Meet the Mavericks
MAVERICK: NEEL KUMAR
Inspired by the same entrepreneurial spirit that drove Glenfiddich to create the world’s most-awarded single malt whisky, we sought out four maverick men from four very different backgrounds who in their everyday lives trade risk for reward as they look to shape their own futures. Neel Kumar is one of those mavericks.
The archetypal expat, Neel grew up in Dubai, Canada and Sri Lanka, but has refused to ‘grow up’ anywhere. A former copywriter, he would go on to get his ‘dream job’ working for global advertising giants Saatchi & Saatchi. While there he wrote and directed a film about the company for which he was personally praised by Saatchi’s global CEO. Following that pat-on-the-back, he did what any maverick would do…he quit. With no fall back plan, Neel started up his own film production company, Akela, which now produces short films and creative spots for someone the region’s most well-known brands.
ESQ: Tell us about a time when you’ve opted to not take the safe option?
Neel Kumar: When I was younger I worked in the creative department at Saatchi & Saatchi. I was starting to get the hang of it and was picking up awards and accolades for my work. I decided to make a film about the Saatchi Dubai office and it was sent around our offices worldwide, for which I got a personal thankyou from the global CEO. It was then I decided to quit. I went on to set up my own film production company, and I knew just enough to know that I barely knew anything about production! I remember how terrified I was, but I did it anyway. Over the last five years I haven’t regretted that decision once.
What do you remind yourself of every day?
I knew that when I quit advertising it would be easy to go back — it felt like a safety net of sorts. So I went and tattooed the name of my production company, Akela, on my hand. I’ve got tattoos everywhere, but it is the only one that I can’t cover up. Every day it reminds me to push myself to stay afloat.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
Writing. I’ve written almost everything that I’ve directed, but it still scares the hell out of me. It’s like performing surgery on yourself and it’s what keeps me up at night. It has taken me seven years to write a screenplay I actually like. After dozens of tries I think I’ve finally done it with a short film we’re shooting in August.
What makes you stand out from others?
I take a lot of risks. I don’t like being safe — I don’t have the time! I go with my gut feeling a lot, and I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon. The way I see it, taking risks results in one of two things: success or a valuable lesson.
Speaking of which, what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
My uncle always told me: “Jump, and learn to fly while you’re falling”. As a director, there’s so much I don’t know. But if I’ve learned anything in the last five years, it’s that it’s okay not to know. Everyone says “I’m not ready yet”. It’s something I hid behind for the longest time. But what I learned from my uncle was that you’re never ready. You only really start to learn under pressure, when you’re responding to a challenge. It’s the constant fear that you might hit the ground that makes you work hard to stay in the air.