Between shooting films and designing homes, S. Sashikanth talks to Sudhish Kamath about stumbling blocks and success

He went through college believing he was the best architecture student but flunked his thesis.

He was drawn to films, so he assisted Thotta Tharani on Shankar's “Mudhalvan”, only to drop out of it in three months.

He even became a mango farmer for a year before he decided to go back and give his architecture exam again.

He emerged as the University topper — for the same design that resulted in him flunking his thesis.

“That taught me the most valuable lesson that two people can give extreme perspectives on the same design. The context always precedes the intent. The design needs to work in the context of a city,” says S. Sashikanth, who with his wife Rajani Sashikanth, today runs Space Scape, a successful architecture firm and Y Not Studios, the film production company that has churned out three of the most creative films in recent times — “Tamizh Padam”, “Va Quarter Cutting” and the recent hit “Kaadhalil Sothappuvathu Yeppadi” (“Love Failure” in Telugu).

Sashikanth is living proof that you could turn any failure into success if you have the ability to dream, and then get back into the game to give it another shot.

His tryst with entrepreneurship started with failure.

In 1999, he started out with a social network called StudentConcepts.com for students that combined loyalty programmes offered by corporates and gave incentives to students. It was a long-term project with no immediate returns. “The idea was to catch them young and then let them migrate to credit card programmes but we were ahead of our times,” he recalls.

“We re-launched Space Scape in 2002. We moved into a small 400 sq. ft. apartment opposite Hotel Park Sheraton. We spent about Rs. 80,000 and did it up as a penthouse studio apartment in 12 days and set-up office in the basement of the same building. That 400 sq. ft. space won us the Best Young Architect of the Year award from Indian Architects and Builders magazine. My house became my portfolio.”

In 2004, The British Council organised an architecture design competition for its renovation project since it wanted to appeal to a younger generation. “We won the competition. We were the frontrunners for modern design in Chennai 12 years ago when people were still following the Chettinad style of design. We went on to win a series of awards for that project.”

Having started the business with just five architects including his wife and an old mate from school, they grew to 25-30 architects in two cities within the next five years and did projects around the country. Today, Sashikanth's firm has an impressive portfolio. From Max Mueller Bhavan to corporate projects such as Cognizant, residential projects (such as Suriya's house, Udayanidhi Stalin's house), VGP House and Chettinad House.

“Honestly, we have not broken the threshold of what is possible with design because people are not willing to experiment. We are still catering to a small group of people. So it was getting boring for me and I wanted to see what else I could do with my time,” Sashi says.

“My interest in films was reignited when ‘Kuruvi' was being made. But I realised I was too old to be an assistant director and never good at taking instructions. So I spent a year understanding the business and the market, saw what was going wrong while trying to create a USP... I studied the Hollywood model and realised the areas you could bring a change in. Production was not a quantitative job but a qualitative one. Producers were always thought of people who put in the money. But in Hollywood, producers are creative, they set up projects.”

That was also when his friend from advertising C.S. Amudhan of Winds of Change (also his client from the architecture business) had decided to get into movies. “He pitched three genres: a road film, a period film and a spoof. That was my first call as a producer. To go after his spoof idea — ‘Tamizh Padam'.”

As a producer, Sashikanth has never ever sat through a narration. “It has to be in a written form. Unless it's on paper, I don't even want to know about it. I went through 80-90 scripts but couldn't find anything interesting after ‘Tamizh Padam'. ‘Va Quarter Cutting' was the only interesting thing I found.”

“I am an entrepreneur who is creating projects that are able to generate their own money. I just set up the project. We finished scripting, put up the business plan and sold it to Cloud Nine Movies even before the first day of shoot of ‘Tamizh Padam'.”

He attributes the failure of films to the business model followed. “No big film made today is profitable. Every number you hear is a lie. There are maybe three or four movies in a year that actually make money for everyone in the food chain. There are just too many middle-men in the business who offer absolutely no value addition except escalate cost by selling it to someone else. The more the middlemen, the more the film needs to make. The closer the producer is to the audience, the much better the money. That's why we decided to do ‘Kaadhalil Sothappuvathu Yeppadi' (KSY) as a bilingual and distributed it ourselves.”

And some day, Sashikanth's failure to success story would make a movie by itself.

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Sudhish KamathMay 11, 2012