A Ray of Hope

A Moveable Feast: Ray of hope

By Roopen Roy Jul 08 2016

Tags: Leisure Writing

PwC’s skunkworks project Ray’s World is a tribute to thinking out of the box

Every global consulting company today has digital studios swarming with creative people in outlandish dresses, strange hairstyles and non-conformist thinking. In 2015, I visited the studio of Übermind, which was acquired by Deloitte Consulting and rechristened Deloitte Digital.

The CEO of the company was Shehryar Khan who did his schooling in Lahore, Pakistan. Their office in Fremont, Seattle, looked nothing like a Deloitte office — it looked like a fun place with a riot of colours and gadgets. Not a single colleague wore a jacket or a tie. Many wore shorts and flip-flops!

The day I visited them, the team was working on a proposal for a well-known pizza brand. They decided to send the proposal to the CEO of the company in an iPad packaged in a pizza box of that company. It was carried by a delivery boy dressed in the pizza company’s uniform!

As I was watching this in Seattle, my mind wandered back to Calcutta of 1998. At the time, a digital studio in a global accounting and consulting firm like

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was like science fiction. But by quirk of fate we ended up with a multi-media studio.

In order to assist the so-called “dotcom” companies, PwC needed creative people and artists who could deliver snazzy and aesthetically appealing websites. Thus, we hired a team headed by Suparno Chaudhuri (who is now in the US) and a bunch of artists like Subhendu (now with Ericsson) Sudip (with IBM), Kaustabh, Sovan, Ananda and Niloy. We hired freelancers like Pinaki as well.

Suparno came up with idea first. He proposed that the PwC team should do a skunkworks project and create a compact disc read-only memory (CD-ROM) in memory of Satyajit Ray, the great filmmaker of India. Intuitively, I thought that the idea was great and I was myself a great admirer of Ray.

But how was I going to justify a project to my partners which was not even remotely aligned to what we did for a living? I thought hard. One of the team members told me how Ray’s first film was financed. It is believed that Ray went to the chief minister Bidhan Chandra Roy for funds for his film. The CM liked Ray and agreed. He then called the chief secretary and asked him to release the funds. The cautious bureaucrat asked the CM which department’s budget would pay for it. The chief minister asked Ray what was the title of the film and Ray replied: Pather Panchali (Song of the Road). After hearing this, the CM had said famously, “Pay from the road department’s budget, then.”

I told Suparno that I was willing to support him and his team but we must find a way of minimising the costs so that the noise within the system did not exceed the limits of tolerance. I also wanted support within the PwC’s leadership team. I went to Prasanta Kumar Mallik, a senior partner in PwC, who had acted in an important role in a Ray film (as Runu Sanyal in Simabaddha or Company Limited). His advice was pragmatic: go ahead he said but make sure that it is done quietly and within a reasonable budget.

I have learnt from experience that when resources are limited and the desire to accomplish something is burning, creativity becomes boundless. Suparno went to the son of RD Bansal, who had produced a number of Ray films. Kamal Bansal and his daughter Varsha warmed up to the proposal. In exchange for most of the sales proceeds and a prominent display of the name of RDB Group as the producer, they agreed to the proposal of financing a large part of the venture.

Satyajit Ray’s son Sandip was married to Lalita who was a sister of Amrita. Amrita was married to Anjan Mukerjee, a partner of PwC. Sandip agreed to “advise” the project, with the famous director of Bengali films Gautam Ghosh chipping in from time to time. Sandip provided the team with unrestricted access to Ray’s original scripts, sketches, music scores and movie clips. The team spent many days in Ray’s home in Bishop Lefroy Road and the archives in Nandan. Sandip was particularly helpful in providing anecdotes and stories that had never been published before. Both Sandip and Gautam Ghosh came to PwC’s Sukh Sagar office in Sarat Bose Road to review the pre-production material. Sudip Dutta blended the magical sitar music of Pandit Ravi Sankar with sketches of the great maestro.

It was 1999. The project had entered its critical phase. We were close to exceeding our financial budget. The project was at least two months behind schedule and the material was almost 1 GB against our estimate of 560 MB. As if this was not enough, we did not have a well-written script to stitch the material together in a cohesive construct. Both our money and our time were running out. There were two other items to be ticked off: first, who would provide the voice-over and narrate the script of Ray’s World? Second, who would bell the cat and inform the global organisation of PwC that its brand was going to be emblazoned on a commercial CD-ROM about to hit the market?

On the first, there were many suggestions. Some team members felt that Amitabh Bachchan would be the right person to provide the voice-over. I was not in favour of a Bollywood actor narrating the Ray story. Other suggestions were Sharmila Tagore and Simi Garewal. In the end, I think it was Kamal Bansal who came up with a brilliant suggestion. How about approaching Sir Richard Attenborough who had played the role of General James Outram in Ray’s Shatranj ke Khiladi? I agreed but wanted to figure out how much it would cost us. I also spoke to the global leaders of PwC and candidly informed them that the CD-ROM would be on sale commercially with PwC’s brand. They advised me to treat this as a client project of RDB group and that our name should appear as technical and creative consultants to the project.

I also contacted Koushik Dutta (now a Professor of IIM-Indore), then a senior consultant who was serving PwC India from our London office. I requested him to make the logistical arrangements and pay for the costs in the UK. Sir Richard Attenborough said that he would be delighted to record the voice-over from his home. However, he would like to review the script and have the liberty to make changes. And these were his words, “It was an honour and privilege to have worked with Satyajit Ray. I would not charge anything for a multi-media production being created in his memory.”

Koushik arranged for the script to be sent to Sir Attenborough. He made a number of changes and added his own personal narrative about Ray. Koushik also arranged for technicians to visit his country home and record the voice-over. He then couriered it to PwC’s Sukh Sagar office where the team went on an overdrive to edit, polish and complete the production with a beautiful cover titled Ray’s World.

Suparno has refreshed my memory. He has written from New Jersey to remind me that Ray’s World received “rave reviews in the media.” I believe it is now a collector’s item and I hope one of these days we will be able to upload it on YouTube for everyone to watch.

(Roopen Roy was the managing director of PwC India, thereafter managing director of Deloitte Consulting India and is the founder and CEO of Sumantrana, a strategy advisory firm)