For the Diwali of 2019, the Delhi government held a laser show event for four days to keep people away from bursting crackers. For some years now, laser technology has quietly made its way into the hi-tech sound and light shows at several forts of Delhi, Rajasthan and Andhra and has even become a feature at permanent theme park installations. Indoor and outdoor laser multimedia shows are part of popular entertainment at sporting events, trade shows, corporate events, concerts, product launches and family parties that range from birthdays to stylized weddings.
In other words, laser multimedia shows have arrived and are now making their way into the family circuit. So what does it have to do with IIT Kharagpur? Well, KGPians are trendsetters and, as with so many other industries where they blaze the trail, in this particular field too, a KGPian has been making his impact felt.
We are talking about Naveen Sharma, Co-Founder & CEO of Prachin Bharat Tourism Technologies Pvt Ltd, which specialises in producing laser shows on historical subjects. Since its inception in 2007, the company, which was setup as a social entrepreneurship venture, has been trying to showcase the historical places of India using modern technology.
Naveen started by showcasing the history of Nalanda in 2008. This was the place his parents came from and so he was strongly attached to it. By merging 3D video technology and animation, and the voice over provided by Harish Bhimani, the famous writer, anchor and voice-over artiste, the show was inaugurated by no less than Bihar’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar. The next show was at Bodh Gaya, when the Dalai Lama came to inaugurate the Kal Chakra. In 2012, the company also released a multimedia book on Nalanda and the same year followed a mega laser show at Gandhi Maidan watched by 3 lakh people on Bihar Diwas. It has been a regular on Bihar Diwas since then.
Prachin Bharat has done shows on several historical subjects, such as Bhagat Singh, Guru Gobind Singh. It has worked on the Life of Buddha, History of Pataliputra, History of Mysore, Gandhi’s Champaran Movement, the life of 1857 warrior Kunwar Singh. The company has permanent installations at the Buddha Smriti Park in Patna, and runs regular laser shows and musical fountain at Mangal Talab, Patna Sahib, and inside the dome of Gol Ghar in Patna. There have been shows at IIT Delhi and in the Mysore Palace grounds, which was telecast live on Doordarshan. There have been shows abroad as well. For example, in Brampton, Canada in 2017, on the life of Guru Gobind Singh, one of its most successful shows so far that was witnessed by around 3,500 people including dignitaries. Currently, Naveen is working on the ‘Making of Mahatma’ based on Gandhi’s autobiography, and on Guru Nanak.
So how did the 1992 BTech in Civil engineering get here?
Naveen says, “Just after doing my B.Tech, I joined Tata Steel, Jamshedpur in the Computer Services Division. After working for two years, I decided to go abroad like everyone else. I worked as a software programmer with Citibank NA, Singapore for six months, then IBM, Jakarta and then Bankers Trust, New York, and IBM labs, Boulder Colorado. I then decided to move back to Bangalore in 1997 and joined Command International Software. I began a start-up in 2000, called Infinite Computer Solutions, and then joined Cisco Systems in 2001. Finally, I started our own company in 2007 with another colleague of Cisco Systems. I ran the two in parallel with a one year sabbatical in 2011-12 from Cisco, which I finally quit in 2015. Since then there has been no looking back.”
The change wasn’t easy, says Naveen, and not without a lot of soul searching. Perhaps the biggest influence on him that prompted him to think along these lines was what he witnessed in Israel. He was inspired by examples of Israel as to how that country has showcased its history. “We bring history and technology together, and often this is not easy to bring together,” says Naveen. Most of the international laser shows do not do that, he says. Naveen takes a lot of care to draw up the literary content of these shows, not only making sure their authenticity but also, at the same time, to assure their appeal to the people. The fact that he comes from a literary background helps, but he also ensures that experts are roped in.
Naveen also mentions the unique role IIT Kharagpur played in his switch of career. “My days at KGP were the best. I was the Dramatics secretary of Gymkhana in my second year. That, and probably my literary back ground, has helped me to get into show business. My times at KGP were spent more outside the classrooms and libraries with my friends discussing all possible things on earth.”
Prachin Bharat today is a completely self-funded, boot-strapped company run from Bengaluru. “Our people are our strongest assets”, says the company’s website. Naveen says that he has on board several of his former colleagues from Cisco, and even a KGPian – Satyajit Sahu – who he describes as an “RK guy and wonderful guitarist”. Naveen and his partners sometime buy software from abroad but depend entirely on the expertise of a team of Indian professionals to create the final content and execute the actual show on their shoulders.
He compares any start-up journey to that of a rocket lifting up from the ground. “From level zero to one requires enormous amount of energy. From level 1 to 2, one has to give his or her 100 per cent. It is only from level 2 to 3, when the company starts stabilizing, that the energy requirement tapers off.” He also reminds the entrepreneur that no venture can be entirely about financial gains. There has to be a ‘purpose’ at its heart. And the last but not the least – avoid limelight because that always distracts.