It’s names such as these that add vibrancy to the cultural ethos of a city. Mital Surendira – an entrepreneur, Aditya Patel – a racer and Geetanjali Selvaraghavan – a budding director, have contributed in their own way to script the aesthetic essence of the beautiful southern metropolis of Chennai.
RITZ features these three well-known faces on the cover, not because they’re popular on the party circuit, but because they have what it takes to do things differently.
The Power of Gifting
Thirteen years ago if you had asked the charming Mital Surendira what she wanted to do with her life, she would have probably said, “Start a Nani’s Kitchen” considering her first love is food. But instead, she chose to delve into her passion – gifting. Today, she is the proud owner of Sanskrriti, one of the best stores in South India for personalized gifting and in the trousseau packaging industry. Deeksha Marur talks to her about her journey so far, what she loves about this field and Sanskrriti’s future plans.
Rewind in time and you’ll know that Mital comes from a typical Gujarati family, born and raised in Chennai. She’s done her graduation in bio-chemistry and holds a degree in business administration, but found her calling and passion in gifting. She confesses, “As a kid, I would always put things together on a tray and that is something that has always stayed with me”.
Coming from a joint family, Mital was always fascinated with and inspired by her grandmother, and wondered how she was so pro-active. In her 10th grade, Mital got her first pay check for a gift box she had made and as a hobby she’d always gift her friends the boxes she made. Today, she’s married into a Tamilian family and her husband is her biggest supporter and critic, so when she told him about what she wanted to start, he believed in her. “I’ve always been the kind of person to dabble with the newspaper and make something with it and I guess that’s what kindled the spark to start my first baby, Sankrriti!” says the elated entrepreneur.
Ask her how the going has been so far and she says, “It’s been a mad journey…both design-wise and brand-wise. I stood my ground when people said it’s an expensive business. But you know, unwrapping a gift is both a joy for the receiver and the giver.” And on that note, she first started out making gifting boxes and other artefacts that she made by hand for friends and family. This soon led to her getting orders. At first the orders were a small number that she could manage working solo, but it wasn’t long before the numbers grew and she needed help in the form of co-workers.
“I got this really big order for a high profile socialite’s wedding where I used ghungroos (ankle bells) to decorate a tray and they loved it. In fact, the wife loved it so much that she would come sit with me at the workshop every day. And this was at the time when I’d gotten the biggest order and it was utter madness, especially because at that point of time, it was just a hobby.”
Even though Sanskrriti has now developed into a full-fledged business, the philosophy of the company stays the same, to ‘make every celebration grander’ as is mentioned their tagline. Mital adds, “The idea of our brand is to maintain chic gifting that’s functional. Every design has to have a functional value to it. I mean, why would you not want make use of the beautiful boxes or potlis (mini totes) that you are gifted, right?” When it comes to their signature trousseau packing as well, “It is an age old technique that is customary in many households,” she says. “As a company and a brand, our basic principle is still about staying connected to our roots!”
For Mital, it is not just about staying rooted, it is also about helping others through her business principles, that govern her choices. She has employed and subsequently taught15 underprivileged women the craft, while simultaneously helping to empower their lives. “Whatever you find in our store is all handmade! I have taught these women the skills of the trade and now we’re about 25 of us and we create almost everything in-house… very little is outsourced”, says the proud entrepreneur.
What Sanskrriti has to offer is the bringing together of different cultures into the packaging. “That’s the most exciting part. Everything we do is customised. If we have to make something for Marwari weddings, we go all out – like for one Marwari wedding, we put jaggery, kota and mishri on a banana leaf and packed it. I like to learn a lot about my customers and incorporate what I learnt into the packaging”, avers Mital and points out that, this is what sets them apart. She also adds that there are maybe one or two people who are into trousseau packaging and gifting of small home accessories, but none at all on the scale and scope of Sanskrriti.
For a niche brand like Sanskrriti, it is obvious that the clientele too has to be niche right? “Not entirely,” says Mital. “What is important is that the client should have an eye for detail and like everything beautiful.” She’s had clients from across the country and her second biggest order was from a Reddy family who wanted to do something different for their niece’s wedding. “I used teal blue and mustard yellow as the theme. Small pieces of cloth were handcrafted onto brass artifacts. I had used the logo of Golconda fort and a coin on top of kumkum boxes.”
It’s not just weddings that Sanskrriti caters to but even birthdays and baby showers – for which once she even got a diaper cake done! “We do everything and anything. You name the celebration and we can make something for you to gift”, assures Mital, who has just opened her second store in Chennai. Speaking of another store, ask her if there are plans to expand and she says, “Yes of course, there are. I’d like Sanskrriti to expand into Hyderabad and Bengaluru, but I think it will take some time. Apart from these two cities I’d think Dubai and Singapore too are great places to set up shop in, but we’re still doing the ground work,” she explains. Atta girl!.
Life In The Fast Lane
He’s 27 now and has spent more than 15 years behind the wheel. At the age of 11, when most other kids his age were watching action films and playing cricket on the streets, Aditya Patel took to karting, a sport that was then pretty unheard of, if not considered a tad risky. It was way back in 1999 that the young lad participated in a go-kart race at Kart Attack in Chennai. And from then on there’s been no looking back for this speedster. Shankaran Malini forces him to hit the brakes for a bit as they sit down and chat about his racing career and his future plans even as he steadfastly sidesteps questions on the special woman in his life!
It’s a commonly known fact that men who are into racing thrive on female attention, a justified action considering the number of pretty pit girls who hang around race tracks grabbing everyone’s attention by the eyeballs. A journalist who saw Chennai boy Aditya Patel for the first time at Kari Motor Speedway, when he was all of 19, recalls a gawky, buck-toothed boy who sported a sticker of Bugs Bunny on his cap!
No wonder we believe Aditya Patel when he claims that there is no significant other to his life as yet! He was a tad awkward around excessive attention then and he remains a bit wary of it now as well. Not to say that he’s lacking in female attention or friends. It’s just that the speedster’s priorities in life are very different and he strategically chooses to concentrate on his sport and not the recreational aspects that come along with it.
“It may not sound true but I actually haven’t been able to find the time to get into any kind of affair. When you’re at the race track, girls are probably the last thing on your mind. The adrenalin is so high from having to race cars itself that nothing else matters much,” states the man in a matter-of-fact tone. Since he was 11, life has been all about speed and card for Aditya. “I was always interested in cars and racing games. I guess, once you start participating and winning, then things move forward rapidly and before you know it, you’re racing the cars you’ve only dreamed about as a kid!” Or at least that’s how the story has unfolded for this young man.
The son of Kamlesh Patel, a former Indian racing and rally champion, and Amrita Patel, an interior designer who is also a huge supporter of motor sport, racing is part of his DNA. “I was always pretty clued on to motorsport events on TV and since my father used to race as well, it was just something I had to at least try!,” he tells with a grin. His shaggy mop and wide boyish smile leave us wondering whether he actually bares that streak of brutality and single-mindedness that is evident in most race car drivers. “For my definition of me… well, I would say I’m a little lazy. I guess it’s good in a way since the laziness helps me find the easy way out on the race track most of the time,” he says, if a tad unrepentantly.
The mantel at his Chennai home is filled with accolades, beginning way back in the year 2001 when he was crowned the JK Tyre Junior National Karting Champion. Over the next few years he participated in various karting events and continued to win races and consistently finish on the podium. In 2005 he took to single seater racing where he participated in the Formula Maruti (FISSME) category winning one race and on the podium on three other occasions. “2006 saw the entry of the Formual Rolon Chevrolet where I raced for Team NK Racing. It was a big learning curve and a great opportunity to be racing for Narain Karthikeyan’s team,” he shares, the excitement of it still ringing clear in his voice.
The year 2007 began and ended with a bang, winning races in both Formula Rolon as well as the Rotax Max Challenge and finally wrapping up these 2 championships. “The next year I moved to the Formula BMW Pacific Championship and was on the podium on my first race! Unfortunately we had a few downs after that but by the end of the season everything was back on track and I ended the season on a high at the Macau GP.”
There has been no looking back for Aditya Patel since then. A sudden change in events in 2009 resulted in a call from Volkswagen, which meant that the youngster would be racing in the VW Polo Cup in Europe! “This was a big boost for my career and it also meant a shift from single seater racing to saloon car racing. Although I suffered many unfortunate race incidents, the VW team seemed happy with my overall performance and chose me to participate in the Volkswagen Scirocco Cup 2010.”
After that began Aditya’s association with Audi Motorsports – he’s in the kind of profession most young boys dream of. He races cars for Audi – the R8 LMS GT3 that he says suits his driving style perfectly and is also one of the most successful GT3 race cars cars ever built! “I enjoy working with them and being an integral part of their team. It’s great fun and a dream job,” he reiterates.
Cut Above The Rest
An assistant director first, then a wife, a mother of two kids and now a director and producer, Gitanjali Selvaraghavan is a strong source of support and bliss in her director husband, Selvaraghavan’s life. Through thick and thin, she stands by him and makes their lives meaningful. She has learnt to treat adversities and success with equanimity. Shankaran Malini tunes in as Gitanjali Selvaraghavan talks about her current projects, plans, life, family and more.
Gitanjali Selvaraghavan, daughter of former Advocate General of Tamil Nadu P. S. Raman married director Selvaraghavan in 2011. The couple has two kids – 3 year old daughter Lilavathy and 2 year old son, Omkar. Gitanjali started off as an assistant director and worked on ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’ with Selvaraghavan. Today, Gitanjali is wielding the megaphone for her directorial venture, ‘Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam.’ Additionally, she has partnered with her childhood friend and classmate, Siddharth Rao, in a production company `Glo Studios.’ Shuffling her family commitments and work, Gitanjali is a super busy woman and has loads of future plans.
“This project being directed by Selvaraghavan is like our first baby; my first production with my partner friend, Siddharth Rao. It has an interesting star-cast with Simbu, Taapsee, Catherine Tresa, and Jagapathi Babu in significant roles. We have finished the first schedule,” says Gitanjali. It’s the first time that Selvaraghavan and Simbu have teamed up together. Buzz is that Taapsee is donning a cop role in khakhi. “You know Selva is very secretive about his projects. About the roles of the cast, we would like to keep things under wraps now. But I am extremely happy that Aravind Krishna and Yuvan Shankar Raja are back in the team after a long time – after ‘Pudupettai’. We also have art director Selvakumar, who has worked on films like ‘Madrasapattinam’ in our crew. So, overall, it’s an interesting mix of cast and crew,” she says. Initially, Trisha was being considered for the lead role and Selvaraghavan had talks with her too. But what happened? Gitanjali says, “Yes, there were talks but it didn’t work out logistically. The dates were not syncing. So, Catherine Tresa replaced Trisha. We, as a team are excited about the end product. We are planning to release it by the end of the year. Of course, I am enjoying it with all the acidity, all the nightmares, all the tensions, unbelievable anxiety as a producer. We are working with a very young team.” Glo Studios has more plans and have got a couple of projects in the pipeline.
‘Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam’ is Gitanjali’s directorial debut and the script is by her husband. The film’s first look poster was released recently and everybody noticed a striking resemblance of the lead characters to Selvaraghavan and Gitanjali. “Oh it was absolutely unintentional. The first look poster genuinely has not got anything to do with Selva or my life exclusively. Any youngster will relate to it. It’s not anything related to our personal lives though. It was never intended for the cast to look like us,” She says, “It was a script written long time ago by Selva. I used to tell him that when this film releases in theatres, it will say, a film directed by Gitanjali Raman. I was ‘Raman’ at that time. And Selva said, ‘okay, take it. Whenever you plan to direct a film, you may use this script.’ There are two songs left to be filmed yet. I am also working on a script for my next directorial venture.”
How is shuttling between family and work for Gitanjali? “The two blessings in my life, my mother and my father take care of it all when we are busy with work. And when Selva is not busy he takes care of it all, right from feeding the kids to bathing them, putting them to sleep and keeping them entertained. My brother, who is a lawyer, is also very attached to the kids. But I try my best to ensure that one of us is definitely available for the kids. So, we alternate between each other as far as possible.”
When Lilavathy was a 2-year- old and Omkar barely a month old, pursuing her career was not an option for her. “I was very conscious about the situation and I could not even think of going anywhere. But my children are easy babies. But you know, it is often said that easy babies grow into nightmare teens. I guess my real work will start 10 years from now. And yes, while working I have missed out on precious months but Selva has been around. I’d say that the kids are as attached to Selva as much as he is to them. For them everything is Appa. He always wanted children and loves to bring them up,” she says.
After ‘irandam ulagam’, Selvaraghavan took a backseat from direction. The film was a failure at the box office and the collections were miserable. The producers, PVP, demanded reimbursement of their losses and the whole affair was said to have been awful. “I am not allowed to comment on this,” she says. But what according to her was the real reason behind the failure of ‘irandam ulagam’? She says, “I loved the film, the story and its concept. I think the only place where it could have gone wrong was in the VFX department. I think what Selva wanted and the end product were two different things. And it’s surprising that a film like ‘Interstellar’ is appreciated so widely but an Indian film is not.”
According to Gitanjali, Selvaraghavan never allows to let himself down. “He always says, never let yourself down, no matter what. Just be honest to yourself.” And when you ask why is Selvaraghavan slow in making his films, she completely refutes that. “It’s actually a misunderstanding that he takes a lot of time. Directors take variations when filming. For a particular shot, they have about 25 variations. But Selva does only one. He is very particular and very clear about what he wants from his shot. He calculates the timing perfectly. ‘I want you to lift your eyebrow at this point, I want you to turn your head at this point, I want you to lift your hand at this point, and I want you to move your lip at this point.’ He has an eye for detail. He knows precisely when it should be a mid shot, wide angle or close up shot. The only place where he takes time is the framing part of it. He wants what he wants perfectly within the frame. He completed ‘Mayakkam Enna’ in 50 days. He filmed ‘irandam ulagam’ in 120 days. Dhanush and Richa picked up his visualization just like that. There were hardly any retakes. And why ‘irandam ulagam’ got delayed was because of the producers ‘strike. He wanted bulk dates from Anushka to shoot in Georgia. Everything was sorted when the strike happened. And after that it became difficult to get her dates. But he filmed a project of that magnitude in 120 days.”
About brother-in-law, Dhanush and her co-sister, Aishwaryaa, she says, “I liked Aishwaryaa’s recent release, ‘Vai Raja Vai’ and I am happy about Dhanush’s success. Working together has never crossed our minds. In fact, whenever we meet we speak about everything else other than work,” says Gitanjali as she signs off.