Up, Close & Personal… Shailendra Singh interview

30 Dec,2016


Shailendra Singh is colourful and flamboyant in more ways than one. He founded Sunburn and wears it on his sleeve. He has produced and even directed films and is now contemplating new things in life. Excerpts from a freewheeling interview with Pradyuman Maheshwari


The tenth edition of Sunburn is a significant milestone

Yes, 10 years…


Do you remember the time you started it?

Of course, 2007, Carl Cox at Candolim Beach, I was waiting at 2pm when the box-office opened and no one came. At 4.45, there were just a hundred people. But at 5.45, we had 1200 and I realised this is something that’s going to work.


The trials and tribulations you had then, and what you have now… any difference between then and now?

Everybody now wants a share in Sunburn, wants to use the name of Sunburn and wants to do something with Sunburn. But I also take pride that it’s become such a big entity with the third largest in the world festival circuit. We are Asia’s #1 festival, and it gave me Asia’s #1 Music Promoter status. I am also the first Indian to be ranked in the Top 50 Indian people in the whole world [in music gigs]. So all that’s cool stuff, but, yes, I think that is the trouble part now. Like Sunburn is a name that it could come up in Parliament tomorrow for debate that this should not be there or that this should be there. It is madness.


So, what were the stresses then and now? Are they of a similar nature?

Well, it beats me that a country of 1.4 billion people which is the world’s largest democracy and has the youngest population does not understand the power of Music Tourism and Sports Tourism! So we don’t believe that the World Cup finals — when India is playing in it — is worth tourism. Countries are built on music and sports tourism. South Africa, Australia… all of Europe is built on music tourism. We don’t understand this that where will our young population go. It wants sports, it wants music, and we have created the world’s biggest festival, and even now we beg for permission for ‘Let us do. Let us do’. And they’ve been incident-free. In 10 years, we have done 926 events in 78 cities – Guwahati, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Noida not only Goa.


And 170-odd licences for each? 

Yes, 170-odd licences for every event.


And that is not just Goa. It can be anywhere across the country.

Everywhere. Goa is where we started with, so we stuck to Goa. We did Martin Garrix two weeks ago [in Mumbai] and there were 60,000 people, more than Goa. So we do events on a daily basis.


But, if you were to do the same event elsewhere in the world, how many licences would you need?

Much lesser. See, each country has its own complexities. We are a pretty young nation compared to the United Kingdom and America. So our level of maturity and level of priority in understanding that this is the existing business model may be low. It is an existing event that is required for society at large. I am doing Electronic Dance Music, but with the success of Sunburn, so many other festivals have emerged – Sufi festival, rock festival, Bollywood festival, everything is running but we are the fire-starters. At least give the respect.


Do you think the Global Citizens festival starring Cold Play would’ve helped changed the mindset at all?

No. Global Citizen is an international charity organisation wanting to make a difference in India. We did an event on December 13, 2015. On ground, Global Citizens had 62,000 people with 30 artists or performers, 50 Bollywood artists, and 50 politicians on ground with Colors and The Times of India networks behind them. Plus Chris Martin and Bill Gates also gave a speech. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modiji made an address.


We are fire-starters. On December 13 last year at D Y Patil, we had one lakh people on ground, we raised money for Magic Bus for education. We educated 18,200 children. We were the largest attended event of the Facebook history globally. We had 15 million views in the first 10 minutes.


But it did not have a Cold Play.

Yes, but we had 100,000 versus 60,000 on ground.



We were the largest attended event of Facebook history globally. It’s a case of Ghar ki Murgi, Daal Barabar. Till today our Gora British fetish has not gone.

I am tired of calling the media ‘Please come and support this’.  Anyway, these things don’t matter. Look, Global Citizen is a fantastic initiative just like what we are doing. Our event is called Guestlist events. So we do events for charity through Guestlist. This is my initiative. We just did Martin Garrix in Bombay, it was for free.

We educated 10,000 children through the earning, we are doing quietly a lot of social difference initiatives, but we are doing in our fun way. That is not my issue. The question that you asked that if you do a Global Citizen with the blessings of Chief Minister Fadnavis and Prime Minister Narendra Modi then you can run a concert till 11 p.m. I can’t run a concert beyond 9.59. You didn’t ask a question as a journalist, no front page story came out that their concert ran till 11 pm full loudspeaker… what happened to that. We get FIRs. If 1 minute beyond 10 o’clock we get an FIR.


Same ground? Given that it’s an office area…

Sir, it is a law… 9.59 is a cut-off time for any live entertainment event in a public spot including IPL. IPL public commentary stops at that time.


So, it means that if you do it along with politicians then it’s fine, but if you don’t do, you will be dead in this country. We shouldn’t be doing this. What will the next generation say? The youngest population is there in India… what are you teaching them?


You obviously have a host of sponsors backing you?

Yes, a lot of support.


And they sponsor a slew of events that you do…

Yes, they sponsor a season.


10, 20, 30 crore rupees in sponsorships?

Depends actually. Sometimes it’s decent money, sometimes it is not. It depends on the trends. So Electronic Dance Music was not a top priority for sponsorships till about three years ago. In the last three years, we have seen an influx of sponsors, who feel that this is part of their strategy. Please understand the ROI model for Sunburn is different from other events. 99% of media gurus work on ROI in terms of reach TRPs, GRPs. We are not broadcast, we are a ground-only event.

Now the sponsors are matured to the point to understand that you are known by the company that you keep. They understand the power of Brand Sunburn and they feel that Sunburn-goers are influencers of society.


So you are covered by gate money and sponsors?

Yes, 60:40. 60 sponsors, 40 gate is the ratio we have reached now. Max it will go is 50:50.


And what is the international norm?

Internationally it’s 90% gate and 10% sponsors… they don’t like sponsorships.


And when do you think it will happen that way?

I don’t think it will ever happen in this country.



Because the consumer is different here. When you have a sponsor in India, a consumer thinks it’s a respected and celebrated event that is why there are big sponsors on it. Abroad, if you have a sponsor, then a consumer feels that it’s not a pure experience and will be a branded experience… so I don’t want to go.

The overseas customer is far more matured, and wants an unplugged pure experience versus India. They are still living in the world of credibility.


Therefore, if Pepsi is sponsoring your event, it’s good?

It’s good, yes, that’s the Indian psyche.


What about Patanjali? 

No comment.


Coming back to the story from then to now, you have enough people coming in, the concept is known, sponsors are there, and you really didn’t have to hunt for sponsors as much as you had to once upon a time. 



But the success of Sunburn has also created clones…

It is something like Khans versus someone else in the industry. It is like Varun Dhawan trying to compete with a Shah Rukh Khan. I don’t think there is a comparison, to be honest. Varun Dhawan is doing well but he can never be Shah Rukh Khan…And similarly Hrithik Roshan cannot be Amitabh Bachchan, so on and so forth. But having said that what is to be seen for competition; I have always said this bluntly and not politely, but just f*** **f. Get the runs on the board and then talk to me.

We do events in Noida with 40,000 people incident free. You say Noida is the rape capital and learn from us how to do it. No one asks us how we arrange events in Noida. How do we do it? Learn from us. No one invites me and I am always free… Having said that you should judge this not with perception or competition but by the box-office.

BookMyShow is your straight example. We sell 82% of the tickets in this country in EDM. The balance 18% is divided with the other idiots whoever they are, God bless them. Why are you wasting your time with 18% and asking me who is my competition? I have no competition.


Others are not necessarily idiots, right?

82:18 is the ratio in India. 82% tickets sold in India are only Sunburn. 18% is collectively the competition. This is the data by Ashish Hemrajani [founder and CEO, BookMyShow]. Call and talk to him. Don’t talk to me about who the others are. I have worked really hard for this. I deserve the respect and not compare to others.


Well, we speaking about how your success has created clones, people who have broken away.

I wouldn’t say clones. I would say industry. My success has created an industry. I feel damn proud with that. I have produced 75 feature films in the industry. I have launched half a million that is 500,000 debutants in Bollywood. It is fun when I go Andheri, Infiniti Mall. Every café has somebody of mine – Vishal, Shekhar, Salim Suleman, Vishal Bharadwaj, Shoojit Sarkar are saw their debut with me. It feels good. Similarly when we talk about our industry, when I meet Warren [Dsouza], the sound guy, Nikhal Chinappa, DJ Lost Stories, Arjun Vagale or production people that I work with, it is so cool to see where we have evolved from where we started.


Are you happy with what Nikhil is doing?

I don’t know what he is doing actually. It happens when things go wrong. So Nikhil used to work for us but that perception was created otherwise. So it went wrong and also a lot of conflict issues happened technically on ground. He is a person who loves the music, has worked relentlessly to grow the same. I respect him as a talent who has actually nurtured the seed and nurtured a lot of talent and grown the seed. So whatever he does, I am supportive of it.

We disconnected on business values and transactional issues. I don’t think strategically I ever disregard him or disrespect him.  When the split was happening, you can please check on internet any public statement, for two-and-a-half years, you won’t find a single reaction from me at all while he has lobbied against; But I felt so much respect that I didn’t want to react.


Both of you did fight fiercely

No, nothing. It was one-sided. He felt emotionally disturbed. We felt technically disturbed. So whatever we did we did technically as per the books and as per the law. We never reacted emotionally. I also met him during that time. We were together in Amsterdam, we had a big hugging session and all. He said ‘What you are killing me’ I said ‘Bro, this is business and this is friendship. Let’s have beer’. We are friends. He is also proud of what I have done…


You have done a lot on the EDM front and with Bollywood. Why not concerts with Hindi music?

I love Hindi music. The biggest drawback of Hindi music is that playback singers cannot be superstars until the heroes keep lipsyncing them on the stage. Except Arijit and AR Rahman… but no one can become Chris Martin from our country because Salman Khan still forcibly dances on someone else’s song at Filmfare [awards night]. I am a huge lover of Bollywood. I feel Bollywood has more genres than EDM…


What about Daler Mehndi, Mika …

They are not pop icons. They are not Taylor Swift, and not Micheal Jackson.


Of course.

Why not? It is a population of 1.5 billion.  So many Indians. Why not? Why is Adnan Sami not Elton John? He has got the skills. What a performer on the piano, what a singer, why is he not Elton John?


People like yourself who are pioneers, why haven’t you’ll tried…? 

I tried. I signed Adnan exclusively. What happens is what I had realised and that happened because I was running one of the top talent management companies in Bollywood and now my all my ex-employees have their own talent agencies – Reshma Shetty, Matrix, Bunty Walia, Bunty Behl,  Vinita Bangad, all are my ex. All of them have opened [talent agencies]. So all opened and I closed down. What I realised is that with an artist like Daler Mehndi;  there is a famous dialogue in Bollywood which I like a lot: The kettle is hotter than tea. Our artists, they don’t realise their true potential.

Daler Mehendi has not understood that the No 1 viral video in the entire world watched is Tunak Tunak. He did not know this till today. Daler Mehndi’s comeback should be Tunak Tunak. 80 million is not a joke. The Whites are doing Tunak Tunak but he doesn’t understand.

So I met Daler, he came to my Deadmau5 concert. He performed. I called him. He loves me and I love him too. But boss, he came with an entourage of 80 people at the time when his career is f****. So the packaging is so big with these guys that they are not able to break through. The time taken is too much.

If I go to Salim Sulaiman and say let me design you a show. Let’s make it a show. See Sonu Nigam show, the orchestra is very simple. They wear simple clothes and chappals. They don’t have an LED behind. Sonu is singing – Tujhe Dekha – and then you need a  Shah Rukh behind in an LED… only then you will enjoy.

Then I tell Sonu – Sonu you are taking Rs 25 lakh for the show, you could have given me 12 lakh and I would have put an LED. He said ‘25 is mine and then you put whatever you want to.’  I said, ‘You will sing without LED?’ And he said, ‘I will sing… I need my 25 lacs’

I gave up. I tried very hard. I felt Sunidhi Chauhan had the potential to be a superstar. Salim Suleman are great performers and live artists. Sonu Nigam has a fantastic voice. Shaan is a brilliant player. These are before Arijit. But I gave up. I was tired. I asked to reduce their fee to half so that I can put the other half on production. Let the orchestra wear clothes.


But you are paying a very high fee compared to the international artists.

To match the international trends. If we don’t pay them they won’t come here. They will go to Los Angeles, South Africa, Japan or China.


So if you are okay in paying Rs 25 lakh to an international artist, why not pay the Indian artists too as much plus LED.

They are selling tickets. Indians are not selling tickets.


Indians are not selling tickets?

No, no. All sponsored shows. Other than Arijit and Rahman, no one has broken through.


But tell me aren’t the risks too many in this business – just in case there’s a law and order issue, you could well see a cancellation of the event.

Live entertainment globally is an edgy business. Ditto with all sports events. We have seen football events cashing out in Germany. Live entertainment has its drawbacks like Live TV has its drawbacks. But the excitement that you get from Live entertainment is phenomenal. I had said at a press conference in 2007 that someone has the power to make a social difference in the society. So if I am getting 60,000 people to unite through music, it is far more powerful than leaving 60,000 people in bars to drink or be jobless in the evenings.


The fear of cancellations isn’t that much and you have had them.

If Paytm is making a loss of Rs 200 crore and the stocks are coming down no one can control that.


Paytm has Alibaba, but you use your own money, right?

Yes, hard-earned but I am saying any business per se as we are seeing has its own risks. Even Sunil Mittal in Airtel today is still fighting Mukesh Ambani. It keeps going on.


But the difference is that Sunil Mittal has public money. But here it is all your money or you may have some sponsors. 

Yes, you are right. But my brother and I have been partners for three decades and how we see life – I used to be a waiter in Shamiana at the Taj Mahal hotel. My salary was Rs 1280, I used to get a cheque of State Bank of India.


That was huge money that time.

I couldn’t afford a taxi. I used to take a 82 bus from Sachivalaya because I couldn’t afford 87 and 89 because there were limited bus tickets. At Rs 3 per day I used to eat my meals. Having said that, we have come up the hard way in the same city which we love a lot. I used to drink water from Azad Maidan and drink even today. I am not embarrassed with that. I drink water from anywhere and eat my Pav Bhaji from VT. It was four bucks that time, now I don’t know what the price is maybe Rs. 16 or Rs. 20-24. We are used to that lifestyle. So we feel that we had fun reaching till here.  Are you getting my point?


There are rumours that sometime last year you were going through rough financial patch.

We are going through a tough time since 2009. We had a terrific 25-year run. We have been flying.  Twenty-three companies in 23 years I launched and startups without funding. All killed it. PPC, PM, PDM rocking. It was like ‘Wow’ and then my brother went through a rough patch of around six months. But we didn’t lose any staff or clients to be honest. Nothing happened. Some shift happened in the Karma. Something happened. Stars went down. It’s all downhill from 2009.


How is it now?

It is a tough time, financially. We are very honest people. We have tried our best. It is always said – it will be delayed but you will always get your money. We are very honest people because we came from nothing. So we don’t like to…


You are doing very well. You have an office as large as this. You had a garage.

I also have an office in a garage in Worli. I like it a lot.


There are rumours that your brother and you have split.

Trying to split. It is a very conscious effort. We have had a fantastic run and we are trying to go through a family separation which is what we call it in India. And it has taken a long time. We are both trying to do it amicably because I think it is crucial that  I do strategically what I feel is correct in my journey because I have been a creator all my life and I am not saying he is a trader but he is more financially inclined and my job is to create. I feel my destiny is to create things. And I have created these 23 businesses in 23 years; they are all my start-ups. My brother himself gives a speech saying, Shailendra started all these business and he flourished them. So I feel my destiny; because imagine if I didn’t go into Bollywood – 5 lakh people I wouldn’t have  launched,  Vishal Bhardwaj  wouldn’t have debuted…


So, what happens once you’ll have split and all happens as you’ll desire. What happens to Sunburn?

Yes, so at that point of time, I feel that whenever it does, the family separation takes place, like I said to you that I am a creator, so I personally believe even to take Sunburn or Percept or whatever it is, I have a line sometimes: it’s  a pretty radical line, I don’t know if they want to use it but it’s good for a conversation piece… ‘Sometimes you have to destroy what you have built to rebuild’ and also Einstein’s formula of madness. You know that, right? Definition of madness- ‘To do the same thing every day and expect a new result’ People keep doing the same thing day after day- they will go to Sidhivinayak Temple for result. Why are you bothering the Lord Ganesh. Turn your day upside down, work during the night instead of the day, do something new. So that is my way of thinking

That is why I have launched so many different businesses….


So are you saying that when you do have….

When we have a separation, we’ll see what comes in whose kitty. But I am fine with anything in life. I am a floor.


When do you think this will happen?

I don’t know. We are hoping for a long time. It’s got a lot of technicalities in it. It’s like a divorce; imagine a divorce after 20-30 years of marriage.


But you are still buddies?

We do our best to be buddies, I would say because Dad passed away six years ago and for me I feel our father was the glue. And that same time Harinder went through the tough patch and father had lung cancer and was in the fourth stage. So it was parallel. Very intense moment for the family. So father passing away for me was a turning point for me  in my opinion in our joint family.


And Sunburn Pune?

Sunburn Pune is his decision, entirely


Are you involved with Sunburn Pune?

Yes I am involved but, I would say I am not involved, Pune Sunburn is the first edition of a Sunburn event that my brother is running.


So it’s Sunburn Harry?

Sunburn Harry is running in the hills


Are you going to go for it?

I don’t know, I am not sure about it because I feel that I am not convinced for the safety of the fans with regard to the location…


Where and when will Sunburn Shailendra happen?

No idea. Right now I am praying and hoping that Sunburn Pune goes smoothly because it is in the larger interest of…


And of the franchise.

Franchise and everything. I am 50 percent holder of the business and so I want it to succeed and also I am seeing it as a blessing because I have really worked hard these 10 years. I have done 900-odd events. I am exhausted now. I have done the biggest tours in the world Tours in India.


What’s next for you?

Understand the tradition that I m trying to tell you. I have not celebrated Dec 31 in the last 10 years.  I have not had Christmas in the last 10 years and just for your knowledge I am a very intense worker. At 4 am, I am on site. I am the first in and last out man. I entertain everybody who comes to Sunburn and I work round the clock. So having said this and I have a tradition that every January 1, I go to Babulnath Temple at 6 am. aarti. Nobody understands this, and I do Hanuman Chalisa before every Sunburn starts.


Tell me, I know you are doing another show. Now all energy is on that, you are doing something right?

Yes, it’s going to be very big.


I repeat my question: what’s next for you?

Lots of stuff. 2017 is a very big year for me. I am also directing feature films. I have gone into the creative space, so I did short films. I have got 25 million views for my short films… the Sexaholic series.


I went on the topic of sex. They are killing it. I am enjoying it 25 million is not a small number to get. I did a feature film Sunshine Music Tours and Travels, this is based on Sunburn great fun enjoyed the journey of shooting – three-and-a-half thousand kms. Life is good. I am going to direct movies, I have got lot of intellectual properties that I propose to launch in times to come, because I am an ideator, I am a fire starter I won’t give up that, just 51 years long way to go, fully charged.


And Sunburn will continue the way?

Sunburn, IPL these are legacies yaar whether Lalit Modi dies, Shailendra Singh may drown what difference does it make? Times Now did not die when Arnab went away.


The beauty is that Arnab set the tone, I set the tone. I made the No 1 festival of Asia, the third largest in the world. What more does one want? I feel that I have 15 years more.


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