Biren Ghose on the progress of ABAI, the milestones reached and what lies ahead!

AnimationXpress has been reporting on the progress that the association ABAI has been making in pushing the agenda of the AVCGI industry in Karnataka. We have also published coverage of several events conducted by the Karnataka government and ABAI at regular intervals. The elections to select the office bearers of ABAI are to be held on 12 October and current president Biren Ghose reached out to us to give his views on the success that he has achieved so far as well as to talk about his priorities going forward. He also provided us with a list of congratulatory comments from various industry and political leaders which we have carried at the end of this interview. Happy reading! Can you tell us why you got involved with ABAI? It is my belief that as industries grow and mature, its constituents must learn when to compete and when to collaborate in order to expand the size and scope of the market as well as to influence key stakeholders including the government to create an enabling environment and legislation. The creative economy globally is fuelled by successful dispensations of governments providing tax credits and other SOPs across UK, Canada, Korea, France, Singapore, Japan, China, Malaysia et cetera. There are also a huge number of co-production treaties supporting the audio-visual sector between such countries. Media and entertainment, inspite of our 100-year-old film industry, has only begun to be recognised as a formal sector over the past 10 to 15 years. Having been involved in traditional businesses for over 20 years before coming into the sector, I have seen the benefits of collaboration achieved in other sectors- consumer products, engineering, manufacturing et cetera both domestically. I brought this experience in participating in the early interactions among trade associations starting out in our sector in the 1999-2003 period when I was at UTV. I have been a participant in government-industry interactions at FICCI, CII and NASSCOM for these past 16 years or so, and recognised how fragmented and early stage the creative industries were in such initiatives in comparison with legacy sectors. After joining Technicolor in 2009, my focus has been to build a robust and scalable production services platform for the group and its clients in Bangalore. As a result, when invited to be at the helm of ABAI, which at that time was a very small local entity, I thought that this charter, which was about developing skill sets in Bangalore and Karnataka, would be very complimentary to helping develop the talent at large studios and businesses locally. In hindsight, building ABAI to become a powerful voice of industry and academia in a strong partnership with the government has been an extraordinary journey. What was ABAI doing and how has its direction or trajectory changed since you assumed office? ABAI was formed as the Association of Bangalore Animation Industry in 2006. The objective of the association was to provide interactions within the fraternity and to promote Bangalore as a hub for studios, professionals, academic institutions, events, seminars and formulating policies. I would like to define our growth in three phases- Phase one: In our start-up phase, we used the first policy primarily for skill development. We conceptualised the first ever ABAI fest and summit and worked towards building this platform for studios, IP creators, students. Phase two: Buoyed by the positive response from the government, industry, academia and other stakeholders, the teams worked towards gaining additional perspectives by visiting several key markets like FMX, MIPCOM et cetera. We also conducted two digital art symposiums and conducted five ABAI fest and summit in this period. Phase three: Government alignment to provide support for major industry events for community development; market development; syndicated incubation and production facilities; proposed lab and school projects; skill development support and grants to IP development and industry. The excitement is palpable. Is ABAI focused on Bangalore and Karnataka only? As earlier stated, it was born out of a vision to band the community around building brand Bangalore as an animation hub. However, ABAI has worked closely with the government of Karnataka to bring in many other cities like Gulbarga, Hubli, Mysore, Mangalore and a host of other tier two and tier three cities into the mainstream of the AVGC industry. The Bangalore/Bengaluru tag was therefore restrictive. Similarly, as the industry now encompasses gaming, VFX, AR/VR et cetera, the animation tag was also restrictive. Hence, we have formally changed the name of the association to ABAI (like other diversified entities example ITC) to provide the continuity of branding, the ABAI logo is clearly well known. We are often consulted by other states and the Centre and offer our advice freely to everyone. However, the principle sponsors for our present slate of activities is the government of Karnataka which has defined our focus and events in the past few years. So we have decided not to spread ourselves thin. What do you see as the key achievements during your tenure? Through my evangelising and outreach actions, ABAI has managed to build up a massive web of interconnections locally and globally. Some of these highlights are (in no particular order):
  • A reciprocity with MIFA and Annecy to showcase the best of Annecy for the past three years exclusively for ABAI in India. An invitation by the Ambassador of France and the Minister – ITBT, Karnataka to tie up Annecy with Bengaluru GAFX in the future.
  • An MoU with the Children’s Media Conference to host twin b2b events in India with top buyers and broadcasters in an International Exchange
  • A bid to bring SIGGRAPH Asia to India which has not yet fructified.
  • Delegations to Annecy and Cannes, for events and market access.
  • A first interface with FMX, Stuttgart for exchange for programmes.
  • Initiated festival conversations with Russia, Ukraine, Mexico and USA.
  • Served as a jury member on some of these in the past two years.
We have already got the minister’s approval three months ago to engage and attract the technology community as a prelude to the Bangalore Media City proposal. On the technology side, we are working to have ALL the major technology companies and ALL major Indian M&E CIOs and CTOs at a Karnataka sponsored meet in Delhi on the sideline of a national event as provisionally accepted by the Minister. This will formally launch Bengaluru as the digital creative capital of India. This is a CII event and GoK will sponsor this. I have truly enjoyed creating these bridges. Today’s world is about continuously moving ahead and ABAI is on the verge of becoming the connective tissue linking ecosystems of government – education, skills and jobs, SME platforms and IP industry and international connections. Looking ahead, what are your thoughts for what ABAI will do next? My future vision for where the industry needs to go is clear. It needs for many constituencies to take India beyond its sub one per cent share of the global market. Trade associations like ABAI have a specific role to play as platforms on which to launch industry initiatives. The new KAVGC policy addresses the priorities we have been discussing with the Government and is positioned to promote growth and mitigate many of these issues. The key areas where ABAI can help industry are:
  • Syndicated infrastructure (which would greatly benefit SMEs and project by project initiatives)
  • Business development support – arranging B2B interactions (helping local companies to be at key markets)
  • Skill development – Short term courses for ‘production readiness’ and long-term initiatives to build a pipeline for computer graphics careers.
  • Financial support – Grants and incentives to compete with other large countries offering such assistance.
How would you measure your success and that of the team? The best acknowledgments are from those people who have been on the fringe of the industry. I am blessed, honoured and motivated by the constant encouragement given to me which has helped me to lead my previous teams and keep them engaged and committed. I understand that a number of industry leaders have shared their appreciation for the work done by my team at ABAI. I am truly grateful to them. I believe the best is yet to come! The industry veterans were unanimous in their acclaim of Biren Ghose. Here’s some of the bytes: Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (Biocon CMD; Government of Karnataka vision group of biotechnology chairman) “Biren Ghose has worked diligently to take a niche industry like animation, visual effects and gaming and give it a prominent status among the larger, more mature technology industries in Bangalore. His vision and leadership in building the Technicolor India studio is well known. I am pleased to congratulate him on his six years as the President of ABAI and for his steering of the Karnataka AVGC policy. This has focused on building a grassroots level skill-sets development program which helps grow the industry for the future. He has engaged the local government in this dialogue and I hope he will continue to drive this sector to greater heights given its immense potential.” MN Vidyashankar (Former department of C&I additional chief secretary and former principal secretary of department of IT, Biotechnology and Sciences and S&T, Government of Karnataka. Currently in a dozen boards and corporations as an independent director) “During my tenure, heading the ITBT department at Karnataka and later as Additional Chief Secretary Commerce and Industries, Biren Ghose, as President of ABAI and a keen industry voice, was uniquely instrumental in giving us the vision and agenda to help push through the 1st Karnataka AVGC policy. He and his team then helped to execute some pioneering projects like the world’s first ‘Train the Trainer’ which gave the community close to 10 trainers during its tenure. The digital arts programs also helped bring 6 upcountry government art colleges into the mainstream in Tier II and III cities. He has been ‘Captain Animation’ for Karnataka and I wish him continued success.” Ashish Kulkarni (Punnaryug founder, FICCI for AVGC chairman) “As an ABAI founding member, it gives me a great pleasure to see the great effort by Biren Ghose and teams from various committees have put in to bring the association to become a strong industrial platform in Bangalore and Karnataka. The efforts of the team in formulating couple of policies for the state, creating digital education centers and successfully holding several events have set a great example of government and AVGC industry initiative. I wish ABAI a long and successful life.” Jai Natarajan ( technology and marketing VP; Former CEO at Xentrix studios, Bangalore; former managing committee member at ABAI) “It was a great partnership working with Biren as President- ABAI during my tenure on the committee of ABAI. We were able to take the movement forward significantly and made a lot happen in a remarkably short time. Biren’s effort over several years has resulted in significant progress in the agenda of ABAI and strong engagement by the Government of Karnataka. I am proud that the AVGC scenario is slowly but surely progressing. Karnataka certainly has the first mover advantage.” Editors’ Note: Jai Natarajan called up earlier this morning to say that the quotes attributed to him here were meant for Biren’s personal consumption and not to be aired in the public domain in the shape of a press note. They should not have been used in, especially so close to the ABAI annual general body meeting which takes place tomorrow. In the light of this, cannot vouch for the authenticity of the comments put out by other industry luminaries in this article as they were provided to by Biren Ghose himself. It distances itself from these totally and requests readers to view and read them with those eyeglasses. (Struck through  on account of the update mentioned below.) This is the email we got from Jai: “I refer to you article “biren-ghose-on-the-progress-of-abai-the-milestones-reached-and-what-lies-ahead.” The quote attributed to me was not given by me for this article and the team did not verify it with me. Kindly publish a clarification to the same. Regards. Jai Natarajan.” Editor’s Note: later (on 13 October 2017)  got an email from Biren Ghose in which he attested that the quotes attributed to the various industry leaders were legitimate and he also sent emails and whatsapp messages from those named in this article stating that they had given him the permission to use them in a retrospective on his term as ABAI president. Following this, has decided to retract its earlier  statement in the Editor’s Note of not vouching for the authenticity of the industry leader quotes. To the best of our knowledge at the time of writing the quotes attributed to senior industry leaders about his leadership at ABAI are genuine and authentic. (Updated 14 October 2017 1:10 am) Kris Gopalakrishnan (Axilor Ventures chairman, Infosys co-founder, Vision Group for Information Technology – Karnataka chariman) “We are all proud of the accomplishments that Biren Ghose and the team in his company have achieved winning Oscars, Emmys and Cannes Gold etc, with their global clients. In his role as President- ABAI, we have seen him providing thought leadership and momentum and now a second AVGC policy. He has been promoting animation in Bangalore for the past six to seven years. My compliments and all good wishes to him and his team and hope to see him take this to greater heights.”   Priyank Kharge (Government of Karnataka IT/BT and Tourism minister) “I compliment Mr. Biren Ghose on completing eight years at the head of ABAI. During my tenure as Minister, I have admired his energy, visionary thought leadership and forceful direction for the ABAI and he has partnered with my government and its teams to advance the agenda for animation, visual effects, gaming and comics. I am pleased that we could finally realise the Karnataka AVGC 2.0 policy which has been proposed and evolved over the past four years. We will no doubt look to thought leaders like him to partner in realising the potential of this sector to make Bengaluru the creative capital of India.” Amita Sarkar (CII deputy director general) “Biren Ghose is an active and important Member of the CII National Committee of Media and Entertainment. CII is grateful to Biren for his contribution towards driving the Technology aspect of Media and Entertainment Industry. He has helped to create an alliance between the Karnataka Government (KBITS and ABAI) and CII for annual flagship event the Big Picture Summit. As the Country Head for Technicolor and as President of ABAI for the past six years, he has been promoting Bangalore as Technology M&E hub on the world stage. We wish him continued success in his future endeavors.”