#PowerWomen:‘Recognize talent over appearance, accomplishment over subservience’: Gitikka Ganju Dhar

Industry Watch | February 24, 2021 | Interview

Gitikka Ganju Dhar Ministry of Talk PowerWomen EVENTFAQS Media

Continuing the EVENTFAQS #PowerWomen series in the run-up to a virtual forum on International Women’s Day on March 8, we talk to Gitikka Ganju Dhar, Anchor, Actor, Communication Coach and Founder, Ministry of Talk, about her journey.

A jack of many trades, Gitikka has donned many hats throughout her years in the industry- anchor, moderator, writer, and actor. Regarded as one of India’s leading live talents, she has been honoured with countless awards for her exemplary work till date. With grace and gumption, she has broken the stereotype and unfurled a new space for the female live host in India and continues to be a  preferred choice as an anchor, whether in the live space or for virtual events, large-format or high-profile events.

Here, she shares insights on her entry into the events industry, challenges she faced, position of women in the industry, priorities, and some advice for young women entering the events space.

HOW I CAME TO BE IN THE EVENTS INDUSTRY

Born to an Indian Army officer and an Economics Lecturer, I spent my childhood all across India in spartan government homes. I remember as a child, I was shy, under confident and dreamy to a fault. Major cities like Delhi, Jammu and Chennai also contributed to my upbringing. During college, my dad made sure that I was marched off to study Business Management at Delhi University. In return, the dreamer in me made sure that I made it into the coveted Post Graduate Degree course at the AJK Institute of Mass Communication, where I went in to become a filmmaker and came out an anchor. So, I did not decide to be an anchor. Our college had these massive studios that professional producers would hire for shoots. One of them offered me a television show, to host. So, I started my career in talk with television. I then got a call from Magnum Nexus, a leading event management agency of the time who was handling Honda Cars’ presence at the Auto Expo. I was auditioned and selected as one of the two main anchors of the seven-day event. I remember thinking the selectors had lost their mind for picking an absolute fresher for a major event. I remember I was paid handsomely. Starting my career with the Japanese set the foundation of work ethic and creative procedure, which has continued to this day. I also remember missing the audition of the lead part in Lagaan for the rehearsal day at Auto Expo!! How life has come full circle! I am now shooting for Aamir Khan Productions’ Laal Singh Chaddha! So, technically I did not struggle. The work began pouring in. I had taken off before I even knew it, even before I was fully sure that this is what I wanted to do. So, mine is a classic case of destiny taking charge because in all my dreams, I dreamt of a million things I wanted to be, but I never ever dreamt of being an anchor.

THE CHALLENGES IN GETTING BACK TO WORK POST BECOMING A MOTHER

Many a memory sweeps through me as I answer this question. I remember going through the regular strife at the start of my career. I remember working hard, executing nearly 20 events a month, hosting multiple television shows on Zee, Sony, DD and a daily show on Star for nearly three years. I worked so hard that I burnt myself out by 2008. I voluntarily stopped driving my business. Around that time I happened to meet my husband, we married, had a child and till 2012, I focussed solely on home and hearth.  And then I decided to come back, or rather I thought I could straddle back like Queen Bee. Boy, were my illusions shattered! But then easy would have not made me memories, right?

My daughter was two years old, I remember being told to sit at home, look after the house. I remember being asked, ‘Is the husband not making enough money?’ I was told that I was too fat to be on stage, I remember being told that I was talented but I was much older than the standard acceptable age. It was not just the men who waved these conventions at my face, the ladies did too. 

I remember almost every door closing on my face and almost every colleague moving on. Back then, I thought, it was not fair. Were things so difficult for new fathers too? Did a male anchor’s shelf life come with an expiry date too? Did age and looks act as terminator for them too? Did the male gaze hand-cuff them too? I began to reason with myself. Was it because I had got married, had a child, had put on weight and crossed the so-called prescribed age? Maybe. Or was it also because, apart from these reasons, I was doing it wrong, was I not in touch with the new times? The industry had changed. The digital revolution had disrupted our category, for the better. A category I was one of the few initial members of. It was a challenge I could have walked away from. But there was a higher reason that made me dig in my heels. That is when, I knew, I wanted to give them something to talk about. Not about me. But about, us. And I began to talk the change.

And so, in 2013 I began to proactively drive my business again. All that I had during the years of 2013, 2014 and 2015 were, my drive to work hard, the skill to talk, the love of writing, discipline, humility and probably three good friends and two strangers for whom even today, I am only a call away for anything they want me to execute.

After 12 years of being a successful anchor, I wiped the slate clean. I learnt afresh, anew. I learnt from my peers, juniors and seniors. I learnt from the best in the country and by watching the best from across the world. I changed, evolved and reinvented myself and the product. Resting on laurels was a thing of the past.

I bet my money on my strengths, though they were not the flavour of the season; I still walked against the tide because I believed I had to turn the tide towards a better shore. The world of talk had become far too superficial, far too basic and far too cosmetic. I chose to focus on curating the content of my talks rather than creating a popular persona; I chose for the quality of my work to be the celebrity, not me. As a woman on stage, I chose to navigate the male gaze away from me and towards my work. And as I walked along, I saw many women, just like me, in different media industries, fighting the same battle and emerging victors. Good work is like the good in all of us. You cannot replace it. It is like water. It always finds a way. And as women in this new world, all we have to deliver is good work. The rest shall follow.

Ironically, the things that no one thought much of, are today, perceived as my biggest strengths. Experience, age and the choice to curate content-based, experiential anchoring is a space that many want to own now. I am glad. The tide did turn. You know, the most wonderful thing here is that I am not bitter. In fact, I am in a happy place because almost everyone came around.

Today, they say, I am ageless, weightless, genderless and forever. But I am not important. What is important is that never again, will a door be shut on a female anchor who wishes to build her success on the core of her job, never again will opportunities be distant only because she has crossed a certain age, put on a few pounds, has had a child or refused to play, ‘I am Barbie you are Ken’. We made sure of that.

Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity of hosting some of the best events that the Indian experiential zone has mounted. And as I look back, I note with quiet satisfaction that my career, exclusively as a female anchor on Indian stage, not an actor-anchor or influencer-anchor, has lived across two decades, beyond the prescribed so-called shelf life.

THE BIGGEST SUCCESS SO FAR

I am very clear that my biggest success has still not come. By my barometer, this is not it. The main chapter has now started, up until now was just the prelude. Many observers say that it is super cool that I have hosted numerous large-format events in the presence of national and global heads of state and corporate leadership. Yes, it sure is, but there is so much more I can do.

I would like to put it out there into the Indian experiential cosmos that you, as conceptualizers, have not explored even 25 percent of what I can possibly deliver, as a host or as a moderator or as a performer. But then, these things are not entirely in my hand and beyond a point, I am also bored of battling archaic mindsets and the sheer lack of creative ambition in many agencies out there. To make matters worse, we have been badly hit by the pandemic and are now clutching at straws! I am not a functional artist, I want to create and express. I want to be challenged. I want to be ably supported to deliver excellence. Let’s hope in the years ahead, I am able to enjoy even more wholesome creative experiences as an anchor.

ON POSITION OF WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY

Let me comment on this as an artiste. If you have a calendar around you and the year is printed as 2021, please replace it with 1980! In terms of mindset, we are decades behind where we ideally should be. Iris Whittle had said, ‘I am a woman, not an exhibit.’ In 1975, film critic Laura Mulvey coined the term ‘the male gaze’. In accordance to feminist theory, the male gaze is the act of depicting women in the visual arts and media from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. In the visual and aesthetic presentation of these mediums, the male gaze has these perspectives – that of the man behind the project, that of the male characters within the project’s representations and that of the spectator gazing at the images of the project. The “primordial wish for pleasurable looking" satisfied through the visual experience is what the concept of Scopophilia is all about. I am sure, at many points in my career, I too have fallen prey to the male gaze. But I also know how hard, long and honestly I have fought to rise, despite it, on my own terms. If the women out there want to celebrate themselves and do it on their own, we must respect that, but if it is done under the pressure of the male gaze, I do humbly submit that it can be done better!

I think it is time, or rather high time, the Indian experiential industry recognizes the merit of talent over appearance, experience over age and accomplishment over subservience! We have already lost a lot of talent that has withered under the pressure of the male gaze, let’s not lose any more. I salute talents like Usha Uthup. They are living symbols of women who tore through the male gaze and demolished its very premise. Honestly, I have had enough of men and women sitting in presentations, saying, let’s get someone more shapely, someone younger, someone fresh! I have enough of the argument, “The market demands it.”

ON MINISTRY OF TALK AND ITS FUTURE

Ministry of Talk (MOT) is a studio that writes, creates, drafts and curates content. So far, we have injected our skill into sound and light concepts, AV Narrations, emcee scripts, corporate leadership speeches, campaign slogans, quiz design, media articles, song lyrics, presentations, social media content, social media campaigns, event highlights videos, personal and professional profiles, website content, story writing, short film scripts and e-books. Founded in 2020, MOT has got off to a flying start, with leading names in the sectors of the Indian experiential industry, print media, online publishing, corporate and government already having engaged our participation. Public figures have also roped us in to help to redraft their branding tools.

ANCHOR, SPEAKER, WRITER, ACTOR?

Anchor, moderator, speaker, writer, actor – all of them are close to my heart or I would not be able to indulge. As an anchor, in the future, I hope to be roped in grand projects, unique projects, challenging projects, creative projects and also, please, light fluffy projects. As an actor, it is time I address things professionally. As a moderator, I am waiting for more opportunities to come my way. I did put on display my skill in the zone by designing a session with a public figure and then also moderating it, at a recent corporate event.

ON THE PERSONAL FRONT...

Looking forward, personally, I hope I am able to give my daughter a happy childhood. I hope I can steer her towards finding her ikigai. I hope I can equip her with enough to face the world out there.

I hope I can give my parents more time than I have in the last few years. They are planning to move to Mumbai. It took some convincing, but the plan is underway. I am glad that I have been able to support my husband’s passion at work and have partnered with him in his pursuit of his professional goals. Hopefully when he slows down, in the years ahead, I will reap the benefits of that!

I want to travel a lot in the years ahead. I want to work on my fitness and follow in a disciplined manner a healthy lifestyle. I want to read more and explore Japanese culture. The pursuit of happiness needs to end. Now, I’d like to drown in happiness and something tells me, I will!!

ON FORAYING AS A COMMUNICATION COACH

I am on the Whistling Woods Event School Industry Board and Wizcraft MIME Academy Advisory Board. Last year, I finally committed myself to writing a full blown communication course for MAVENHQ. We are scheduled to launch online in a few weeks from now. It has thirteen modules to it and has been designed as a premium offering to anyone and everyone who want to up their communication game. I cannot reveal more as preparations for the launch have begun. I had been implementing many theoretical principles of communication. I am very excited about launching the course and my career as a Communication Coach. I have a dream to help share the skill of communication with each and every girl child in India. This process of transformation and expansion is a very difficult, both emotionally and operationally, but, it is time. Needless to say, I will continue my career as a live host.

ADVICE FOR YOUNG WOMEN ENTERING EVENTS

Make sure you’re a fighter, because ours is an industry in great flux. Come, be a part of the change and help build a new Indian experiential industry. And, don’t settle for less, don’t settle for the wrong and don’t settle for the old. These are the best of times, these are the worst of times; this is the age of wisdom, this is the age of foolishness; this is the epoch of belief and incredulity; this is the season of light and darkness; this is the spring of hope, this is the winter of despair. We have everything before us, we have nothing before us. The live experience will never be replaced by the virtual ones, they will only serve to supplement it. So, have no doubts and come help create human experiences that are world class and put India on the world map.

A HISTORICAL EVENT I WOULD LIKE TO WITNESS LIVE

When Gandhi broke the British Raj salt laws at 6:30 AM on the 6th of April 1930 and it sparked large scale acts of civil disobedience against the salt laws by millions of Indians.

Continuing the EVENTFAQS #PowerWomen series in the run-up to a virtual forum on International Women’s Day on March 8, we talk to Gitikka Ganju Dhar, about her journey.

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