Rahul Puri, Managing Director of Mukta Arts Limited is also the Head of Academics at Whistling Woods International (WWI) located in Goregaon (East), Mumbai. WWI set up in 2006 is emerging as one of the best in its class globally. Rahul an alumnus of Kings College, UK, moved to India in 2003 after a successful corporate career of several years in Europe and joined Mukta Arts Limited. He produced Mukta Searchlight’s first production, the critically acclaimed blockbuster ‘Iqbal’, in 2005. He remains the key person in WWI’s growth and finds time even to teach. Curriculum magazine’s Autar Nehru through an email interview asked him about WWI and new skills.
Q1. When we talk about cinema, gaming, and video productions, the world of entertainment has literally turned into digital. Given this backdrop, could you please tell us how has this changed the career prospect and skilling for aspirants?
Ans: I have observed that with the rapid growth of OTT platforms, traditional film studios have placed more of an emphasis on animated intellectual property (IP) content and invested in VFX, giving animators and VFX artists opportunities in both domestic and international markets. Nowadays, there is a lot more demand for skills like film marketing, talent management, VFX, animation, gaming, fashion design, filmmaking, cinematography and directing. The projected percentage growth of employment in the filmmaking industry from 2020 to 2030 is 29% as compared to overall average growth rate of 8%.
People who can combine conventional ways with new technology, have some expertise with virtual reality, and offer composure and stoicism to this fast-paced world are in high demand. The most important requirement for today’s recruiters is equal exposure to both Indian and international settings. In November 2021, the government announced that it is working towards creating a National Centre of Excellence for AVGC (Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming, and Comics) and that is the marker of growth expected by this industry.
Q2. The ongoing emerging technologies revolution also means that creative production has moved from big cities to even small towns, YouTube has democratized the dissemination of audio-visual content and provided millions a platform to showcase and sell their creativity and talent, do you feel it has opened up more opportunities and how does this affect the traditional industry including formal training?
Ans: The pandemic made us all realize the cost efficiency and importance of working remotely. COVID has fast-forwarded Digital technology by nearly half a decade. YouTube has been a huge catalyst in advancing opportunities and pushing people to train even in the remotest of regions. People across the globe can collaborate and create sharp, witty and deep audio-visual content. YouTube is no longer just for funny cat videos. Creators now invest almost the same effort into making a YouTube video as they would for other traditional media channels. As per the Oxford’s Economic Report in 2021, this creative ecosystem contributed ₹6800 Cr to the Indian economy and supported 6,83,900 full-time equivalent jobs in India in 2020. In a world where the line between traditional and new-age media is quickly getting blurred, we can only expect this to grow and provide even more opportunities to creators. A market this lucrative has also pushed Virtual Learning wherein people can access the best technology, learn from experts & work on live projects, from anywhere across the globe.
Q3. Now coming to Whistling Woods International, if you go down your memory lane and tell us briefly how this was conceived and how far has it succeeded in fulfilling those founding objectives?
Ans: Whistling Woods International (WWI) started with a small batch in 2006 and now we successfully deliver world-class education in all creative and technical aspects of Film, Communication & Creative Arts. The institute was founded as you know by one of India’s leading filmmakers, Mr. Subhash Ghai. We have grown with the evolving world entering into technology partnerships with the leading global tech-brands in the Media & Entertainment space, like Apple, Adobe, Autodesk, Avid, Carl Zeiss, Dolby, Entertainment Partners, Final Draft, Foxconn, Fraunhofer, Google (YouTube), GoPro, HP, NVIDIA, Red Cameras, Sennheiser, Sony, Stereovision, & ToonBoom amongst others.
In 2010, WWI was accepted as a full member of CILECT (Centre International de Liaison des Ecoles de Cinéma et de Télévision) – a global association of film schools. Another major USP of WWI is, since the institute’s inception, it has witnessed some of the industry’s finest visit the students for masterclasses and workshops.
These unique elements in the curriculum and the teaching methodology have helped the WWI’s student body grow over 10 times and achieve multiple successes over the past sixteen years. Further, over 15% of the student body comprises of international students. Our alumni family has been growing over the years and that is the best marker for our success.
Q4. A question many aspirants or potential students of WWI would have in minds is what kind of facilities, particularly hostels, are being provided to outside students? Also, seat capacity and popular courses?
Ans: Of course, the interests of our students are at the heart of everything we do. We have a tie up with YourSpace, offering dedicated and secure housing facilities for our students. We invite parents & students to visit the campus, see the facilities and meet the faculty. We have a very inclusive and welcoming environment at WWI. Over the past decade, WWI has set up & run several Technology & Development Labs in association with some of the global tech giants to evangelise and further the inclusion of emerging media into the education of students, and by extension, into the industry, like Sony Media Technology Centre, REDucation Centre, WWI Jio VR Lab, WWI Emerging Media Lab amongst others. The pedagogy offered by WWI not only prepares the students for the technologies and trends but also keeps them updated with up & coming technologies.
Q5. Being located in Mumbai, the seat of Bollywood, and promoted by people who are well-known names in the film industry, what kind of placement support or internship arrangement are you offering?
Ans: Our goal is to provide the students with the most holistic exposure to the industry. We provide them with masterclasses and workshops with industry experts. The curriculum at WWI is a unique blend of theoretical and practical learning, ensuring that the education of the creative aspects of the industry dovetails well with the business aspects.
We have a placement cell that strives through the year to offer the students the best line projects and internships while they pursue their students and be places with the top media & entertainment organisations once they have graduated.
Q6. You have been personally involved with this project and naturally, you would have some interesting experiences to share with our readers?
Ans: There are lots of experiences I can share but I would need a book for that! Young people have the ability to see the world in a different way, sometimes extremely optimistically, which people of my generation often find challenging. I learn a lot from the students and their outlook encourages me to constantly update myself. There is no question that you must communicate with them in their language when necessary and refrain from simply feeding them what you have learned. The one-way style education approach does not work.
For me, the best moments are when my students come back to college to conduct masterclasses with the current students. Seeing what they have accomplished and their enthusiasm for giving back gives me such a thrill. I feel WWI has created that circular environment which I feel is so valuable to any institution.
Q7. Student achievements are one parameter, which contributes to the reputation of an institution. Even though WWI is still young, it would have its share of proud moments?
Ans: We have so many students who have made us proud of their achievements and all of this has added great value to WWI as a whole. However, there are many other important milestones WWI has created, both in terms of the technology partnerships we have made and the academic achievements and partnerships we have created. From being the only Sony Media Centre here in India, to launching India’s first You Tube Space and then the first Virtual Reality Lab in the country, WWI has always been at the forefront of technology, equipping our students with future ready teaching. On the academic side, WWI has been rated one of the best Film Schools in the world by The Hollywood Reporter, and was the youngest school to join the prestigious CILECT Association of Film Schools and host the Congress of that body in 2018, the only time it has been held in India. We were also asked to design the CBSE Media and Entertainment curriculum by the HRD Ministry and were seen as a perfect partner for the eminent Tata Institute of Social Sciences to tie up with to award degrees in Media and Entertainment. So yes, there have been so many highs along the way and what makes it even more impressive is how much we have achieved in such a short time.
Q8. Any concluding comments and message?
Ans: We are always evolving in the field of education and learning. Expanding our offerings, we have recently launched the School of Sports & Esports Management to train talented professionals, who wish to pursue a career in the respective industry. My advice to every aspirant would be just be yourself, don’t hesitate to learn and experience new adventures & most importantly – Do what you love!