Interview with Anushka Shah, Founder of Civic Studios, a production house based in Mumbai
Anushka Shah, who is the founder at Civic Studios, a production house based in Mumbai. She is slowly making a mark for herself in the entertainment industry and the content speaks for itself.
In fact, one of their projects VakeelBabu, starring Abhishek Banerjee, who is known to have worked for Paatal Lok, Mirzapur, Stree, Bala and many more, had recently made its way to the New York Film Festival, 2022. The film was directed by Sumit Purohit (Scam 1993, BAFTA Breakthrough Honoree 2020-21).
The critically acclaimed legal drama by Civic Studios has received great recognition across some of the biggest film festivals nationally & internationally, that includes BISFF, 2022, 2nd edition of the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) 2022, 52nd Annual USA Film Festival & International Film Festival of South Asia Toronto 2022, 14th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK) and 13th Annual Chicago South Asian Film Festival (CSAFF).
Talking about the production house, Civic studios, which was incubated at the MIT Media Lab, USA, has a mission to educate citizens through the power of entertainment.
From raising awareness about peoples’ rights, various reforms and policies to finding solutions to the prevalent issues in the society that need our attention, Civic Studios aims to bridge the gap between the representatives of the society and a common man, through entertainment.
Strengthening the idea of democracy and bringing people closer, lies at the heart of each content that Civic Studios creates.
Their format ranges from long-form fiction to creative non-fiction in mediums such as TV, films, web series, radio and digital media.
Putting her vision of strengthening democracy into action, Anushka, through Civic studios, aims to bring in a change by addressing issues of today’s world in the media and building a sense of collectivity and empowerment amongst the youth.
Additionally, Civic Studios’ Pocket Change is an all-new Hindi digital comedy channel that creates relatable, short form, comedy content for young Indians with civic engagement being the principle.
Tell us a little about yourself
Anushka Shah: While I work in the space of media, my background and education has been focused on social impact and data science.
I have an undergraduate degree in Government & Economics from the London School of Economics and a masters from New York University in Applied Statistics with a focus on quantitative media. Between my two degrees.
I worked on-ground in India with non-profit organizations involved with low-income communities, at-risk young adults, and undertrial prisoners, as well as worked in politics designing and running electoral campaigns for state and national elections.
Post my masters degree and with an interest towards media impact, I worked as a researcher at MIT at the Center for Civic Media.
Here I explored the relationships between media and civic change as well as did advocacy with Indian news organizations, journalists, and non-profits on informed reporting and the reframing of societal problems in media coverage.
I enjoy writing and have published articles in news outlets such as the Washington Post, NPR, The Wire and The Huffington Post. I grew up in Mumbai and now divide my time between Mumbai and London.
Please tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey:
Anushka Shah: The idea of civic entertainment, or best ways to bring together civic education and entertainment was a project I started at the MIT Media Lab.
In 2019 we set up Civic Studios as a for-profit media company in Mumbai to actually produce such content.
We began with short form content on our YouTube channel Pocket Change and now have expanded into creating long-form entertainment for streaming platforms.
We’re still young in this journey but have seen a great response and reaction from both the entertainment industry and audiences.
Kindly brief us about Civic Studios, its specialization, and the services that it offers:
Anushka Shah: Civic Studios creates entertainment in the form of films, web series, and short-form digital content to inspire social change.
The studio aims to tell stories across issues like public health, gender rights, unemployment, climate change, and more that are entertaining, engaging, and empowering.
The company’s content slate varies from the fictional short film ‘Vakeel Babu’ (Mr.Lawyer) about gender-sensitization of the judiciary (released on Amazon MiniTV in 2022) to an animated feature film ‘Schirkoa’ on immigration and politics (slated to release in 2023).
Civic Studios also operates the brand Pocket Change that releases weekly short-form, social comedy content on YouTube and social media platforms.
Pocket Change’s slate includes police comedies, family dramedies, youth series, and various social/political comedy sketches that connect with young Indians on relatable and relevant social causes.
The studio’s content is also accompanied with on-ground change campaigns with non-profits, activists, and community collaborators to help leverage media towards real-world change.
What is your biggest USP:
Anushka Shah: That we bring together wonderful and talented writers and producers with powerful activists and change-makers to create stories to change the world.
What made you choose this type of business?
Anushka Shah: In this age of news and technology, we’re constantly surrounded by information and images on the problems of the world we live in.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed, and to feel a sense of helplessness. What can you do to help the issue of farmers suicides in India?
How can you support girls’ education in Afghanistan sitting at home? What stand should take on Ukraine, and can you do anything to actually influence that?
With Civic Studios, we wanted to see if we could tell stories that could be designed to not just give you information, but to change your perspective and encourage you to take action.
What was your mission and vision at the outset?
Anushka Shah: Civics as a term is always very abstract. If you look up the academic definition of civics, it is the “study of rights & duties’’.
Our vision at Civic Studios was to make it the “practice of your rights and duties” and mission was to be able make civics easy and accessible by telling entertaining and empowering stories of people and places that changed the world.
What is your Leadership Mantra:
Anushka Shah: To believe and invest in the people around you and align the company’s growth with every team member’s growth.
What’s your company’s goals?
To create media that is entertaining and yet able to deliver change on ground. Over the next year we have over 105+ short form content pieces in development, 15+ feature films and web-series in the development pipeline, Multilingual short and long format content expansion, global impact advocacy campaigns with international development organizations, and a UK Office for expansion to international co-productions and distribution.
What was the inspiration behind turning an entrepreneur:
Anushka Shah: India as a country is full of stories waiting to be told. We’ve always had a rich heritage and culture of storytelling as a way to talk about our social realities.
The inspiration to turn an entrepreneur was to combine the opportunities in the booming and growing media sector with the potential for these stories to pave the path for a better future.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Anushka Shah: Some of our failures have been around not keeping enough pace with the constantly changing media and technology space – as a start-up it’s not easy to stay afloat and stable, especially through a pandemic phase, while also preparing for the future.
A key learning however through the pandemic was that as an organization the more nimble you stay the more likely you are to succeed.
Key things to consider before starting a Business:
Anushka Shah: Before starting a business the key thing to think about is not just the first 24 months, but what comes after the initial excitement and honeymoon phase – is there a market gap and enough of a demand to justify all the initial effort?
Will you be able to financially and personally sustain all that it takes to run a business? Will you find others who will support you and join you in this endeavour?
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Anushka Shah: Combine passion with practicality – your passion will fuel you but your practicality will sustain you.
Your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs:
Anushka Shah: As someone running a young start-up I’m still learning, so the only thing I can say at this stage is to enjoy the difficult process of being an entrepreneur you need to really believe in the need for that work in the world.
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