A design business, filmmaking and lots more. Multi-faceted Siddharth Chandrasekhar explains how dyslexia allowed him to explore ways of doing things differently
The large Buddha seen from both sides of the lobby wall is a striking introduction to Siddharth Chandrasekhar’s Mitrra Media office. Everything here is about design — the Salvador Dali clock, two-piece wooden bird, flattened land-phone, remote-controlled Venetian blinds, London-designed chairs, semi-detached glass-top table, small figures posing at impossible angles, traditional Indian dolls — ‘eclectic’ mildly describes the collection. “The white-glass-grey assembly gives an idea of openness,” says Siddharth, smiling above his goatee. “I embrace the Zen concept — take a middle path.”
A successful design business, filmmaking, computers, qualified assistants and a breezy fourth-floor office… all came about after struggles. Sitting in his tiny balcony under a wall of hanging plants, he narrates that story over mugs of tea he’s made in a ceramic pot.
“At 13 or 14, my parents began taking me to doctors and counsellors, and I wondered ‘What is wrong?’ And then there were the usual sermons. I was sent to a hostel, boarding school, nothing worked. During examinations, I would return the answer sheets and draw on the question paper, and leave my report cards in friends’ homes. My room was a perpetual mess. A teacher told my best friend’s mother that he should keep away from me. I had dyslexia. But in the early 1990s, schools said it was a fancy excuse by parents for the child’s inability to read and write well. Three mainstream schools threw me out.”
After stints at Alpha to Omega Learning Center and Saraswathi Kendra Learning Centre for Children, he completed Class XII through National Open School. In a DTP centre next door, he discovered his interest in graphic designing, and persuaded his parents to send him abroad for courses. He wrote TOEFL, joined Kendall School of Design, and moved to California College of Arts. It was disastrous, I returned within three months without attending a single class. “In Chennai, I was arrogant enough to think I could open an ad agency. Dad’s reality-check question was ‘What are you qualified for?’”
The wheels turned
And then, the wheels were turning. He got introduced to the Taj group, and was expected to do visiting cards and letter-heads — and ended up with orders for brochures and communication designs. Fisherman’s Cove menu followed, he opened his office in 1997, bagged Reynolds’ publicity designing — from logos, sale displays to ad fonts, partnered with Qwikys to develop its brand identity. On to Artoons, and he was competing with established names. “I went into ad-designing single-handed, I’ve never had to knock on doors.”
Kollywood knocked on his in 2000. “I got picked for Lesa Lesa through friends.” Soon Mitrra Media was creating film-firsts with audio-video invitations, thematic collaterals — a mini revolution in feature-film publicity. His scrap-book is crammed with pictures and posters of 150 films that include Ghajini, Sivaji, Chandramukhi, Endhiran, Nanban, Anniyan, Manmadhan, Vettaiyadu Vilayadu… Susi Ganesan introduced him to Kalpathi Aghoram saying, “Siddharth is capable of directing a film,” he got a call and overnight, “I became a director; Bale Pandiya ran for 20 days, and bits and pieces were appreciated. But I didn’t pursue film direction seriously”.
Try everything once is his motto, he says. He grabbed Arup Kavan’s offer of ‘experience design’ for Polaris’ customer experience centre. “I visualised the 30,000-sq.ft. space of digital experience, furniture, interior-and-product design. I was part of the team that made it happen.” He takes his cue from Raj Kapoor, Da Vinci and Satyajit Ray — people who managed many aspects of their work — but designing remains his prime love.
Success has helped him make peace with the world. “I am not angry, just sorry for the way people perceived things.” Some turn around and are courageous to admit they were wrong about him. “It gives me a kick to know my instincts were right.” On Facebook, he routinely reads comments such as ‘I’m inspired by you’. “It feels nice.” He allows himself one wry remark: “In school, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but if I had said so, I would have been laughed off.” On a cheery note, he says, “I left the U.S. as a failed student, but went back as a professional when Polaris sent me there. I ask parents / teachers to believe in the dreams of a kid with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a plus, it allows you to explore the ways of doing things!”