Meghna Ghai Puri, President, Whistling Woods International, Mumbai, describes how the institute is providing much-needed education and training in films and other creative fields
Meghna Ghai Puri is the President of Whistling Woods International, a film, communication and creative arts institute located in Mumbai, India. She is well known for successfully shaping a world-class film school in ‘Film City- Goregaon’ a centre of the Indian Film Industry for a period of the century. Her film school has given notable alumni to the entertainment industry. She is now in a new venture where her focus is to inculcate film studies and creativity among school-going children. Edited excerpts from a recent conversation:
‘Engineering’ or becoming a ‘Doctor’ is a major career theorem India is following over years. Under such circumstances, what made you develop an Indian film school – Whistling Woods International (WWI)?
The British trained people to become doctors and engineers as they needed such trained persons for their ends. The trend has continued till date. And it was not because our country lacked creative talent, Indians are creative and have a rich culture of dance, music and art. So, in that sense, we were not creatively drained but we fell short in providing the right education to nurture creativity. And that’s the reason we started our institute, Whistling Woods International (WWI). Just like any doctor or engineer is expected to know the basics before joining the actual work, similarly, the creative field requires skilled individuals to deal with its complexities and we are one among the few to make people ready for the entertainment or creative industry.
Having done BSc Hons and your Masters in Business Management, choosing a field completely different from your educational profile, how much does it help to crack the tough nut of films, the educational entrepreneurship you are carrying?
My education does support my job. It’s about management and I do manage my institute making sure we make money for growth. In my business management education, I learned digital marketing, human resource, accounts and finance – all of that I am utilising in good measure here. So, I am using my degree to my strength and when it comes to films and creativity I was born with those genes and having grown up in a world around films did help me understand what film is, how it is made, what goes into film making, knowing the people who work in the industry, and the temperament. These kinds of things helped me to build a better working environment during WWI. So, I used both my degree and film connection to manage my institute effectively.
What is the most important evolution or development in the area of film studies in recent years?
The film industry is a dynamic business field and as an institute representing films, our curriculum needs to pick the industry speed or change every six months. For that our partnership with various technological companies helps us greatly because the first thing they bring out in the market comes to Whistling Woods and that goes to our students. This provides our students with an advanced exposure before others. We are trying to build a 360-degree learning platform for our students. Our Lab at the institute is supporting our futuristic teaching vision. With the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI), films are heading toward greater heights and so we are concentrating on technology. It’s an exciting time for the entertainment field and we are trying our best to make a future-ready curriculum that supports a brighter future of young talents.
Even today a majority of people are not aware of what a film school is, the programmes or the curriculum under a film institute. It would be great if you make the future talent understand this ladder toward the film industry.
To begin with, we are not just limited to being a film school. We started as a film school but today we are much more than that, ‘we are a creative art institute’ and people should associate us as a full-fledged institute of creativity. We have a school of music, where music production and composition are taught. Our school of media and communication helps in teaching various forms of journalism. We teach documentary filmmaking and entertainment film teaching for sure. Our other teaching segments include a school of sports events and sports management, gaming and animation. And we have fashion design and visual communication departments and all of these together make us a real creative art institute. It’s an amazing venture wherein we provide students with creative learning under one roof and where students can do collaborative work. Our degree successors working in the industry develop contact working in different departments thus helping institute peers.
Is there any official collaboration or partnership with industry that provides WWI students the direct placement?
I would like to say ours is an institute where the industry itself looks for placement. So, we don’t need collaboration for placement of our students. We want to keep the process open-ended so that everybody is free to have Whistling Woods students Our students get naturally placed in the industry immediately after passing out.
When it comes to selecting film-making institutes, most prefer government-funded institutes like FTII. Do you think today this scenario is changing and people choosing WWI?
The people who apply for FTII are different from those who approach WWI. We have a different target audience but over the years we have achieved the status of being the most popular choice for film school and education in India. And that comes from the fact that we are integrated well with the industry. Further to make students learn real-time industry work, we have an internship programme that helps the students to participate in industry work and events, providing a stronger learning experience. So, our learning is not secluded from the real world, it’s actually connected with the real working cycle, which makes us stand different from other institutes not only in India but around the globe.
Can you name some notable WWI alumni?
The list is long but to mention a few I would start with Shashank Khaitan, a director who gave popular chartbusters Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Badrinath Ki Dulhania, etc. He has even produced a film titled Good Newwz and is directing many other projects. Then there is Arati Kadav, the director of the sci-fi film Cargo who is touted to be India’s first-ever female director to direct a film on spaceship and science. Another bright talent is Nitin Baid, one of the finest editors who is known to be the man behind editing every good film. As I said we are not just limited to film school and one of our alumni, Sohel Sanwari working as a sound designer and mixer is proving our excellence in teaching music. And Aahana Kumra and Rajshri Deshpande are doing their best with their acting stint. So, the list is never-ending and I have mentioned a handful of them. We also have our students working at advertising houses like Ogilvy and many other production houses and management companies. So, it won’t be wrong if I say we have at least one student working in every department of the entertainment and creative industry.
You have recently started a new initiative with school children and are helping the raw mind to explore the cinema and creativity. Would you like to explain that in detail?
In a country like India, students are not exposed to film and media literacy. We don’t have art as a curriculum where the students can learn to draw and get into painting. Also, if we consider dancing or singing there is nothing specific in school. Just as the kids step into VIIIth or IXth standard they are prohibited from the creative pursuits just when it’s the actual time to address their creative aspect. Our initiative is to make young kids ready for choosing an out-of-the-box career or to choose a path they are actually good in. Many years ago, we did a curriculum for CBSE higher secondary classes (XI and XII) and recently started the same with the Delhi Board. The special school programme includes students choosing our specially designed learnings along with their regular curriculum that gives them exposure to the film world. WWI aims to make sure by the time students are seeking admission to undergraduate courses they know which direction to take. For example, they could choose Bachelor’s in Mass Media if wishing to pursue film direction or journalism.
As a film institute, how are you nurturing aspiring dreams?
We believe making students empowered helps them achieve the best for themselves. It is about helping them to be confident enough to be inclusive. Our students come from different families, the ones that belong to the film background and one with zero industry connection. We as an institute treat each and every student equally and bring out the best in them. We help build good industrial relations for our students as that is something very important in the entertainment world. And the golden string that fosters networking is our thousands of alumni. So, when our fresher graduate is looking into the industry there is always an Ex-Whistling Woods talent in an authority position ready to embrace the fresher.
As a president of WWI, you have mastered the role at its best. Any plan towards film direction and creating history in Hindi cinema likewise your father (Subhash Ghai)?
This question is something I am often asked. As a young lady I have explored almost everything in films, direction, writing, editing and production. But I found my true calling in film education. There is nothing better, bigger, or more fulfilling than training the next generation of filmmakers and creators. It’s a responsibility that someone is supposed to carry and there are many out there doing this wonderful job and we are proud to be among them. I believe in creating many directors who will create a cinematic history like our founder and my father Subhash Ghai. And so, I am extremely happy with my job which is in turn supporting younger aims and goals.