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|January 17, 2000||
A little over five years ago, Vashu Bhagnani was just another supplier delivering audio cassettes to the music company, TIPS, at the height of the music boom.
Around ten years ago, he was a builder cashing in on the real estate boom, putting up buildings in the Sher-e-Punjab neighbourhood at Andheri East, which were sold out faster than he could build them.
Around 15 years ago, he was a travelling sari salesman, touring the country hawking saris manufactured by his family-owned textile business.
And around 20 years ago, he was just a high school dropout who couldn't keep pace with his fellow students at book learning and whose family could barely afford to pay his school fees.
Vashu Bhagnani is the quintessential Indian immigrant entrepreneur. The eternal outsider. He had zero experience in the businesses he undertook. Yet he made a huge success of each one.
And, in a way, each one helped make him the success he is today.
The sari selling tours instilled in him a deep respect for salesmanship.
It was on these exhausting traipses around the backtowns of India that exposed him to all kinds of people, all kinds of wants, likes, dislikes -- a great training experience for a future film producer. After all, what else is a film producer but a salesman who's selling his product around the country, trying to convince different people in different places that 'one size fits all'!
The construction venture was an important milestone in Vashu Bhagnani's development.
Critics carp that it was during this phase that he accumulated the allegedly 'vast' sums of black money that made him eye the film industry in the first place.
But more important than the sums he earned or the colour of the money, was the valuable experience he gained in the process of building construction.
Once he got the hang of the biz, he orchestrated his contractors and suppliers with more finesse than builders with ten times his experience and resources. While other builders took two years to put up their constructions, Vashubhai put his buildings up in eight months.
Then, when most businessmen would plunge deeper into the same business, expanding, investing, spinning grand plans, Vashu would simply pick up his bags and walk out. To another shop on another block, starting up a new venture in a wholly different field.
Unlike textile selling tours, which depended largely on his own personal charisma and salesmanship, the construction biz required a firm grasp of financial management.
In an industry notorious for starting with budget of Re 1 and ending up spending Rs 100, Vashu is said to have recovered from his first few knocks with admirable speed.
Later, when producing his first film, Coolie No 1, an incident occurred that proved that the rigorous experience of building construction had served him well.
The story goes that Vashu had doubts about the efficiency of Viveck Vaswani, his production manager for Coolie No 1, Viveck Vaswani. Reportedly, he received a rude confirmation when he caught one of Vaswani's men selling raw film stock from the production stores to another producer!
Another first-time producer might never have got wind of the petty deception. But after getting his hands wet in the building biz, where pilferage of materials is an everyday occurrence, Vashu's antennae were raised and alert.
He sacked Vaswani as well as his team on the spot, took over the day-to-day production of Coolie No 1 personally.
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