Zam in the bot: No, this is not any deep homage to Ghost in the Machine. Zam is Zameer Hussain, the compositor extraordinaire who has worked on some amazing shows, and is well regarded as an active mentor to many. bot is, of course, bot vfx. Zameer joined the bot clan in late July as its Creative Head and, more informally, as its creative evangelist.
Zameer brings both the creative depth that comes with personally delivering shots on countless shows, and nuanced leadership from managing ever-growing legions of artists on the perpetual march towards show deliveries and deadlines. “Zameer has a reputation of having a strong command of his craft and of being a selfless mentor to artists – regardless of where they work or come from. This combination is somewhat rare, so we were eager to have him among our ranks,” says Hitesh Shah, Head bot.
His command of the craft is witnessed not only by the kinds of shows he’s worked on, like The Dark Tower, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and X-Men: Apocalypse (among countless others), but also by the highly regarded VFX companies he’s been affiliated with, including ILM, Iloura, Double Negative, and MPC.
Zameer’s leadership approach challenges staid old stereotypes that define creative supervision to be a left-brain-dominated activity. His methodical dissection of problems and his bias towards structure and processes demonstrate that effective creative leadership is a Zen-like art of applying both halves of the mind in symphony.
“When we announced internally about Zameer joining us, we were delighted to find that many of our team members were as enthusiastic as we were because they either personally knew him or know someone else who does,” noted Deepak Bohra, Head of Business Affairs. “This reaffirmed our goal of bringing him on the team to help us drive further bot‘s core vision and mission – the continued development of our artists and innovation in our pipeline.”
Exactly a week after I joined as a ‘Bot’, Deepak – the CalmBot’ – messaged me, regarding a guest speaker coming over at the office at 11 a.m. I thought to myself…
“Hmm… Guest speaker? Must be someone from the industry like an Art director or Creative person or maybe even an Actor (Robert Downing Jr.? Wink wink 😉
For the past week I have been trying to get in the groove of the work culture at BotVFX. Every day, I expect the monotony of familiarity to seep in, and every day I’m left a little more amazed. Here’s one of the reasons why.
At about 11 a.m. we get a brief about the speaker, Mr. Nipun Mehta – who is also Hitesh aka SuperBot’s friend. I quickly glance through his profile, and I’m instantly in awe of him. You’d be too if you found out that you were going to meet someone who’s received the Dalai Lama’s Unsung Hero of Compassion award. He’s also been on President Barack Obama’s council to reduce Poverty and Inequality. I’ll admit, I was a fanboy already. I head over to the conference room, where I instantly realize I’m not the only one who got the brief.
Dressed in plain clothes paired with ordinary ‘chappals’ was a young yet not so young gentleman sitting across the room.
Preconceived notions had me paint a mental picture of this guy dressed to the nines – tailor-made 3-piece suit, matching tie, Italian leather shoes, the complete jazz. Oh and of course, the American accent.
Cut to reality. I’m looking at this man, and am thrown fully off my train of thought. Introductions are made. Nipun takes a look at all the Hollywood movie posters hanging on the walls. He stops at Invictus and stares at it intently. He asks us if we did any work on this film (yes, we did). Nipun is impressed. He then goes on to talk about how the film, based on Nelson Mandela and François Pienaar, shows a nation brought together in times of intense racial tension by a sport. And how potentially vicious issues were easily resolved due to Mandela’s humility.
Nipun is reminded of his own personal experience – he was inspired by none other than Gandhiji to leave behind all his belongings in the USA and start a pilgrimage march in Gujarat. One anecdote led to another, and I just marveled at the way his words managed to strike the right chords, making the brain ponder on thoughts often looked over, giving a whole new perspective on things.
DANCING WITH THE STARS
When Nipun left all his comforts in Sillicon Valley, USA, he knew that his true calling was volunteering. But, if it really was as easy, we’d have made Florence Nightingales out of everyone.
Leaving everything actually meant EVERYTHING.
No cheat codes, no hacks, NOTHING.
He recalls one incident where he was offered dinner by an elderly lady. Her husband asked from where he had started. Nipun replied, “Ahmadabad”. The old man repeated “Oh, Memdavad”. Nipun corrected him “No, no! Ahmadabad, dada!”. The old man again said, “Haan, Memdavad” to which Nipun corrected him again. This correction-tennis went on for a few minutes. Convinced that the old man was hard of hearing, Nipun finally said, “Ahmadabad, dada, Ahmadabad! 127km from here, AHMADABAD!”. The old man softly said, “You have not truly left behind everything, because in your head you are still keeping track how much distance you have covered”. The depth of these words hit Nipun like a rock hurtling towards earth like the asteroid in Armageddon. What happened next was what we called “An Epiphany”. He realized that he was going to have to leave a lot more than just money and material comforts to really get a deeper understanding of life.
He then correlated this anecdote with Giving & Receiving vs Dancing.
Giving and Receiving are transactional acts. There is an exchange between 2 people. You give something only because you want to receive something.
Dancing on the other hand is not transactional and is best enjoyed when you don’t care who is looking, who is judging, without anyone keeping a minute to minute track of your steps, letting yourself loose – Basically, you do it for the pure love of it and nothing else.
CORPORATE ECOLOGY – GIVERS | MATCHERS | TAKERS
In a case study of an organization, employees were all placed at the same level and could work their way to the top. They were also grouped under 3 categories.
Givers – Generous people who place the needs of others above their own. The ones who only give and give and give – a fountain of generosity. Takers – Selfish people whose number one (and perhaps only) priority is their own self. Life is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and these folks are here for it. Matchers – Those who give as much as they take or vice versa. They know that you can only rightfully take stuff when you’ve given stuff in exchange in the first place.
At the start of the study, Takers were at the top, Matchers in the middle and Givers at the bottom. However towards the end of the study there were a quite a few Givers at the top and Takers at the bottom. The study proved that even Givers could make it to the top (defying the notion that Givers are the literal and figurative Losers). Similarly, a Taker could end up at the bottom. Matchers on the other hand saw that giving would transform into receiving more hence they would adapt themselves to be Givers.
Hence a total win-win for the organization.
BORN BANKRUPT, DIE RICH
When on topic of his pilgrimage, Nipun recalls the many days he spent hungry and thirsty. Earning needn’t necessarily mean asking for money.
Once, he asked an elderly person if he could assist the person in carrying his haystack back for nothing. The old man thought Nipun must be asking money to do the deed. However, Nipun clarified that there were no strings attached, and that he would really do it for free. The old mad, though bewildered, agreed.
When the old man and Nipun (holding the haystack on his head) came back to the village everyone wondered who was this new guy helping out this old man? The old man who was now having a 56-inch proud chest replied to all, “Someone was willing to help me without any reason – Godsent in the truest sense!”.
That day Nipun may not have earned anything monetary but he earned goodwill – forming a relationship with the old man. There’s no currency for that sort of stuff.
Nipun’s anecdote brings out the true meaning of life.
When we are born we are born with nothing. When we die, we die with nothing. But, it’s the period in-between that matters and determines what we leave behind.
It really is about the legacy you leave behind for generations to come, for strangers everywhere. You don’t have to reach the saintly level of Nelson Mandela. You can be a hero in your own little pond. The beauty is in taking the first step, and then repeating that over and over. Some people choose to do nothing, and are, thus, ultimately forgotten.
Don’t be one of those “some people”. There are already far too many of those.
There is this lazy, mistaken notion that you earn virtue just by signed a cheque to some NGO. If wishes were horses, am I right?
In simple mathematical terms: IF to be a Good person = Donate money
We know Time = Money
Replacing Money we can say a Good person is also one who Donates TIME
Once in a company there was a soft drink vending machine. One day an employee decided that he would treat the next person to a free can of Coke. He put up a note on the machine saying that ‘Enjoy your drink, its on me’. He did this everyday. Soon this became an office sensation. Everyone in office was curious who was this mystery Coke can gifter. When the mystery unraveled and the true perpetrator brought to question, he simply said that he just wanted to gift happiness… to anyone.
The joy of receiving a gift is surpassed only by the joy of giving, because the happiness is actually doubled once it serves its purpose.
Key and Peele – Can you be too nice at the office?
Vinoba Bhave was one such person who believed that ‘Helping Helps Helpers’. People adopted him as their son and gave 1/6th of their land to him. He in turn donated all the land received to the homeless, poor and landless. He helped more than 1000 villages by way of such help and countless lives were benefited solely because of him.
Nipun then went on to explain a corollary that read something to the effect of, “Only Hurt People Hurt Others”, which actually makes a lot of sense. Think about it. Nobody is born a villain. Nor does anybody intentionally want to hurt anyone. A pertinent question we should be asking ourselves is that should we restrict kindness only to selected people? No.
Take the 21 day kindness challenge and see an intrinsic difference! Everyday make it a priority to fulfill one random act of kindness. Kindness can be in any form. Take someone out, write a note to someone, bring a cupcake, teach a topic – Anything!
Key Take aways and 2017 goals
Give > Receive
Dance with humility
And so Nipun left us with a barn full of fodder for the mind. True to his word he made sure none of us left empty-handed as he ensured he ‘gave’ a powerful hug to every person in the room.
“We ride not to escape life, but for life to not escape us.”
After a whole year of dreaming, planning and deliberating, and six months of mapping out my epic road trip to the magical lands of Leh-Ladakh, I finally hopped onto the train from Chennai to Delhi on the 21st of August, 2016. Choosing the places I would cover on my route was fairly easy, although the North East does spoil you for choices when it comes to views. I shortlisted places based on accessibility by bike, their historic importance, and the fact that many of these places cannot be visited all year.
My roadmap was something like this.
22nd August, 2016 Rode from Rupnagar to Manali
23rd August, 2016 Made my way from Manali to Keylong
24th August, 2016 Onwards from Keylong to Pang
25th August, 2016 From Pang, I moved towards Leh
26th August, 2016 Spent the day exploring and traveling within Leh
27th August, 2016 Continued my journey from Leh to Diskit
28th August, 2016 Headed from Diskit to Turtuk
29th August, 2016 Rode from Turtuk to Pangong Lake
30th August, 2016 Rode back from Pangong Lake to Leh
31st August, 2016 From Leh to Sonmarg
1st September, 2016 Biked my way to Patnitop
2nd September, 2016 Entered Ludhiana
3rd September, 2016 Made my way back from Ludhiana to Delhi
4th September, 2016 Stayed the day in Delhi, before taking the train back to Chennai
Although, by this point in time Leh-Ladakh has earned for itself some “mainstream” popularity, no amount of Instagram pictures and Go-Pro videos can prepare you for the real deal. Everywhere you turn to look in this pristine land, you will find a view that’s nothing short of an artist’s favourite masterpiece, created to take your breath away.
My seemingly endless series of gasps and sighs began at Keylong, to which I rode from Manali on my trusted Mahindra Mojo. Keylong (pronounced kelaang) is a lovely little place of untouched beauty located in the Lahaul-Spiti region. Although people only pass through Keylong in the dark of the night while on their way to Ladakh, staying back and watching daylight descend on this sleepy town will reward you with breathtaking views of luciously green mountains, historic Buddhist monasteries and a laidback vibe that’s typical of small sleepy towns forgotten by the ravages of time.
Next stop, Pang Valley. I was only passing through Pang en route Leh, but I couldn’t help but stop and stare at the sheer magnanimity of the natural beauty all around me. From the plains of Pang, you can catch a glimpse of the Himalayan peaks. This glimpse into the overwhelming beauty that lay ahead of me, made me nervous and breathless with anticipation. With this restless feeling, I rode on to Leh.
Perched at a dizzying height of 11,400 feet, safely tucked away like precious treasure from prying eyes, Leh is a place that, as soon as you catch your breath and acclimitise to the thin air, will make you ask yourself some serious questions about life and the universe. But, more than anything it’ll humble you. Mountains loom over the Old Town like proud but indulgent parents watching over their precious child. Traditional Ladakhi homes and hotels whimsically woven with gushing streams, narrow lanes, pristine landscapes and heart-warming people will charm you into staying here forever. I, with a heavy heart, instead moved on to Diskit, after spending a whole day exploring.
Thankfully, the glorious Nubra Valley continued casting its spells of enchantment with every town I entered. Diskit was an experience unto itself. Located some 120 kms from Leh, this town is the headquarters of Nubra Valley, which also makes it a favourite among many backpackers and road trippers. It’s easy to see why. Diskit is home to the largest and the oldest Buddha statue in the valley, is dotted with apricot plantations, pristine streams, looming mountains and the languid and brilliantly turquoise Shyok River.
So engrossed was I in taking pictures and gawking at the vistas, I left behind my camera bag loaded with valuables and original Ids, and obliviously rode on to Hunder. When realisation hit me, I rode back about a 100 kms, to find the bag there untouched, in the exact place I left it. Without wasting another heartbeat, I zipped forward to Hunder village. Hunder is bursting with fascinating sights – from the two-humped Bactrian camels, who were initially native to Mongolia, but found their way into Nubra Valley during the era of silk route trade; to the magical silver-grey sand dunes; to the Leh Berry. Hunder stands like an oasis – a mirage – in the middle of an otherwise barren and imposing landscape.
From Hunder, I rode through a landscape that seemed to be turning whiter by the minute. Here I was in Turtuk – quietly nestled in the Nubra Valley, on the edge of the Shyok desert. Turtuk – the last village on the Indo-Pak border. A place straight out of an adventure picture book. A land whose name you’ll seek delight in rolling off your tongue over and over again. Turtuk is the last village Indians are allowed to enter, and was initally a part of Baltistan, which was once under Pakistan’s control. It became a part of India only in 1971, while Indians were allowed to enter only after 2010. Turtuk is home to the Balti people, who with their high cheekbones and tall, well-built frames stand in stark contrast to the Ladakhis. Apricots grow with wild abandon in Turtuk, and serve as the village’s main source of income. Wild colourful flowers and verdant green grass cover this village like nature’s favourite blanket. Turtuk’s locals are an amazingly artistic bunch – they’re known for their walking sticks and sculptures carved from the horns of an Ibex, pressure cookers made out of stone, bronze utensils, and so much more. The villagers are eager and earnest folks, happily letting you into their lives, even if it’s for a short while.
Although reluctant to leave this slice of heaven behind, I rode further on to Pangong Lake and its unmissable prayer flags. Pangong Lake is located at a height of 14,200 feet above sea level, and its 134 kilometre long shore extends from India, all the way to China. There’s a sense of surreal stillness when you’re standing by the banks of Pangong Lake – the sheet of vivid blue, held in an embrace of majestic mountains and white sand. If you hold still for a minute, you can hear the winds whisper and the mountains sigh, a song only they know.
I made my way back to Leh from Pangong. From Leh I rode to Sonmarg (which translates to Meadow of Gold) and further on to Patnitop – a little hill station that looks like it’s straight out of postcard. Patnitop is surrounded by a dense fence of lush green Pine trees, like solemn soldiers guarding a treasure. From Patnitop I rode to Ludhiana, and before I knew it, I was on the train back to Chennai.
They say the farther you move away from the mainland of the country, the finer the line between life and death gets. Everyday is a battle for survival. Electricity merely lasts a few hours each day. Cell phone reception is borderline non-existent. There are no ATMs. Exotic cuisines and fine dining is unheard of. The bathroom is all but a hole in the floor. And amidst this, live these weather-hardened folks with the softest hearts and warmest hearths.
If you ask me for travel advice, I would just tell you this: stop dreaming, start moving, make new friends, embrace new cultures. You can’t do that from your office desk, you can’t experience that rush via Facebook. My 15-day long adventure felt like a lifetime filled with unforgettable views, humbling moments of self-reflection and the realisation that there is no greater artist than Mother Nature, and we still have much to learn. Nothing changes in these cruel terrains, except those who dare to seek them.
When you get to a certain point in life, you find comfort in monotony, in the predictability, the routine – you know the drill. All’s well until one day, you’re in office, glued to your computer. And slowly, like drums approaching towards you from a distance, you feel it rising – the thumping in your veins, the electricity in the air, the unquenchable thirst for newer sights and sounds. The call of the open road, the pull of the unknown. You know nothing can hold you in your place anymore. That’s pretty much the story of how I ended up in Manali.
I had been planning this trip for nearly two months, and spent about 1 week mapping the itinerary. My aim was to cover the distance between Chennai and Manali on my bike, and explore some of the nearby villages in the area too. Finally, with my Pulsar 150 as my sole companion, I set out on a journey that was equal parts daunting, exhilerating and therapeutic. Over the course of the 8 days that followed, I would see all kinds of shifts in weather, terrain, cultures and views. I was more than ready.
My route went something like this: Chennai – Hyderabad – Nagpur – Gwalior – Agra – New Delhi – Chandigarh – Manali – Rohtang La Pass.
Not mentioned above are the innumerable obscure hamlets and lazy towns that mark this entire journey. Anyone who’s done an epic road trip from any one part of India to another will know just how magical it is zipping through this constantly shifting geographical and cultural landscape. It’s like living inside one big kaleidoscope. Chennai to Hyderabad to Nagpur was smooth sailing. So far so good, no dramatic developments, no hiccups. I was riding at a good speed and making good time. It was on my exit from Nagpur and into Gwalior that I got a close glimpse into the treacherous terrains spread all over my roadmap. The road was too rough, too rugged and I had to struggle to maintain firm control over my bike and keep my sanity in check at the same time. With no place to stop at and no room to rest, I had no option but to continue riding. On this stretch, I ended up riding for 15 hours straight in a single day! It is during these moments I seriously end up questioning my decisions and why I do what I do. But then again, this is exactly why. Would biking bring a self-respecting biker any joy if it wasn’t such a giant terrifying pain sometimes?
Not one to be bogged down so early into my journey, I rallied on like a trooper on a mission. Finally, I touched base at Delhi. After sufficient rest, appeasing the hunger Gods and checking up on my bike, I made my way towards Manali via Chandigarh. I was so close to this place I’ve been dreaming of, I was sure if I stuck my tongue out into the air, I could taste the electric anticipation. Anticipation was soon met with further agony when I was crossing the Punjab border and the rain Gods decided to welcome me with brutally torrential downpour. I had to wait for it to pass, and was further greeted by now slushied roads and a frighteningly slippery terrain, which lowered my speed to a crawl. But soon, all of that cleared and I was came up close and personal with the picturesque vistas that Himachal is so known and loved for.
I rode through the tiny towns of Swarghat, Bilaspur, Sundernagar and finally to Mandi. Mandi is a charming little town dotted with innumerable apple trees. The air is crisp, mingled with a sense of sweetness and adventure. I couldn’t help but stop and admire this quaint beauty that we usually see only in the movies! Keeping me company was the River Beas that snaked its way through Mandi. Beas rises from the southern face of Rohtang Pass at about 13,326 feet above sea level, cuts through Mandi at 1,920 feet, divides itself into three in the Kangra District and once again merges into one at an altitude of 1000 feet. Beas eventually joins the River Sutlej at Harike in Punjab. Its foaming white waters gushing forward to meet its destiny, relentless yet tranquil, reinforced my resolve to make it to my destination without further ado. Manali was just two hours away now, and the magnificent Rohtang La Pass was four hours away. My next stop was Kullu, nestled on the banks of River Beas. Serene temples, majestic hills and tall, solemn Pine and Deodhar trees, and sprawling apple orchards weave together this enchanting valley. Life moves at its own pace here – a jolting reminder to us cityfolk that slowing down is a good thing too. Although lured intensely into staying a little longer, I made my way to Manali.
Perched blisslfully between the peaks of Pir Panjal and Dhualdhar ranges, like a precious jewel in a crown, is Manali. Although ridiculously popular and crowded throughout the year, Manali still has its own charm. It’s a real challenge to keep your sanity together when the thin mountain air coupled with adrenaline thumping through your veins, leave you heady and restless. And so, I rode further to Rohtang Pass.
The distance between Manali and Rohtang Pass is 200 kms. But consider traversing these 200 kms as tightrope walking over a valley so deep, you can’t even see the bottom, while in the backdrop a fickle but turbulent weather is set in its ways to show who’s boss. I got on to the legendary Leh-Manali highway which, with its hairpin bends, sharp twists, curtains of fog and whatnot, is pretty much a death-defying roller-coaster ride. Located at a dizzying elevation of more than 13,000 feet. I start from Manali at around 6,400 feet and drive upwards to Marhi, which is at 10,800 feet. The climb is steady and the air is getting thinner by the minute. Finally, I reach Rohtang sitting at 13,060 feet. My intense ride is sprinkled with some rain and light drizzle.
When I finally reach Rohtang is when I finally stop in the real sense. There was no longer anywhere to rush to. This was it, the proverbial and somewhat literal zenith. I get off my bike, take off my helmet, try to catch my breath and gather my wits. All in preparation for the wondrous work of nature spread out in front of me. You can see the most HD images on the internet, you can get all excited listening to your friends’ exciting tales from their trips, you can watch as many films as you like, but the real deal, witnessing the magic firsthand is an experience that’s just downright spiritual. If I had a camera, I had forgotten its purpose. If my jaw had dropped to the floor and shattered, I didn’t really care. The skies are the brightest blue, the mountains stand tall, proud, unafraid and fully aware of their splendour. Where the earth ends and the sky begins, I could hardly tell. I was too occupied being awestruck by this love affair between the mountain peaks and the clouds. Time stood still. The only thing fluid was the and the wind.
What I was feeling in that moment is hard to put into words. I had made it this far, from the tail end of the country to where I was, at the edge, the precipice of wonder and awe. I could live here forever, or for as long as the treacherous forces of nature would permit me. But I knew it was time to leave. A good guest never overstays. I felt a dull ache in my heart at not being able to go further along all the way to Leh. But, I knew I wasn’t prepared, physically, mentally and even with my resources. However, that only filled me with more optimism – the sweet, sweet promise of return and the thrill of pushing my own limits. Travelling alone through a journey brimming with all kinds of risks and dangers is scary, but it’s also zen. It’s the perfect route to self-discovery – of being your own hero, your own most trusted friend and your own sanctuary.
I braved sun, snow, rain and heat. I was stuck in a forest in an unknown land and made it out unscathed. I negotiated language barriers, high altitude passes, broke bridges, bad roads, hostile weather and the complete lack of luxuries. I ate what I got and slept where I could. And I returned, with newer lessons learnt, a grateful heart, renewed spirit and an enriched soul. This was my longest and boldest bike trip. This was my first bike trip, but definitely not the last. As for my appetite for adventure? Let’s just say, I already know where I’m going next!
In life there are many first times, and this award ceremony like this blog post was the first one for me. Mixed expectations on why, how, what rang through my mind as I sat through patiently waiting for the Master of Ceremony to begin proceedings. What I went through in the next hour just changed my outlook towards the way I looked at a company I admired working for, it just happened that I admired it more !
With chitter, chatter and obviously with Awards to be given away there was a lot of matter, we group of friends giggled and wiggled together as the Award Ceremony began at a really nice Rani Seethai Auditorium, this award ceremony was the first one ever at Bot. Even the heavy downpour could not dampen our spirits. These awards were different, they were not based on a shot, show or performance, these were based on recognizing people right from the start who became the pillars to make what BOT is today. These awards were a celebration of the hardwork and toil put in by no less than 27 people classified as Pioneer and Trailblazer Bots.
What to me was most interesting was the personalized way in which each ones contribution was recognized and talked about, their history of struggles, their humble background and why they were such an inspiration for every young artist looking to make a mark stood out as a unique aspect of this award ceremony.
Not to mention the fact the company recognized and still gave awards to several who had also moved over to other companies, spoke volumes that work may come, people may have come, may have moved, yet their contributions can never be small nor forgotten.
As we bots flipped through a short and sweet video presentation put together by the team with pics from yesteryears making us nostalgic, we just realized how several years of hardwork and step by step learning has made us today what we are, of course with the ever told mantra “that quality is everything” and being an artist can be demanding, all of it is really worth it when you have that golden beauty of an award in your hand with your family and friends and colleagues looking on and admiring.. you simply have a smile which helps you go a thousand more miles!
Thank you BOT VFX for one amazing night of recognition. Congratulations to all the awardees, you guys are an inspiration for the next generation of Bots in the making. Lets keep doing what we do best!