Having 3 of your films shortlisted in the Cannes Short Film Corner successively for 3 years, is no mean feat, especially when filmmaking is not your mainstream career !

Anirban Guha, our next pathbreaker, VP at Barclays Bank, creates statistical models to ensure that the bank is compliant with regulatory requirements.

Anirban talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about pursuing his interests in filmmaking, theater and acting, along with his professional career as a statistician and banker.

For students, who says you have to choose between your career and your passion. You can always make time for both and do a good job in both your roles, if you so wish to !

Anirban, Your background?

I was born and brought up in Kolkata. My entire education from school to university was in Kolkata only. I used to be very fond of cricket and was not into art and culture. However, if you’re in Kolkata – sweets, arts and politics dominate the environment. My mother was a school teacher and my dad was an accountant. My dad was very active in left politics in his early days. He used to tell us not to watch Bengali and Hindi commercial films, because that would ruin our artistic sensibilities. He used to take us to watch international films in our childhood. He took me to watch Bartolucci’s “Little Buddha” when I was very young. 

When I was in college I started watching theater. I was deeply influenced by the plays of young playwriter and director Bratya Basu. I started writing my own plays and started convincing and gathering people to stage my production. After staging 2 plays in Kolkata I left for Bangalore to pursue my corporate career.

 What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my post graduation in Quantitative Economics from The Indian Statistical Institute.

What were the drivers that led you to such an offbeat, unusual and uncommon career?

Though Economics as a subject came to me as a choice, BFSI (Banking and Financial Industry) analytics as a career came to me as more of a compulsion. One of my school seniors and my next door neighbour had taken economics as his subject during graduation and he did his masters from Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi. I had decided not to go for medical or engineering, however I didn’t want to leave mathematics. Since commerce is too crowded, I chose economics. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?

Fortunately, my neighbour who is very good in Economics (currently a professor of Economics in Michigan State University), guided me on what to do. I followed his path by completing my masters degree in economics from Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. I decided not to study further and go for a job. Through campus placement at ISI Kolkata, i got my first job at Bridgetree Research Services, an analytics company based out of Charlotte, North Carolina. After around 1 year, I joined GE Capital and shifted to Bangalore. Due to family reasons, I took my transfer to Gurgaon in 2007. In 2009, I joined Barclays and am currently working there as Vice President.

My interest in theater and acting goes hand in hand with my professional career. Wherever I go to Kolkata, Bangalore, or Delhi, I have staged at least one theatrical production, though I have no formal training in theater. I guess that might be the reason for my productions being designed differently from the way a theater should be. However, looking at the audience response – it seems I’ve done something right, which gave me the confidence to carry on with my passion. It helped me connect with people through my artistic skills. What I loved – before any production, people had no expectations from an amateur like me, however after the production they were amazed – maybe because they haven’t expected this from an amateur.

My career in films had happened accidentally. I was going through a personal crisis in my life, which was at its peak around 2014. My wife was going through severe neurological conditions along with MDD. She had to quit her job, as she was on the verge of Quadri paralysis. Doctors warned us that we need to choose between her life or her career. She used to write stories on her blackberry while she was traveling in her office cab. After reading one of those stories I was amazed. The story ELIXIR had all cinematic elements, urban crisis, conflict, magic realism and a deep connection with everyone like us. When she was under deep depression, I thought making this story into a film may bring her back to her normal life. I only had the vision, not enough technical knowledge nor enough funds to make a film. I extended my requests to my friends and got an overwhelming response from the technical department, support during the shoot as well as crowdfunding.  The film was shot in Kolkata, was edited in Mumbai and the music was composed in Bangalore. Finally ELIXIR – the short film, took off it’s journey in 2016 at Cannes Short Film Corner.

Youtube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Y-suhoykIY&t=1331s

The film won many awards – namely, 

  • Best short film in Caleidoscope Film Festival – MIT Boston, 2016
  • Best Director – Kolkata Short Film Festival – 2016
  • Best screenplay –  Pick Ur Flick Indie Film Festival – 2017

After that, I made 2 more short fiction films, FLAMES in 2017 and BLUE WHALE in 2018. All the 3 films were selected in Cannes Short Film Corner successively for 3 years.

How did you get your first break?

If I talk about my banking career, I got my first break from my campus placement.

If I have to talk about my stint in acting and direction – I think I’m yet to do something which I can consider as my “break”.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Time – Sometimes I really wish the day would have been for 48 hours or if there were 2 clones of mine. Then maybe I would have been able to give my time to my family and my passion along with my career.

Challenge 2: My love for everything I do – Some people can decide what to choose over what. My problem is that I love everything. I love my family, I enjoy my work and I find a meditative solace in my creative pursuits, feel a constant pull from my passion – which can’t let me sleep. I want to make a feature film and have it released – before my last breath.

Challenge 3 : Find it difficult to say “No” – This is one of the major reasons I sometimes miss managing my and others’ expectations.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your role as a Banker.

I work in Barclays in their regulatory risk modeling division.

We create statistical models which predict the capital requirement for the bank to be compliant with the regulatory requirements.

What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?

For this role, coding skills, statistical knowledge, domain knowledge and business knowledge – all are required. My education helped me in acquiring my modeling skills. I’ve acquired the rest on the job.

What’s a typical day like? 

My typical day has changed due to the pandemic. Before the pandemic, I used to be out on weekdays for 13-14 hours. I used to see my daughter off to school around 7:00-7:30 AM, followed by a bit of exercise and then leave for the office. I typically reach home by 10:30-11:00 PM and go off to sleep.

What is it you love about this job? 

Firstly, the almost real-time impact of what is happening in the world has a direct impact on what we do. 

Secondly, I could apply what I’ve studied and learned

Thirdly and most importantly, the respect that I receive from my organisation. 

 How does your work benefit society? 

We create statistical models which predict the capital requirement for the bank to be compliant with the regulatory requirements, which helps people trust the bank. Hence they feel safe depositing their money. Eventually my work helps in stabilizing the banking and monetary system of the society.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

We were working on an ambitious project and senior leaders felt that we needed to give a name to this project. The project involved more than 10 countries. I proposed a name and explained the thought behind it. They happily approved the proposal and named it as per my suggestion.

If I have to think of a day related to my filmmaking career, I was indeed very happy when my photograph was published in a newspaper after the Cannes SFC selection of our film Elixir in 2016.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Respect yourself, respect your family, respect everyone. Finish what you’ve started, don’t leave it midway. Earn your own bread after a certain age.

Future Plans?

I usually don’t plan my life. Many times I’ve seen life has different plans already. So I wish to be ready to enjoy every moment. I wish to be fit physically and mentally – so that I can tick my tiny bucket list.