Kicking off our list of the men of the year is none other than Vijay Nair himself, founder of the artist management powerhouse OML – which currently manages most of India’s top comedians
Despite two successive setbacks – the AIB fracas and the Seinfeld show cancellation – Nair shows no signs of slowing down. As we end the year, OML is bigger than ever in the live entertainment industry, expanding its pet projects across cities and reaching out to new audiences.
Vijay Nair is unsettlingly cool-headed and calculated, his answers are business-like and precise and he barely takes any time to think about what he has to say next. For a man running one of the country’s most important music and comedy management companies, you run the risk of finding him boring. Written off by many when he was younger, Nair started working as an artist and event manager when he was just 19, starting with Vishal Dadlani’s Pentagram, so when he founded OML in 2002, he had enough experience and street cred to bank on. Other than successful events like NH7 Weekender, OML has also produced acclaimed television shows such as The Dewarists and MTV Sound Trippin’. They also manage almost all the known faces in stand-up and podcast comedy these days, conceptualising their live comedy shows and web content. Today, at 31, Nair heads a multi-crore business.
The year began with OML taking two punches to the gut. After the AIB Roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh (it was a live event) went viral in January, multiple FIRs were lodged against the company and the stars, leading to a nationwide discussion on freedom (and quality) of speech. The video was taken down and apologies were handed out. In a video interview Nair did with Anuradha Sengupta, she points out, “On the 28th of January, a few hours before the roast went online, you tweeted – Looking forward to AIB breaking the internet at 8pm tonight and bailing them out of jail tomorrow. You were expecting trouble, Vijay, you have been in this business long enough to know what crosses the line…” Nair wickedly smiles and replies that he knew people would get offended, but he didn’t expect the scale of the aftermath. It is a bunch of jokes eventually, he says. So all publicity is good publicity? “In a way, yes,” Nair replies, “Yesterday Tanmay got stopped by a sabziwala for a selfie in Delhi. While the AIB fracas may have been a boon in disguise, the Seinfeld no-show was anything but. Monetarily, OML faced major losses, as big artists have watertight contracts when it comes to cancellations, but as the year comes to an end, OML looks stronger than ever.”
How have things changed for him over the year? “It has moved from being a one-man army to a strong team of 120 people. I don’t have to worry about the colour of the carpets any more, because that is how involved I used to be. I have learned to delegate, which is not easy when you are used to doing everything by yourself. But delegation has become my obsession. I have a great secondary management team now, and I get to focus on the bigger picture for the company. Also, though we have become a fairly large organisation, we are still able to maintain the intimacy of a small team that does cool stuff.”
In an interview to the Economic Times last year, Vishal Dadlani credited Nair for much of what we see of the live entertainment scene in the country today. “He is the most efficient organiser of people I have met. He’s one of the people chiefly responsible for building the independent music scene in India, and it has been growing at an absurd rate because of him,” says Dadlani. Nair has created the infrastructure single-handedly, from managing bands and comedy stars, cutting albums and TV shows, organising concerts and live stand-up gigs. He has a lot of complaints about the industry, but unlike others, he believes in working with the system and being a part of the change. “See, the business is completely unpredictable and hence it is difficult to grow. And nothing stops us except regulation. It is such an over-regulated, license-driven industry and unfortunately every industry in India is like that. We are really at a much lower level in the scheme of things to expect a change, which makes it really annoying. You put in so much effort but still you are left till the last minute on tenterhooks whether the event will happen at all, which is why people get discouraged and leave the industry.
“After Seinfeld, I had decided that I would spend 50 per cent of my time working on policy. And since then, two governments, Delhi and Maharashtra, are down to one-window licensing systems. I also became a part of the Event and Entertainment Management Association of India (EEMA). So much good has come of that one cancellation, that’s the silver lining. When Zubin Mehta played in Delhi, they got the licenses within 20 minutes. That is unheard of in this country. Generally they would make you wait till the last hour before an event for the excise license, but we got it within an hour for NH7 without a single rupee going out. I have started seeing the benefits of being a part of the system and doing things.” All of this does not sound like a fun job at all. “It is a lot of fun for me, actually. Initially I used to love music and stuff but now I have started enjoying business. I have started enjoying the entrepreneurial aspect of it. I don’t need to work more than 5-6 hours a day and I try to finish everything early morning and late in the night.” And what does he do to unwind, then? “I watch a lot of stuff on YouTube. Documentaries, generally.”