to find different passions at any age. For example, once I started teaching, out of the blue I discovered another passion: writing poetry. A new pathway in my mind has emerged and I am so grateful. 

My plan is to create a life from which I don’t need a holiday.

Who is your greatest inspiration?

My mum. She had her own businesses over many years while raising seven children mostly on her own. She always encouraged me to do the same. (I wanted the security of working for an employer. Now that I have this, I can explore my own business too. I have the best of both worlds.)

What is the best bit of advice you’ve been given so far?

Your energy in delivering your service is key to making your business successful. And a saying that always applies: Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you are right.

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Believe in yourself. You have a power within you that is greater than the power out in the world. You can do whatever you set your mind to.

What would you have done differently?

Nothing. Each experience brought me to where I find myself today, which is in a much happier place than when Zumba® was not in my life.

What was your steepest learning curve?

Knowing who my target market was. This was quite a learning curve and at first I felt a bit sad that I could not service the ‘morning class’ market — but seeing the numbers increase much faster in my evening classes has made the change worthwhile.

Do you have any advice to pass on to aspiring Zumba® instructors?

As an instructor I’ve learnt to prepare myself in advance for classes, even when I didn’t have any. I practised and practised almost every day for two, sometimes three, hours. I visited live classes and taught a few songs with fellow instructors. I attended many events and, as I practised, I imagined myself in front of a crowd, teaching the class.
I would say the key is to prepare yourself well — as though you are presenting. When opportunity comes, you will be ready. Stay active in your trade and perfect it while you wait for your opportunity.

What are your future plans?

I am very happy with the size of my business; I plan to gradually increase it over time. However, I am currently finalising my poetry book based on A Course in Miracles. This is helping me grow emotionally and spiritually as a person, which I think is very important when offering this type of service.

I plan to publish this poetry book later this year. I also have another Fitness Instructor course scheduled for the end of this month (Strong Nation — HIIT exercise offered by Zumba®). This fitness course is mainly for my personal development and to ensure my body is toned as I age gracefully. I may offer Strong Nation to my students later this year as well, but I haven’t firmed up that decision yet.

Right now, my plan is to create a life from which I don’t need a holiday. My main focus is balance within my family life while offering one or two more classes during the week.

Anything else you want to add?

I am so grateful for the journey that brought me to Zumba®. It’s not just a business for me: it’s a way of life. A philosophy of being in the business of fun.  Sometimes one forgets how far one has come: from someone who was not interested in any fitness other than walking to now being a dance fitness instructor on my way to level up — and at my age! That’s the bit that makes me so happy.

Ally, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. What a Zumbalicious Lioness you are!

 

Alison has been a licensed ZUMBA® dance instructor since April 2018. She currently offers several online pre-recorded one-hour or twenty-minute classes (on demand), available 24/7 on www.zumba.dance. (In the search bar, type: Alison.) She also offers live classes in Monte Vista and Goodwood (Cape Town, South Africa).

To get in touch with Alison, pop onto her Facebook group: ZUMBA® with Ally or contact her on tel: +27 65 918 7258 (South Africa).

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

YOUR ENERGY IN DELIVERING YOUR SERVICE IS KEY TO MAKING YOUR BUSINESS SUCCESSFUL.

DANCE FOR YOUR HEALTH!

WORK YOUR PASSION. FOLLOW YOUR BLISS.

CREATE A LIFE FROM WHICH YOU WON’T WANT A HOLIDAY.

MAKE TIME DAILY FOR YOURSELF.

WANT A HEALTHY LIFE? FOLLOW YOUR BLISS!

WE ALL HAVE AN ABUNDANCE OF TALENTS. OUR JOB IS TO FIND THEM.

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward or commission for promoting any of the people or businesses on my blog. I just want to inspire & motivate as many people as possible to fulfil their purpose & potential.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

NEXT WEEK on The Hopeaholic blog. . .

A Power Couple who just won’t quit! From cancer victim to victor — a walking miracle. Impossible is not in this couple’s dictionary.

Inspiration, motivation, hope. You’ll find it all here.

If you subscribe to my weekly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

STEPPING OUTSIDE THE BOX

STEPPING OUTSIDE THE BOX

At age 19, Ru Fitzhenry opened her first dance studio.

At age 45 she lost EVERYTHING.

But a lioness doesn’t go down without a fight.

Inspiration. Motivation. Hope. You’ll find it all here…

SteppingOUT pupils

SteppingOUT Academy of Dance in Wellington, South Africa, is a dance studio specialising in modern, tap, jazz and hip hop, as well as Pilates. Its principal, Ruanda Fitzhenry, is an international choreographer, teacher and dancer extraordinaire.

I met this South African fireball twenty-odd years ago, and I can say with 95% certainty that she is a vampire. That’s the only explanation for the incredible volume of accomplishments in her life (she obviously doesn’t sleep), as well as her ridiculously ageless face. (Jealous? Me? Never!)

Seriously, though, I love this woman. A loyal friend, a beautiful soul, and a fabulous Joy volcano! By the time you’ve finished reading Ru’s story, I bet you will be inspired. I know I am.

 

Ruanda Fitzhenry

Ru, have you always felt passionate about dance?

It’s complicated… I started with ballet classes at age three because I was so severely pigeon-toed, I struggled walking. (Most people are unaware of all the benefits of dance. Besides the obvious pros, e.g. confidence building, it can also fix a number of body problems. Hence anatomy and corrective work being two of the major subjects when studying dance.) So, ja…..it was just something I always did.

It took me closing my studio and stopping dance completely when my son was almost two years old for me to realise it’s actually who I am. It’s my blood, my air… It’s what keeps my soul alive. Needless to say, this ‘break from dance’ didn’t last long.

When did you become an entrepreneur?

When I was nineteen, I moved from Port Elizabeth to the Western Cape to open my own dance studio, and to study dance. I’d heard there was only one dance studio in Stellenbosch, so I decided that would be a good place to open up. Even though I only knew one person in the whole town and nobody knew who I was. Yoh! Nineteen and fearless!

How scary was the plunge into self-employment?

Nineteen and fearless, doll. There was no thought of failure, consequences or even success. I just jumped in and knew I would love it as I got to dance my own choreography. And remember: no drama queen is complete without her stage.

Were your start-up costs affordable?

I’ve been fortunate in that student fees, shows and end-of-year functions have always covered all costs.

Was your age a hurdle?

Only at the beginning, when I first opened. It’s pretty natural for that line of respect to be a little vague when your child’s dance teacher is only nineteen.

What was your lightbulb moment?

No lightbulb… I’m blond (giggle). For all the really big things in my life I just had a brain fart for a few seconds and then immediately set about following it through. Nineteen and fearless.

How long did it take you to fully qualify as a dance teacher?

I am internationally qualified, so I first had to finish all my dance exams, which took ten years, and then I studied for three years.

Boys who Dance

I Am Woman! I Am Queen!

Boys who Dance

I Am Woman! I Am Queen!

How scary was the plunge into self-employment?

Nineteen and fearless, doll. There was no thought of failure, consequences or even success. I just jumped in and knew I would love it as I got to dance my own choreography. And remember: no drama queen is complete without her stage.

Were your start-up costs affordable?

I’ve been fortunate in that student fees, shows and end-of-year functions have always covered all costs.

Was your age a hurdle?

Only at the beginning, when I first opened. It’s pretty natural for that line of respect to be a little vague when your child’s dance teacher is only nineteen.

What was your lightbulb moment?

No lightbulb… I’m blond (giggle). For all the really big things in my life I just had a brain fart for a few seconds and then immediately set about following it through. Nineteen and fearless.

How long did it take you to fully qualify as a dance teacher?

I am internationally qualified, so I first had to finish all my dance exams, which took ten years, and then I studied for three years.

Ruanda

How Do I Find Time? That’s God’s Job.

Having become an entrepreneur at such a young age, were you motivated to start up any other businesses?

Ooooh, doll! I am woman! I am queen! I conquer every brain fart I have with a vengeance. I should probably also mention I’m a hyperactive Gemini. So yes, whilst owning my dance studio I constantly took on new challenges. My ex-husband was a builder and they had this three-ton truck just lying around. So I took that truck and started a rubble removal company. I had four trucks within two months.

I also started my own kiddies clothing range: KangaRU Clothing. And I had a pottery business as well. And then there was the time I met someone who was importing stock from Bali — and the next thing I knew, I had opened a shop. Oh! I’ve just remembered: I had another little business called The Perfect Hostess, where I would stage parties and personally do all the catering.

I did all of this whilst teaching fulltime and studying. Did I mention that I’m a little crazy?

Do you run SteppingOUT alone or do you have help?

My life partner (aka love of my life) runs the business side of things. This is incredibly important as it’s so hard to play bad cop when you’re the one building a relationship with parents and students.

Where & how do you promote your business?

Our website does most of the work (and we’re on Facebook), but word of mouth in our small dorpie (town) spreads like wildfire.

Do you currently run another business alongside your dance academy? And what about your other roles in life? How do you find time to do everything?  

Oh yes. I’ve been staging events and booking gigs for my muso friends since I was twenty. And I’m a mommy and homemaker, life partner, friend, child of God, cook, fur mommy, daughter, sister… and all of my dancers are my ‘kids’ (I’m their other mommy). Also, I’ve always been passionate about my charity work and would stand making pancakes in the middle of town to either raise money for all the street kids or feed them.

How do I find time? That’s God’s job. He never gives me anything I can’t handle. Though I’m pretty sure He spends a lot of His time rolling His eyes at me as I keep Him very busy. Well, the way I see it, He made me like this so now He gets to deal with it, LOL.

Ruanda Dancer
Ruanda Dancer

Do you run SteppingOUT alone or do you have help?

My life partner (aka love of my life) runs the business side of things. This is incredibly important as it’s so hard to play bad cop when you’re the one building a relationship with parents and students.

Where & how do you promote your business?

Our website does most of the work (and we’re on Facebook), but word of mouth in our small dorpie (town) spreads like wildfire.

Do you currently run another business alongside your dance academy? And what about your other roles in life? How do you find time to do everything?  

Oh yes. I’ve been staging events and booking gigs for my muso friends since I was twenty. And I’m a mommy and homemaker, life partner, friend, child of God, cook, fur mommy, daughter, sister… and all of my dancers are my ‘kids’ (I’m their other mommy). Also, I’ve always been passionate about my charity work and would stand making pancakes in the middle of town to either raise money for all the street kids or feed them.

How do I find time? That’s God’s job. He never gives me anything I can’t handle. Though I’m pretty sure He spends a lot of His time rolling His eyes at me as I keep Him very busy. Well, the way I see it, He made me like this so now He gets to deal with it, LOL.

red dress dancer

Tell us about your setbacks — your lowest moments.

I had just moved to Wellington with no intention of opening up my studio again…

Let me go back a few steps. I got divorced, and became a single mommy with a business. Looking back now I can finally see that it was challenging and heartbreaking. At the time I was in overdrive and just did what I had to do, with no thought or acknowledgement of what I was going through.

Around the same time, I snapped both Achilles tendons. Just like that, life changed. I went from an incredible high — from successful business owner, international choreographer, and lecturer at an arts college, qualifying pupils in dance — to the lowest of lows. My business took a huge knock and all my contracts got cancelled. No more international choreography gigs, no more college, and my pupils started dwindling.

I then found myself in an abusive relationship with a narcissistic alcoholic. I could write a whole book about this as you will fall over if you knew how many women go through this. Yes: even strong, independent women like me.

At forty-five, I ended up losing my home, my car, my job… EVERYTHING.

Then I met my deksel (my ‘lid’), my love, and moved to Wellington. And here’s the truth, as strange as it might sound. Opening a new dance studio in Wellington was nowhere in my plans. It all seems like a blur. God did what He does best and He did it all!

You know, doll, throughout my life God has given me a lot of slaps on the wrist — but I would just carry on under my own steam. The way I see it: He needed to allow something radical to happen to me, so He could bring me back to Him and make me start listening! And I will always be grateful for that.

What would you have done differently, if anything?

I would have got help for anxiety and depression instead of dismissing it and packing it away deep inside a cupboard. Because it affects every aspect of your life, including your business.

Who or what gave you the strength to climb out of that valley and overcome the challenges you faced?

The support of an incredible family, child, and friends, as well as Bible study and counselling. And then I started pet sitting and taking doggos for walks. They helped heal my heart and that’s how I met my fur child, Lacey. She literally saved my life.

Who has been your greatest support?

Hands down, my dad and my family, as well as friends who have been in my life for donkey’s years, and my son.

Ru onstage
Ru onstage

What would you have done differently, if anything?

I would have got help for anxiety and depression instead of dismissing it and packing it away deep inside a cupboard. Because it affects every aspect of your life, including your business.

Who or what gave you the strength to climb out of that valley and overcome the challenges you faced?

The support of an incredible family, child, and friends, as well as Bible study and counselling. And then I started pet sitting and taking doggos for walks. They helped heal my heart and that’s how I met my fur child, Lacey. She literally saved my life.

Who has been your greatest support?

Hands down, my dad and my family, as well as friends who have been in my life for donkey’s years, and my son.

Not Quite Burlesque

How did COVID-19 affect your business, and what did you do to adapt?

COVID forced us to think outside the box. Get closer to the people and things that matter. Be creative. And it gave us a klap (smack) against the head to wake up to all the blessings we were taking for granted.

My new dance studio in Wellington was only open for one month when lockdown happened. And ja, God took care of us right through! I started teaching classes online, and some pupils still paid their fees during lockdown, enabling us to keep up with our rent payments.

And where are we now? Growing constantly, and already practically at full capacity and needing bigger premises. We are now also in the process of opening our drama, singing and music division.

Tell us about your career highlights.

Yoh doll, I’m getting on now; I have a lifetime of highlights. But if I had to pick just one, I think co-choreographing the Opening Ceremony of the African Cup of Nations in Ghana was definitely a memorable moment. Working with a cast of 4,700 was certainly a new experience.

Besides that, I would have to include absolutely every time I got the opportunity to perform on stage with my dancers: from the Artscape Theatre to The Baxter (both well-known, high-profile theatres in Cape Town), and every venue in between. I loved every single moment! And I got to share the stage with my son. Huge highlight!

Who is your greatest inspiration?

Ooooh, doll! If you’re going to get me going on Bob Fosse and my two dance teachers, Ellen Bunting and Brigitte Reeve Taylor, then you must know it’s going to be a long night! Let’s just say they made me the dancer, teacher and choreographer I am.

Not Burlesque

You Cannot Keep Everybody Happy.

Not Burlesque

You Cannot Keep Everybody Happy.

Tell us about your career highlights.

Yoh doll, I’m getting on now; I have a lifetime of highlights. But if I had to pick just one, I think co-choreographing the Opening Ceremony of the African Cup of Nations in Ghana was definitely a memorable moment. Working with a cast of 4,700 was certainly a new experience.

Besides that, I would have to include absolutely every time I got the opportunity to perform on stage with my dancers: from the Artscape Theatre to The Baxter (both well-known, high-profile theatres in Cape Town), and every venue in between. I loved every single moment! And I got to share the stage with my son. Huge highlight!

Who is your greatest inspiration?

Ooooh, doll! If you’re going to get me going on Bob Fosse and my two dance teachers, Ellen Bunting and Brigitte Reeve Taylor, then you must know it’s going to be a long night! Let’s just say they made me the dancer, teacher and choreographer I am.

Dancer pose

Best nugget of advice you’ve been given?

Let go and let God!

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Do what YOU want to do! Know it’s going to take hard work, passion and a sense of humour. It’s up to you how much work you put in, and that will impact directly on your success. (Wine helps too, LOL.)

Oh, and enjoy your bad days. Cry and own that moment. How are you going to know how good the good days are if you don’t go through the bad ones?

Steepest learning curve?

Jeepers, you really ask the difficult questions, neh? Realising I cannot keep everyone happy; it’s impossible. I have to keep reminding myself that even though my dance pupils are incredibly important to me, they will come and go. I have to stay true to myself and my child and family. They are the most important.

What advice would you give to those who are striving to keep people happy?

Best have another glass of wine, haha! Seriously, though, keep reminding yourself: You cannot keep everybody happy! You’re only human. No one person is the same. Embrace others and just stay true to yourself.

What are your future plans?

World domination, of course. Pfft. (Wink wink.)

Friends Forever
Friends Forever

What advice would you give to those who are striving to keep people happy?

Best have another glass of wine, haha! Seriously, though, keep reminding yourself: You cannot keep everybody happy! You’re only human. No one person is the same. Embrace others and just stay true to yourself.

What are your future plans?

World domination, of course. Pfft. (Wink wink.)

Ruanda, I believe we’ve only skirted around the edge of your life story, and I would love to hear more. Sadly, our time has run out. Before we go, is there anything else you’d like to add?

You know, I was this little five-year-old, blond, curly-haired tomboy with bruises all the way up to her knees, singing Hopelessly Devoted To You on the roundabout and introducing myself to everyone as Sandy… I was obsessed (still am) with Grease, and convinced I was going to marry Superman. My life plan did not include divorce, miscarriages, cancer threats, polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, two snapped Achilles and losing everything I’d worked so hard for, and, at 45, having to start again from scratch. But how blessed am I? God gave me the opportunity to restart my life with a clean slate. And then, on top of that, He finally gave me my superman and my dream life.

 

Well, I don’t know about my readers, Ru, but I will be the first to buy your book, if you ever decide to write one. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. What an inspiration you are!

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

THERE’S NO SHAME IN GETTING HELP WITH MENTAL HEALTH.

TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED. YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT LIFE COULD THROW AT YOU.

YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO KEEP EVERYONE HAPPY. BE TRUE TO YOURSELF.

LET GO & LET GOD.

FOLLOW YOUR DREAM & WORK YOUR PASSION.

YOUR DREAM IS GOING TO TAKE HARD WORK & PASSION TO BECOME REALITY. (A SENSE OF HUMOUR HELPS.) 

 

FYI…

I don’t receive any reward/commission for promoting any of the businesses on my blog. I just want to inspire & motivate as many people as possible to fulfil their purpose & potential.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

NEXT WEEK on The Hopeaholic blog . . .

Inspiration. Motivation. Joy. Another uplifting post to help you through the daily grind.

If you subscribe to my weekly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

LAST CHRISTMAS I GAVE YOU MY ART, LIFE & SOUL  ;-)

LAST CHRISTMAS I GAVE YOU MY ART, LIFE & SOUL ;-)

G Golding

Motherhood motivated Georgina Golding to quit her job as a designer with one of the largest soft toy companies in the UK and plunge into self-employment.

Even though she admits she struggles with imposter syndrome, Georgina excels at creating absolutely fantastic works of art — because everything she does comes from the heart.

Motherhood motivated Georgina Golding to quit her job as a designer with one of the largest soft toy companies in the UK and plunge into self-employment.

Even though she admits she struggles with imposter syndrome, Georgina excels at creating absolutely fantastic works of art — because everything she does comes from the heart.

G Golding

Art, Life & Soul Design and Illustration covers many types of graphic design, from logos and branding — particularly for start-ups — to advertising for local event companies and menus for pubs and restaurants.

Georgina also creates the most incredible pet portraits on commission. (She calls them PAWtraits. Isn’t that adorable?)

There being no end to this artist’s talents, Georgina has recently become an author as well, having written and illustrated her first children’s book.

Be inspired, and discover: Georgina’s gorgeous Christmas range.

PLUS: a BEAUTIFULLY ILLUSTRATED STORY for three- to eight-year-olds.

animal paintings
Cat Christmas card

Georgina, how did Art, Life & Soul come about?

I have always loved art, from the moment I could pick up a pencil, and I’ve never wanted to be anything other than a creative. I started Art, Life & Soul two years ago, when I left my last job as a soft toy designer at Keel Toys to look after my children. (I had to give up my job due to my husband working fulltime too and my having to drop off and pick up the kids from school.) As I had to continue working, I decided to start my own design business.

 

What was your lightbulb moment?

As a creative, lightbulb moments are a constant by learning from what does or doesn’t work.

Georgina, how did Art, Life & Soul come about?

I have always loved art, from the moment I could pick up a pencil, and I’ve never wanted to be anything other than a creative. I started Art, Life & Soul two years ago, when I left my last job as a soft toy designer at Keel Toys to look after my children. (I had to give up my job due to my husband working fulltime too and my having to drop off and pick up the kids from school.) As I had to continue working, I decided to start my own design business.

 

What was your lightbulb moment?

As a creative, lightbulb moments are a constant by learning from what does or doesn’t work.

Cat Christmas card

Were your start-up costs affordable?

Monthly running costs for my business can be expensive due to the cost of the subscriptions for the software programs. Starting up the business was expensive too. But I knew it was a matter of time before I had to leave my last job, so I started saving as soon as I could for the computer and software I needed.

 

As you’ve always known what you wanted to be, I’m guessing your studies and vocational choices reflected your passion?

Absolutely. I have a GNVQ, A level, BTEC National Diploma and a Degree in Illustration. I also worked for many years as a designer.

 

It’s Good To Be Able To Work My Own Hours.

Doggy mug

How did the pandemic affect your business? What did you do to stay afloat and how did you adapt?

COVID affected my business greatly as the pubs no longer needed work done and the event companies no longer needed advertising. I ended up having to change what I do, so I joined illustration groups on Facebook — which is where I found an author looking for an illustrator. This kept me afloat partially through the lockdown.

 

Do you miss the 9-5 job?

I miss working for my last company. I miss working with people in an office and sparring ideas between each other. But it’s good to be able to work my own hours.

 

What’s the toughest part about being your own boss?

I think one of the hardest things about being self-employed is that it’s no longer a nine-to-five job. I now get messages all times of the day and night.

How did the pandemic affect your business? What did you do to stay afloat and how did you adapt?

COVID affected my business greatly as the pubs no longer needed work done and the event companies no longer needed advertising. I ended up having to change what I do, so I joined illustration groups on Facebook — which is where I found an author looking for an illustrator. This kept me afloat partially through the lockdown.

 

Do you miss the 9-5 job?

I miss working for my last company. I miss working with people in an office and sparring ideas between each other. But it’s good to be able to work my own hours.

 

What’s the toughest part about being your own boss?

I think one of the hardest things about being self-employed is that it’s no longer a nine-to-five job. I now get messages all times of the day and night.

How do you promote your business?

Through word of mouth. And on Facebook and Instagram. I am lucky that when I started up I had a good circle of friends who helped pass the word around. This is still how I operate; my customers now pass their recommendations on.

 

Who has been your greatest support?

My husband is my greatest support; he has seen me through my highs and lows. And also, my customers. I have a great rapport with them, as well as many laughs. I think it’s good to build friendships with customers, along with trust.

 

Do any highlights stand out in your mind?

I’ve had so many amazing moments. But my favourite thing is seeing or hearing my customers’ responses to the finished products. I have a client who absolutely loves a poster I did for a Christmas sandwich. They use it every year! I love this.

Mug and coaster

I Am My Own Worst Critic.

Being a creative myself, I’m guessing you not only deeply experience the highs but also the lows. Can you tell me a little about your lowest moments and how you’ve managed to overcome them?

I get imposter syndrome. As a result, I am my own worst critic. A real pick-me-up was watching Adele the other day during her live show on TV, where she admitted she has imposter syndrome. It made me feel better about myself, because sometimes not feeling good enough can stop my progression.

I have moments where my anxiety can get bad if I have a lot on all at once. But the best thing I have found is to be honest with customers with regard to a realistic completion date. And being realistic with time management, juggling family time and work, is essential. I’ve also learnt to recognise the signs that tell me when I need a break and when I need to take time out.

 

Where do you find inspiration?

I follow many artists on Instagram and Facebook who inspire me.

 

Best advice you’ve been given?

To take care of mental health when needed and take a break.

Being a creative myself, I’m guessing you not only deeply experience the highs but also the lows. Can you tell me a little about your lowest moments and how you’ve managed to overcome them?

I get imposter syndrome. As a result, I am my own worst critic. A real pick-me-up was watching Adele the other day during her live show on TV, where she admitted she has imposter syndrome. It made me feel better about myself, because sometimes not feeling good enough can stop my progression.

I have moments where my anxiety can get bad if I have a lot on all at once. But the best thing I have found is to be honest with customers with regard to a realistic completion date. And being realistic with time management, juggling family time and work, is essential.

I’ve also learnt to recognise the signs that tell me when I need a break and when I need to take time out.

Where do you find inspiration?

I follow many artists on Instagram and Facebook who inspire me.

 

Best advice you’ve been given?

To take care of mental health when needed and take a break.

What would you have done differently?

I don’t think I would have done anything differently. All of my journey has been part of an important learning process.

 

What was your steepest learning curve? The most difficult aspect to get your head around?

Self assessments! All of the financial stuff baffles me. Luckily my husband is an accountant, so he helps me with this. We make a good team.

 

Any wise words for people struggling with that same aspect?

Marry an accountant! Haha.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Lots! At the top of my list: time management, get word out there, and be confident in yourself. And push past things that hold you back.

Wolf collection
Woodland wander

An Easy Read with Strong Morals

Your picture book, Wander in the Wild Wood, has had FABULOUS reviews. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Wander in the Wild Wood is a 32-page book for early readers who love rhyming and brightly coloured illustrations. It is an easy read with strong morals about kindness, mindfulness and the importance of listening.

The story follows Wolf pup, who gets lost in the snowy, dark wood. On his journey he discovers that not all is as it first seems.

A great story with a winter theme — perfect for three- to eight-year-olds and fans of Julia Donaldson’s The GruffaloWander in the Wild Wood is only £6.99 (excl. p&p). You can order it via a private message on my Facebook business page, or on Instagram.

 

What would be a perfect gift to accompany the book?

The WOLF PUP soft toy is a big hit, as well as the cute bookmark.

Your picture book, Wander in the Wild Wood, has had FABULOUS reviews. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Wander in the Wild Wood is a 32-page book for early readers who love rhyming and brightly coloured illustrations. It is an easy read with strong morals about kindness, mindfulness and the importance of listening.

The story follows Wolf pup, who gets lost in the snowy, dark wood. On his journey he discovers that not all is as it first seems.

A great story with a winter theme — perfect for three- to eight-year-olds and fans of Julia Donaldson’s The GruffaloWander in the Wild Wood is only £6.99 (excl. p&p). You can order it via a private message on my Facebook business page, or on Instagram.

 

What would be a perfect gift to accompany the book?

The WOLF PUP soft toy is a big hit, as well as the cute bookmark.

Woodland wander

An Easy Read with Strong Morals

What are your future plans?

I would obviously like to grow my business. My true dream is to get my books professionally published or continue to self publish but hit a wider audience.

 

One last thing. 25 December is one week away. Tell us about your Christmas collection.

I have a varied Christmas range, which includes Elf Packs, Christmas cards, cute animal mugs and coasters, and ‘pawtraits’.

 

Sounds like some last-minute shopping is in order! For my UK readers: you still have time to make a Christmas purchase from Art, Life & Soul. Why not pop onto Georgina’s Instagram / Facebook page today?

Georgina, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thank you for your time!

childrens book

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

YOU’RE NOT ALONE. EVEN ADELE HAS IMPOSTER SYNDROME.

SEE YOUR JOURNEY AS A LEARNING PROCESS

WORK YOUR PASSION

SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESS

PUSH PAST THINGS THAT HOLD YOU BACK

TAKE CARE OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward/commission for promoting any of the businesses on my blog. Having bought something from each company, I just can’t help but LOVE these brands and want the world to know about them.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

COMING UP on The Hopeaholic blog . . .

I’m taking a break for the Christmas holidays, but I look forward to seeing you back here in 2022. January will be all about: New Year, New You! I’ll be bringing you inspirational INTERNATIONAL interviews with three fabulous women and one highly motivational couple. As well as entrepreneurship, we’ll cover health & fitness, mind & body and self-improvement.

Until then, take care of yourselves and each other.

If you subscribe to my weekly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

O LITTLE HOUSE OF KALART, HOW BRIGHTLY YOU DO BLING!

O LITTLE HOUSE OF KALART, HOW BRIGHTLY YOU DO BLING!

Arathi Rajagopalan

HOUSE OF KALART — BE BOLDLY YOU

 

House of Kalart (HoK) is a premium fashion jewellery label that exhibits global aesthetics and traditional craftsmanship.

Arathi Rajagopalan, the designer behind House of Kalart jewellery, has been inspired by arts, crafts and fashion since childhood.

She says, ‘At HoK we are inspired by various art forms, and we marry them with metalsmithing to create bold and beautiful jewellery. Each piece is a product of a beautifully woven story.

 

 

I have to say, I LOVE Arathi’s little masterpieces. That’s how I think of them. Every time I wear a necklace or bracelet or pair of earrings from HoK, I feel glamorous. (Can you tell I’m a huge fan?)

 

HOUSE OF KALART — BE BOLDLY YOU

 

House of Kalart (HoK) is a premium fashion jewellery label that exhibits global aesthetics and traditional craftsmanship.

Arathi Rajagopalan, the designer behind House of Kalart jewellery, has been inspired by arts, crafts and fashion since childhood.

She says, ‘At HoK we are inspired by various art forms, and we marry them with metalsmithing to create bold and beautiful jewellery. Each piece is a product of a beautifully woven story.

 

 

I have to say, I LOVE Arathi’s little masterpieces. That’s how I think of them. Every time I wear a necklace or bracelet or pair of earrings from HoK, I feel glamorous. (Can you tell I’m a huge fan?)

 

Arathi Rajagopalan

 

Arathi, let’s dive right in. What makes HoK special? 

Every person has a unique story to tell. At House of Kalart, we bring out the spirit of each story and showcase it through our products and services. Avant-garde jewellery inspired by arts & crafts around the world for the quintessentially free-spirited woman with a zest for life.

We aim to provide a holistic fashion experience for the bold and dramatic women all around the world.

 

Were your start-up costs affordable? 

HoK is a bootstrapped business. I took a bit from my savings, and my mother (my business partner) invested a bit. I may not be able to scale up fast, because of limited funds, however we have been growing gradually and I am happy with it.

 

Was your age, gender, or lack of a university degree a hurdle in any way? 

No, none of these have ever been a hurdle. I have mostly been able to do what I have wanted to do.

 

fairy on moon
multicolour earrings

Did your business grow out of an inherent desire to create? 

Absolutely. As a child, I’d always been fascinated by arts and crafts. My inspiration was my aunt, who taught me different forms of crafts, such as glass painting, origami, and hot wax painting, during my summer vacations.

I would constantly draw designs in my school books, and I developed an interest in jewellery during my study of fashion design. This led me to combine two of my passions — art and jewellery — which became a stepping stone to my career.

Colours and textures not only inspire me, they also instigate a play of design in my head. To physically touch, hold, and add character to, something that was just an idea brings me immense joy. I take pride in personally hand painting or embellishing each piece.

Did your business grow out of an inherent desire to create? 

Absolutely. As a child, I’d always been fascinated by arts and crafts. My inspiration was my aunt, who taught me different forms of crafts, such as glass painting, origami, and hot wax painting, during my summer vacations.

I would constantly draw designs in my school books, and I developed an interest in jewellery during my study of fashion design. This led me to combine two of my passions — art and jewellery — which became a stepping stone to my career.

Colours and textures not only inspire me, they also instigate a play of design in my head. To physically touch, hold, and add character to, something that was just an idea brings me immense joy. I take pride in personally hand painting or embellishing each piece.

multicolour earrings

When did you officially start your business? 

HoK was established in Chennai, India, in September 2017, and we started selling from February 2018.

 

Is your mother a ‘silent partner’? 

My mother is actually the numbers woman, and I handle the rest.

The brand name, Kalart, is a combination of both our names: Kala and Arathi (aka Art). Our names also mean ‘art’, which is what our products are all about.

 

Is House of Kalart your fulltime occupation? 

Yes. However, I do freelance as a costume designer for movies — but only for a friend who is a director. We recently worked on our first commercial feature film, which is scheduled for a 2022 release.

 

handpainted
cubic zirconia earrings

What was your lightbulb moment? The moment you thought of potentially starting up a business. 

The lightbulb moment happened during a conversation with my former boss. He mentioned that he wanted to start his own business; but due to family responsibilities he was unable to, and so he was encouraging his wife to do something.

This got me thinking. I did not want to get to my thirties and say the same thing. I wanted to try at least once. I spoke to my parents the next day and quit my job.

When I quit, I only knew I wanted to do something with arts and crafts, and probably jewellery, because I was more interested in jewellery than apparels.

The Plunge Into Self-Employment Was Exciting

What was your lightbulb moment? The moment you thought of potentially starting up a business. 

The lightbulb moment happened during a conversation with my former boss. He mentioned that he wanted to start his own business; but due to family responsibilities he was unable to, and so he was encouraging his wife to do something.

This got me thinking. I did not want to get to my thirties and say the same thing. I wanted to try at least once. I spoke to my parents the next day and quit my job.

When I quit, I only knew I wanted to do something with arts and crafts, and probably jewellery, because I was more interested in jewellery than apparels.

The Plunge Into Self-Employment Was Exciting

cubic zirconia earrings

How scary was the plunge into working for yourself? 

It was actually pretty exciting. Like most creative people, I hate to follow a routine; the best part of working in my entrepreneurial venture is that every day is different. One day it’s all about designing, sourcing, and so on, while other days are all about handling accounts and other administrative work. Some days are all about planning marketing, social media, my calendar, events and networking. I absolutely don’t miss the monotony of corporate life.

 

Who has been your greatest support? 

My family has been pretty supportive and my networking group has also been a boon.

glitzy ring
mermaid pendant

Tell me about your journey from that lightbulb moment to the creation of HoK. 

After I quit my job it took eight years before I could start ‘House of Kalart’. I worked with a few local artisans to create quirky lifestyle products. Simultaneously I also taught myself to finish beaded necklaces and earrings by watching YouTube videos. I started selling to family and friends, and to the public at exhibitions, under the brand name ‘Papillon’.

However, the designer in me was not satisfied. My mind kept coming back to the same question: ‘How can I bring arts, crafts and metal together to make premium art jewellery?’ So I went and enrolled myself in a goldsmithing course. This helped me understand the manufacturing process. It also better enabled me to design, and to explain the designs and techniques to artisans.

Through Papillon, I was able to feel the pulse of the jewellery market. It was a new experience after working in a corporate job. Papillon was driven by what the market wanted, whereas when I started House of Kalart, I was so passionate about it that it was driven from a design perspective — and I did not get customer validation done. Later, I realised my mistake and went back to the successful methods I’d followed with Papillon.

Tell me about your journey from that lightbulb moment to the creation of HoK. 

After I quit my job it took eight years before I could start ‘House of Kalart’. I worked with a few local artisans to create quirky lifestyle products. Simultaneously I also taught myself to finish beaded necklaces and earrings by watching YouTube videos. I started selling to family and friends, and to the public at exhibitions, under the brand name ‘Papillon’.

However, the designer in me was not satisfied. My mind kept coming back to the same question: ‘How can I bring arts, crafts and metal together to make premium art jewellery?’ So I went and enrolled myself in a goldsmithing course. This helped me understand the manufacturing process. It also better enabled me to design, and to explain the designs and techniques to artisans.

Through Papillon, I was able to feel the pulse of the jewellery market. It was a new experience after working in a corporate job. Papillon was driven by what the market wanted, whereas when I started House of Kalart, I was so passionate about it that it was driven from a design perspective — and I did not get customer validation done. Later, I realised my mistake and went back to the successful methods I’d followed with Papillon.

mermaid pendant

Would you have done anything differently, in hindsight? 

Every step of my journey has been a learning curve, and I continue to learn every day. That makes me a better business owner and a better person. I would not want to change anything. One thing I would definitely like to improve on, however, is my tendency to procrastinate.

delicate earrings
pink green yellow

 

What was your steepest learning curve? 

Everything was a steep curve for me when I started House of Kalart. I was a hard-core designer who thought a good design was enough to run a business and drive sales. I learnt the long, hard way that running a business is much, much more. I had to start thinking like a business owner. I had to set up a system for accounting, inventory, goals, finances, networking… and the list goes on.

 

Do you have any advice to pass on to self-employed creatives who are struggling with the ‘business’/left-brain aspect? 

I would advise new entrepreneurs to maintain their books right from day one. Also: get your ideas or products validated. It might seem irrelevant, but it is extremely important. And do join networking groups that suit you; the help and motivation you get is amazing.

My Sales Went Down To Zero

 

What was your steepest learning curve? 

Everything was a steep curve for me when I started House of Kalart. I was a hard-core designer who thought a good design was enough to run a business and drive sales. I learnt the long, hard way that running a business is much, much more. I had to start thinking like a business owner. I had to set up a system for accounting, inventory, goals, finances, networking… and the list goes on.

 

Do you have any advice to pass on to self-employed creatives who are struggling with the ‘business’/left-brain aspect? 

I would advise new entrepreneurs to maintain their books right from day one. Also: get your ideas or products validated. It might seem irrelevant, but it is extremely important. And do join networking groups that suit you; the help and motivation you get is amazing.

My Sales Went Down To Zero

pink green yellow

How did the pandemic affect your business? What did you do to stay afloat and how did you adapt? 

At first, my sales were drastically affected — in fact, they went down to zero — as HoK wasn’t online when COVID hit. But I was able to manage with my styling projects. During that time, I also took the opportunity to upskill myself and make time to network and build relationships.

The pandemic motivated me to finally take the brand online. I’d always wanted to reach out to global audiences, and at last I was able to do so.

 

Where do you promote your business? 

The brand is now predominantly an e-commerce business. We mainly sell through the HoK website and are available on a few online marketplaces, like Afday, Lbb, and Amazon. We used to actively participate at art fairs before the pandemic, but these have come to a halt for now.

red and gold earrings
white earrings

Do any special moments or memories come to mind?  

One really cute moment was when I was clearing out a trunk and I found my report card from kindergarten. My teacher had written that I loved and appreciated colours, was quite fascinated during arts & craft classes and, most important of all, I was very keen to work with beading a thread.

I was overwhelmed to read this — to know I was destined to become a jewellery designer right from kindergarten. This always makes me feel motivated when the going gets tough and I feel low.

 

I Am Making a Difference

Do any special moments or memories come to mind?  

One really cute moment was when I was clearing out a trunk and I found my report card from kindergarten. My teacher had written that I loved and appreciated colours, was quite fascinated during arts & craft classes and, most important of all, I was very keen to work with beading a thread.

I was overwhelmed to read this — to know I was destined to become a jewellery designer right from kindergarten. This always makes me feel motivated when the going gets tough and I feel low.

 

I Am Making a Difference

white earrings

Any lightbulb moments once your business was up and running? 

There are so many! A recent one comes to mind: I was struggling to categorise the products to fit my varied client profiles. Then I met a lady, in a networking group, who offered a free thirty-minute customer persona identification call. That literally switched a light on in my head. I had so much clarity and was able to add new ranges and categorise the brand to fit all my clients’ needs.

And then there was a client of mine who told me she loved art so much, she wished she could wear paintings. I told her I could help her with that; I could paint something for her on jewellery. She said she liked sunsets, so I painted an abstract sunset on a pair of statement earrings. And when I gave the earrings to her, the joy she expressed was beyond words. That day I knew: I was doing something right; I am making a difference to some of my clients.

seagreen necklace
green blue butterfly

Who is your greatest inspiration? 

I am blessed to have people who have inspired me to follow my passion and become a better being. First, it was an aunty who taught me different arts and crafts during my summer vacations, which became an inspiration and is an important element of my products. Second, my parents, who understood my interest in fashion and found out about the best colleges that offered the courses; and that was back in those days when fashion was not a popular career choice.

 

What are your future plans? 

The aim is for the brand to run on autopilot. I would love to see someone wearing a HoK wherever I turn. I am not looking at building an empire; however, I do aim to make the online store extremely popular and successful across the world.

Who is your greatest inspiration? 

I am blessed to have people who have inspired me to follow my passion and become a better being. First, it was an aunty who taught me different arts and crafts during my summer vacations, which became an inspiration and is an important element of my products. Second, my parents, who understood my interest in fashion and found out about the best colleges that offered the courses; and that was back in those days when fashion was not a popular career choice.

 

What are your future plans? 

The aim is for the brand to run on autopilot. I would love to see someone wearing a HoK wherever I turn. I am not looking at building an empire; however, I do aim to make the online store extremely popular and successful across the world.

green blue butterfly

With your vision and determination, Arathi, I am confident you will make it happen!

Tell me, what is the best advice you’ve been given? 

The best advice I’ve ever received is: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The worst response will be a no, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. And it works! The help that comes your way when you ask is unbelievable.

 

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

First of all, see your business as an extension of your identity. Second: everything can be learned gradually and you don’t have to do it all at once, or alone. Ask for help. Third: Never compare your beginning with the grown businesses of your peers. And most important of all: Always believe in yourself.

dangling xs
BBF pairing

 

One last thing. It’s 14 days to Christmas, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Would you like to suggest gift ideas from your site? 

We are introducing an affordable gift box for Christmas, containing matching pairs of jewellery that can be worn by mother and daughter, BFFs, siblings and duos.

And for readers of The Hopeaholic blog, I would like to offer a special discount code for 15% off. Just enter VSL15 at checkout.

Thank you so much, Arathi. That’s very kind of you, seeing as your jewellery is already so affordable!

 

One last thing. It’s 14 days to Christmas, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Would you like to suggest gift ideas from your site? 

We are introducing an affordable gift box for Christmas, containing matching pairs of jewellery that can be worn by mother and daughter, BFFs, siblings and duos.

And for readers of The Hopeaholic blog, I would like to offer a special discount code for 15% off. Just enter VSL15 at checkout.

Thank you so much, Arathi. That’s very kind of you, seeing as your jewellery is already so affordable!

BBF pairing

GOOD TO KNOW: HoK ships worldwide. If you find their express shipping option a bit pricey, why not order your Valentine’s Day/Mother’s Day gifts — or future birthday gifts for your BFF or special person in your life — now? Then you can afford to wait a bit longer for your package to arrive — and save some cash at the same time.

FYI: There’s a handy currency converter on the HoK site.

If you have any questions, you can contact Arathi at contact@houseofkalart.com

 

You can also follow HoK on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

House of Kalart logo

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

FOLLOW YOUR HEART

WORK YOUR PASSION

BE BOLDLY YOU

UPSKILL YOURSELF

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

ALWAYS BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

GET YOUR IDEAS AND PRODUCTS VALIDATED

ASK FOR HELP. WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?

SEE YOUR BUSINESS AS AN EXTENSION OF YOUR IDENTITY

NEVER COMPARE YOUR BEGINNING WITH THE GROWN BUSINESS OF YOUR PEERS

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward/commission for promoting any of the businesses on my blog. Having bought something from each company, I just can’t help but LOVE these brands and want the world to know about them.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

COMING UP . . .

Next week: Motherhood motivated this talented artist to quit her comfortable job and go it alone. Was it a good idea? Just one look at her Christmas collection will give you the answer.

If you subscribe to my weekly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂