Sugandha Lonikar has risen from the ranks in the television industry and heads the Channel Promotions as well as Films Promotions Zee Marathi and ZEE Studios. She has been a trend-setter in the field of promotions for Marathi GEC (General Entertainment Channels) as well as Marathi Film industry. She had promoted almost 30 Films over last decade, some of which include the record breaker Marathi films like Saade Made Teen, De Dhakka, Natarang, Kaksparsh, Duniyadari, Time Pass, Fandry, Lai Bhari, Dr. Prakash Baba Amte, Elizabeth Ekadashi, Killa, Katyar Kaljat Ghusali, Natasamrat, Sairat and still counting. Having groomed many under her, she continues to be a pillar in this difficult industry. Sugandha, gentle with a core of steel.
1. What made you seek a career in the Television Industry?
After having gained 12 years of experience in Journalism, working for major media houses including Loksatta, Chitralekha, ETV News and Sakal, I was looking forward to taking a newer leap in my career. While there still would have been a lot more to explore and offer in my journalist’s profession, I was eagerly willing to plunge into a new role – a different kind of responsibility. With a motive to explore in the communication business, without completely diverting from my background experience and expertise I turned towards PR. Around that time, PR was not as much of an established career avenue as it is today; plus, with me choosing it as a route to my career transition vouched for quite some risk and immense hard-work. All geared to make things work, I began my new journey. It was at the commencement of this new journey that I got associated with ZEE. Zee Marathi (then Alpha Marathi) was only a year and half old baby then. It being the first 24*7 GEC in Marathi, the channel too was in the launch and expedition phase. It was more like a blessing in disguise for me as we both (Zee Marathi and myself) were reinventing our position in the entertainment industry.
2. Did you have a mentor when you were learning the ropes in the television field?
I’ve never really had any mentor as such. From my varied interactions with people from my industry and outside, I have obviously learnt and still continue a lot many lessons. But I haven’t ever had any God-parents in the industry or mentors who would help me climb the ladders. However, I must accept that my journalism experience and my current organization has taught me a lot. In Zee Marathi’s debutant years, the only other player in the Marathi entertainment space was the government backed GEC, DD10 Sahyadri and one more regional channel. I have been given the liberty and entrusted with confidence to work my way, execute my plans and take the decisions I feel right for the brand’s PR agendas. The extensive support my team has always offered me time to time, has been much precious to me than any mentor’s.
3. Why are there so few women in decision making capacity in the industry?
I think it is trivial to count the number of women in industry or to infer the quantitative gender ratio with respect to decision makers. Today, there are countless women in this field who are taking the entertainment business to greater heights. Women are making their incredible mark in this industry and in every department that they are a part of. Now I’m sure there might be counter opinions on this point. Someone would possibly say that last year’s UNESCO report on women journalists stated that women decision makers in Indian Media account to only 24% of all opinion makers. To reach the influencers’ or decision-makers’ position, one must bag as much of an experience in the industry. These 24% females who have made it to the top are sure to be senior professionals in the industry. We must give some time for the newcomers to prove their ability and reach the level. Over the coming decade, I think we are sure to witness a promising rise in the number of female leaders. I always like to see the glass half full!
4. You have broken the glass ceiling. How will you encourage women to become successful in this field?
I’m not very sure if that’s how I would look at it. Beg to differ in my opinion, but I think the term glass ceiling has gotten too clichéd.. While it is a fact that until 12-15 years ago, it existed and that too disturbingly, but not anymore. I strongly believe that today feminism is taking more of an equality route. Professional challenges are faced by one and all. Gender is no more a barrier to them. Any woman who wants to achieve greater heights, with sincere efforts, evolved skills and substantial knowledge she can make her way through. Success, to me, is always a by-product of whole-hearted efforts While there is never one single route to success, there surely are a few traits of successful leaders that we can all try to fathom. To me, one of the most comprehensive traits is ‘being responsive’. Responsiveness is the key. It also helps you listen to people around you, to accept criticism, to rebuild your confidence and most importantly, it keeps you rooted to the ground. The agility keeps you in touch with reality and that maintains the safe distance between success and arrogance.
5. What do you strive for when you undertake a project?
Breaking our own records! Not to boast, but I really am very passionate about my work. I just can’t settle or stop for any one thing achieved. I always have this constant urge within to improve at everything I do. And to my own and my organization’s benefit, this obsession helps me innovate at work and outperform our own benchmarks in the process. Besides, my work also encourages me to think harder and strive for better. While my main goal is always to leverage my brand – Zee Marathi or Zee Studios – every end product that I have to work on for my brand, comes with newer challenges. The strategies and platforms used for promoting Tele-serials are way different from those for promoting films. Then again, no two films are alike; so neither are their audiences and hence nor the publicity efforts. For instance, our film Fandry was a big challenge for us as the film was developed on a complete rural frame with numerous social nuances that were unknown and possibly very hard to accept to audiences outside. Instigating audience to consume a film of this sorts as well as making it work commercially was thus a challenge. So, to make the ends meet, we positioned Fandry at world cinema level. We planned strategies in a manner to leverage the local cinema at a glocal level. On the other hand, during Dr.Prakash Baba Amte movie, we underwent a different grill altogether. From our initial promotion activities, we inferred that the movie was gaining more and more popularity only amongst audiences aged 35+ years. We couldn’t afford losing out on the youth, both for business as well as perceptual purposes. So to ensure on tapping into the slipping audience, we brought our film’s real hero – Dr. Prakash Amte on the front foot. Involving him in our promotion drive, we conducted seminars in various colleges across Maharashtra. As his seminars became popular, our plan became a success.
6. If you were to give a single advice to working women – What would it be?
Well, I’d like to share a quote I had once read and I personally believe in – “Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.” And like I said earlier, be true to yourself, sincere in your efforts and determined to achieve greater heights. That is my tried and tested success mantra. And I can assure for its worthiness.