Spotlight: Showbiz Entrepreneur with the Midas Touch
In the fable of King Midas, everything he touched turned to gold. Bhavana Anand, a prominent player in Atlanta’s event promotion industry, in just two short years, would appear to possess the legendary king’s magical gift. She was nowhere on the Atlanta concert and event scene just a little over two years ago. And now, her company, Anand Entertainment has given Atlanta memorable concerts such as the one by A.R. Rahman and similar glamorous events, besides helping organize the massive, multi-day American Association of Physicians of India Original (AAPI) Convention in 2019.
This gutsy entrepreneur was a first-year undergrad student in Ludhiana (Punjab) when she married businessman Vishal Anand and moved to the U.S in 2003. With their two children grown up, Bhavana began helping Vishal at work in his thriving businesses: a hotel, liquor stores, construction, and apartments.
But she longed to do more. Quite by accident, she discovered her métier in the world of event promotion. In 2018, a Bollywood dance competition she organized in Atlanta turned out to be a hugely popular, sold-out event. Clearly, Bhavana had struck gold, for this was followed by a wave
of public demand for more such competitions. From there, it’s been a superfast trajectory to promoting and managing concerts helmed by Bollywood topliners.
(Left) Photo: Divya Desai
Well-meaning friends advised her against plunging into this high-stakes, macho industry. But Bhavana took on the challenge, ably supported by husband Vishal, whom she considers her “lucky charm.” Fierce competition, gender politics, and dirty tricks notwithstanding, everything she touched has turned into gold.
But that’s where the similarity with Midas ends. Bhavana’s “magic” is underpinned by a strong professional ethic, deep gratitude to her supporters, humility, and personal warmth. Apart from purely commercial contracts, Bhavana also helps promote events organized by non-profits like Vibha, whose volunteers she considers as “true heroes” of the community.
(Right) Bhavana with choreographer Geeta Kapoor, at her debut event in Atlanta, just two years back.
Having twice cancelled her scheduled interview with Khabar, she confessed to being completely tied down with refunding tickets for the Hrithik Roshan show that had to be called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic (the show will return, she promises). Clearly, her priority was retaining the faith of her ticket- buying audience over building up her own media profile. The Anand family, incidentally, has contributed generously to Ludhiana-based NGO, Ek Noor Sewa Kendra with whom they are associated, to help the needy during the pandemic.
Bhavana has been recognized for her philanthropy for the cause of women empowerment by the Mayor of Dothan, Alabama, Hon. Mike Schmitz. She has also received a Congressional Award from Congresswoman, Martha Roby and House of Representative, Hon. Dexter Grimsley.
On top of her game, Bhavana has clear-cut goals and candidly states that she is in the industry for the long run.
How did you get into the event management and show promotion business?
In 2018, I started with a dance competition. I felt there was so much talent in that space but nobody had cared to recognize it. So, I reached out to Geeta Kapoor- ji [the well-known Bollywood choreographer and television dance show judge] through mutual friends, and she said, “Ok Bhavana, you host the event, and I will come and judge for you.” That is how I hosted that dance competition which became my first and completely sold-out event!
I had many issues initially. Somebody had ripped off the posters I had put up. Eventually, I found out this happens to any newcomer in this market. I started with good faith and began getting a lot of enquiries from North Carolina, South Carolina, and other neighboring states. So, people attended from those neighboring states and from as far as New York, too. We only had thirty spots because Geeta cannot judge for more than two hours consecutively, but she extended it to three hours and therefore we were able to add an additional ten contestants, a group of 40 altogether.
Performers of the Atlanta Nritya Academy—Sudhakshina Mukherjee and Sagnika Mukherjee (not related)—who won first place in the group and the solo events respectively, both informed me after the competition that the exposure they received really benefitted them. I believe it helped to showcase their talent.
Soon I found out that people were keen to participate in such competitions, but were not confident that their moves were good enough. So, I got Dharmesh Sir, the famous Bollywood choreographer, to host a one-day dance workshop in Atlanta. We had so many entries that to accommodate all, we had to extend it through the whole weekend!
Next, I got an opportunity to work with the AAPI doctors for a concert by the famous singer, Shaan. They wanted somebody to run their entire event, so we collaborated and invested with them, fifty-fifty.
This was just before Salman Khan's massive Dabaang show, as well as the Neha Kakkar and Atif Aslam concert. Many told me that I was making a huge mistake, and that I would get crushed big time. But I was confident that everyone has their favorite celebrity: people who preferred Shaan would come for the show.
I did not compromise with marketing, as Vishal had told me from the first day, “Don’t worry about losing anything, just focus on your work”. His saying that from the outset is what keeps me going, because when you lose, it is in big chunks. It’s not cheap having artistes from India. But he insisted: “Don’t worry about it. I trust you, I trust your work. You will make it happen.” We did the Shaan concert. It was not sold out, but we did well, about ninety per cent.
Then I brought in A. R. Rahman in August 2019. You don’t get celebrities of the caliber of A. R. Rahman just like that! He chooses the promoter for his shows and it’s not based on whether or not you have the funding. His team does the entire background check before they confirm the promoters. I believe they did their homework and selected me. This, despite the fact that anytime a show is offered, especially in Atlanta, there are multiple bidders for the same show. In this event, we had a silent partner as well, Sandeep Savla. It was a huge project with a 10,000-audience capacity at the Gwinnett Arena. The show was 100% sold out.
(Left) With singer Shaan
(Photo: Vinod Devlia)
I have not had to work very hard, as I believe that it’s probably luck and God’s blessing. I was getting shows quite easily and didn’t have to fight for anything. God has been very kind to me and because of Vishal’s support, we did not have to get funds from outsiders. I think that’s what keeps me going.
So, you started off with a dance program and now you’ve gotten to the point of bringing names like A. R. Rahman. Are you still restricted to local geography or are you taking on national promotion?
Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik, and Kumar Sanu, did the Throwback 90s concert in November 2019. It was Anand Entertainment that promoted it nationally. We had already invested but because India-Pak incident happened around that time, Pakistanis completely boycotted Throwback and Indians completely boycotted Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. While Rahat’s event, which was in Gwinnett arena, suffered from a poor turnout, Throwback was oversold in November and we [had to] arrange for chairs for guests to sit. It was actually chaotic and perhaps not the right time to promote a national event but we were helpless as the artistes were already committed and we would have lost all the deposit money. But God saved my first national event as well!
(Right) The Anand family with singer Udit Narayan
(Photo: Vinod Devlia)
I am not interested in becoming a national promoter if I have to hit the road, selling the event to regional promoters, unless I have totally invested in the event to take it nationally, all on my own. It is not my style to travel to different cities to sell a national show and then worry about the percentage of tickets sold. So yes, in Throwback 90s, we were national promoters, but were self-funded. Vishal and another company did the funding for the entire show. I would love to keep on doing national projects only if there is a similar funding process and get the national exposure for my company.
Apart from bringing artistes, you also helped organize the 2019 AAPI Convention. Tell us about that.
We helped organize the 2019 AAPI Convention in Atlanta and managed all of the entertainment components. Dr. Naresh Parikh approached me and said, “Bhavana, I don’t want anything to go wrong, as it’s under my presidency. Do you think you’ll make it?” I was nervous. It was a big task, and a responsibility. Someone else had brought the artistes and I had to manage them and their entire line-up for three days. It is a huge achievement to receive a certificate from AAPI and my company managed very well. Local promoters who’d been in the event management line of work for 20-30 years didn’t get the opportunity to execute this one. I sponsored it and did not take a single dollar from AAPI. I did it just to brand Anand Entertainment.
(Left) Bhavana and Vishal Anand with Maestro A. R. Rahman
What are some of your experiences and your takeaways as a woman in a basically male-dominated business? Your experiences dealing with artistes from India, their idiosyncrasies, and money management? We hear some of them come with a lot of arrogance, a lot of attitude….
Some artistes are very humble, some of them are very weird. I have encountered both types. We cannot judge them or their worth just from a single experience. Being artistes, it may have been that their mood was not good on a particular day. But definitely, it’s not easy to manage those mood swings. You work so hard for two to three months to put up the show just for one day. But at the same time, when an artiste throws tantrums, then you feel—why? Why am I doing this? Is it worth it? You work many months, you work hard to promote them, and they show attitude. At times, you feel overwhelmed, that it is too much, that you will not do this, that you will stop. But after a month goes by, you recalibrate your feelings. No ups and downs are going to stop me. When you stand on the stage and see the audience cheering, you feel, yes, you did it!
As for the money part, it’s not been very hard; it’s been a smooth process because we contract directly with the artistes. If there is a middleman, then complications arise. But 90 per cent of the time, we are dealing with the artiste’s management. We get the contract directly from them and funds are deposited directly to their accounts.
[This] being a male-dominated industry, I feel there’s much jealousy, hatred, and envy. People try very hard to put you down, if they can find a single thing to make you look like you are the worst person on this earth. But I think if your family knows you, if your loved one knows you, who cares what others say? You just have to keep on going, because I feel people only talk about you when you are doing something good.
For administrative support—ticket sales or planning flyers, brochures, marketing—do you have a team? How do you work?
Until 2018, I was entirely by myself. For Shaan’s concert I had a small team to help me. But before that, while I was not personally going around and putting up posters (we used hired help), I was the one coordinating A to Z. After the A. R. Rahman concert did so well, we have a few people who manage our team. For ticketing and other requirements, we have created a flawless software app which we employ to promote our shows and for all our ticket sales. Everything is recorded. I don’t have to come to Atlanta each time as I used to. Now, even after I have announced a show, I do not have to come to Atlanta even once; everything is managed over the phone, and it is on auto-pilot. Now, we have a good team.
(Right) With renaissance woman Sushmita Sen
(Photo: Divya Desai)
You have dabbled in dance and celebrity shows. Is your portfolio going to expand further? Are you looking into anything else, like participating in film production, for instance?
I don’t wish to be in a film or anything—no, no, no! I don’t like such limelight. On the “D-Day” when I see the house full, it gives me a kick, it’s like an addiction. That’s what I want. I have zero intention to act in a movie.
We might produce films. There are opportunities in both places: one here, and one in Bollywood. Both scripts sound very interesting. One of the artistes is very well known, a big name. Like I said, it’s just too early to say right now, but this is what we are thinking.
Can you tell us more about your philanthropic work with Ek Noor?
We have a non-profit organization based out of Ludhiana in India called Ek Noor. It has several wings and units, and I am involved in one called, “Hunar” (vocational talent). We teach tailoring to girls who are widows or victims of sexual assault. We started with three women and now, we have over 500. We pay professionals who teach them the skills. People come to learn from Hunar so they can get good jobs. I don’t like to see the poor on the street, but I also don’t feel good giving them money. I’d rather give them a talent so that they can earn. Vishal is involved with Ek Noor’s hospital unit.
(Left) With Hrithik Roshan, whose “100 minutes with Hrithik Roshan” event has been postponed to next year, due to the pandemic.
Anything else you’d like to add for the reader to get to know who Bhavana is outside of being a successful business leader and philanthropist?
I feel, when we are blessed, we have to help others. There’s a reason you are blessed. Don’t wait till you get more. Help with whatever you have; you can still help people. You only live once. God made us humans with a purpose. He could have made us animals. He wants us to help others, that is why he made us human. There is nothing to lose. Whatever you know, teach others. Sharing does not limit your knowledge or ability, it only doubles it.
Viren Mayani is a finance executive by profession, a prominent liaison in the Atlanta Indian community, and a musician. He is a senior contributor at Khabar who frequently interviews leading personalities in arts, entertainment, business, and politics.
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