We at PinkLungi believe that Kerala, with its 100% literacy and great healthcare, can pave the way to the development of the subcontinent. We believe Kerala can be home to the next Silicon Valley (Emerald Valley maybe, because it is green and we’d like for it to stay that way). There are quite a lot of things that the new generation of Malayalis are doing, things that will lead to the creation of this “Emerald Valley”. And Vishak Nair is one such person who is doing amazing things.
An actor who did his Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering at NIT, Vishak pursued his passion. But not before a brief stint at Daimler, where he gained exposure that has helped him earn the title “Process Man” (Director, COO, and Head of Productions) of MadGenius. Vishak is a living example that one can break out of the traditional Indian parent trap – “go to college, get a degree, and then pursue your passion”. All it takes is dedication and a tad bit of courage.
When we first heard of Vishak, we thought that he was someone who was forced into doing engineering, disliked it, and moved on to pursue his passion. But Vishak’s take on his story of life is quite different. A bit like how Steve Jobs connects the dots in his famous Stanford Commencement Address, Vishak showed us how the dots connected in the long run.
We’ll not ruin this for you. Hear it from the man himself!
Why do they call you “Kuppi”?
Kuppi was the name of the character I played in my first feature film Aanandam. Fortunately for me, the film did well, the character resonated with people and the name stuck. To this day, Kuppi is that one character who’s closest to my heart. He was full of life, brought with him an aura of happiness and was the glue that held the gang together. I feel everyone has a Kuppi in their gang – someone with a pure heart who puts friendship and camaraderie above all else, and I think that’s why people loved him so much.
As a kid brought up in the Gulf, what was the biggest culture shock when you moved to India/Kerala?
If there’s one thing that I struggled with more than anything else, it would be the “pace” of life in India. Growing up in Dubai, one lived in a cocoon of sorts. One was always sheltered from the harsh realities of life. Life had its own mundane pace. But all the changed the moment I came to India. Everyone was pushing, shoving, shouting and constantly competing. I came to realize that life in India was inherently competitive-be it getting a seat on the bus or cracking an entrance exam. Moreover, everyone, be it your relatives or strangers you meet on the street, seemed to have an opinion about your life and how you should live it…this is something I’ve grown to accept, but I’m still battling with understanding it.
Three things you loved about the Gulf and three that you disliked.
Loved: the food, my gang of friends, and the AMAZING theatres/cinemas.
Disliked: the mundaneness of the lifestyle, bullying from the locals, and the heat.
How has engineering contributed to the person that you are today?
Engineering most definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s stressful, super competitive and can be an immense drag if you’re not the least bit interested in the subject matter. That said, I feel engineering, if anything, has taught me how to think and communicate methodically and scientifically. Moreover, I got better at managing my time, learned how to handle difficult people and understood the importance of persistence.
Wouldn’t you have had better (if not similar exposure) at institutes that specialised in drama and film?
NIT had an amazing arts scene. We put up live concerts for the entire college every month where we could live out or rockstar fantasies. We had multiple student clubs that organized debates, JAMs, MUNs, and other public speaking events. We had a film club too. It was in my first year of college that a bunch of us got together and decided to organize a full-blown theatre production with the help of the Rotary Club; the proceeds of which would go to charity. Every year since then, the yearly theatre production has only gotten better and bigger and is a culture that continues to this day.
So of course, I would’ve probably been able to be a part of an existing, thriving culture if I had joined a drama school but I would’ve lost out on the opportunity to learn the ropes for myself and be a part of igniting a movement.
When you meet a fellow cinephile for the first time, what are the three movies that you talk about?
Narrowing that down to three films is not a simple task but right off the top of my head…
- Forrest Gump: It’s as relevant today as it was when it first came out, if not more. Everything about it instantly blew me away. Aside from all the grandeur, stellar performances and brilliant direction, it taught me that ultimately, the quality and success of your film depends on one thing – a story with heart, told honestly.
- Saving Private Ryan: Hands down the best war film of all time. It grips you from the get-go and doesn’t let off until the very end. It’s a film that haunts you for days every time you watch it.
- Baby Driver: A true milestone in storytelling and visual comedy. It’s a new spin on an old trope, but a spin that was super fresh and executed to perfection.
What is the toughest character you’ve played on screen?
This has to be Ram from my upcoming film Thi.Mi.Ram. Ram is an aspiring filmmaker who has a troubled relationship with his disapproving father. Ram’s story was a little too close to reality and it really took a toll on me emotionally. There were some very intense scenes and I had really channel all of my own insecurities to do justice to the character…all of my pent up frustration and unsaid/unacknowledged trauma came bubbling up to the surface. I had to literally shut myself down for a good week to snap back to reality. It did, however, provide some form of catharsis.
How did the MadGenius story start?
Ganesh Raj and Ajit Thomas, the two co-founders of MadGenius started the company almost half a decade ago. However, for the longest time, MadGenius was more of an artists’ collective and less of a company. They did a whole lot of good work over that time, however. It was around March of 2018 that Ganesh and Ajit decided to formalize it into a company and invited me to be a part of MadGenius.
I came on-board as COO and thanks to my time with Daimler as a strategy and process consultant, we were able to define a roadmap for our new company and set our processes and systems in place. Most of my 2018 was invested in MadGenius, and we were lucky enough to do some great work and associate with some fabulous artists and creators (Varun Dhawan, Bhuvan Bam, Mojojojo, When Chai Met Toast etc.). MadGenius is still in its infancy and we have some HUGE plans and exciting projects in store. We’re getting there bit by bit…one step at a time.
What has been the toughest challenge you’ve faced with MadGenius?
Right from the get-go, we wanted MadGenius to be 1. a place that attracts the best talent 2. provides an ecosystem where people with different ideas, backgrounds and capabilities can come together and create. This, however, is easier said than done.
Firstly, we had to get our name out there…we had to develop a “culture” that was distinctly ours, showcase our work and catch the right eyes. We also had to put in place a thorough screening process that made sure that only the most committed, hard-working, and inspired applicants got through. And perhaps most importantly, we had to figure out ways to retain this talent. Fortunately for us, we are constantly attracting some fantastic talent so now we’re facing a new problem – getting our new office ready in time so that we can comfortably accommodate all of that talent.
If there’s one thing that we believe in when looking out for people, it is this: “character over skill”. Talent and skill can always be developed/nurtured/learned but character is innate, it comes from within.
It is quite hard to live through the passing of a loved one, and you had to go through that pain at a fairly young age. What advice would you give to someone going through a similar trial?
I’m not sure how to advise someone about something like this since it’s a deeply personal experience, unique to that individual. All I would say is don’t be afraid to express your grief, don’t lock away your feelings.
What book have you gifted the most?
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F**k by Mark Manson. A friend has gifted me this book when I was struggling to keep my footing through some very difficult times and it really helped shape my priorities and reorient my values. So when the time came for me to nudge a seemingly helpless someone in the right direction, I passed the torch, so to speak.
If you could put up a quote on a billboard anywhere around the globe, what quote would you put on it?
“Just Keep Swimming”
I tell myself this when I’m at my lowest. The life of an artist or a creator is one that is riddled with fear, insecurity, failure and sacrifice so persistence is everything. No matter how successful you become, there is always someone out there who is smarter, faster and more talented than you are. All you can do is to be the hardest worker in the room. Just do! Keep at it, fail, introspect, grow, rinse and repeat. Enjoy the process and don’t focus on the result. You’ll get there.