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BToS Productions - The Rising Star

Interview with Nazeef Mohommed of BToS Productions


Nazeef Mohammed (r) with his partner Sai Vivek (l)

Nazeef Mohommed, the frontman of an immensely young, passionate and growing enterprise – BToS Productions talks to Ankita Bhadrawale about their overall plans for the future and his recipe to designing, curating and executing the event production of a successful A.R. Rahman Live Concert


Tell us a bit about the inception of BToS?

Honestly, there was no predominant passion or plan behind the inception of BToS. Most of the people who work here don’t even belong to this field. Most of us are engineers who just came together with a common uniting factor which is AR Rahman and our love for his music. The huge die-hard fans that we are, we decided to follow a certain path in the hope that someday we would cross paths with him and that’s exactly what happened.

Firstly, I would like to thank the Almighty for showing us that path and then Mr. Rahman helped us walk on that path with him. That philosophically summarizes who we are. There’s not much we would have done without Mr. Rahman’s kind support and trust in us. And to take baby steps. I had the partnership of three of my closest friends, Neeti Mohan, Benny Dayal, and Vivek.

As a company, we have diversified into four verticals- Talent Management, Visual Design, and Content Curation, Live Event Production and Television / Digital IP’s.

How is BToS different from other production companies?

I feel that being relatively new in the industry, we bring in energy which is exciting for us as well as for the client; resulting in a product for the end consumer that’s new, energetic and edgy. In order to be on the top, we constantly challenge ourselves to think out of the box. For the BToS A team, it’s something we love doing. Being a young team, we believe only in hard work and often love to work without any restrictions or rules, which finally converts into remarkably satisfying work.

How different is it to produce a show for AR Rahman?

Challenging in its own way but also a lot of fun and creatively satisfying because we are such huge fans and have consumed his art for so many years. It’s magnanimous and still growing on you.

Sometimes, his melodies are so charming, that all you need is a spotlight on him, and he is rendering his melodies on the piano. That’s subliminal. And less is more. And then you have the next song which is like an “All Systems Activated” mode where you are time coded, choreographed, you have multi-layered visual storytelling, intelligent lighting, and all the other goodies!

His sonic contribution cannot be matched. We use his music and the intricate layers as inspiration to draw a parallel to the imagination. His presence is overwhelming. He automatically knows how to get the best out of every craftsman.

We inspire from him each time and we go back to the drawing board, with an effort to make things better.

What major challenges do you face as a producer in India?

There are many challenges. The first challenge a producer faces is setting up the team, and I feel thankful that I have been blessed with a great team, whether it’s sound, lighting, choreography, pyrotechnics or VFX. I believe that a great show can only be made possible with a great team.

The next major challenge is finding and convincing an organizer who believes in the vision that our artist and our team has. To understand what the product is, the organizer needs to have a vision, so we have already filtered our organizers and therefore we don’t engage ourselves with someone who doesn’t have the vision.

While producing any show in India, we always have an investor, because of which it becomes necessary to ensure a proper return on investments. We also make sure that the promoters gain back from the concerts, so, the challenge lies in finding the right balance of how much we can spend and how to maximize what we have.

Ensuring that the technicals are in place is always a task- but in the case of an AR Rahman concert, we do not subscribe to any compromise. However, we are truly delighted by the support we get from our vendors, who not only have the required inventory but great manpower and skilled labor- something that is much needed in a time-sensitive setup. Overall, you need to have an army to work and the ‘josh needs to be high!’


Tell us about a time you had to deal with a last-minute change or unexpected situation when planning an event?

There are always some last-minute challenges especially when it comes to such a large show. Technically these shows boast of a very heavy setup, so it’s very important for us that all our systems are properly tuned and frequently checked. Our show has sections that are choreographed and time-coded with all the systems linked and synced together. Sometimes for many parts of the show, we run at the click of one button, hence, we always plan even the minutest details.

Some delays are inevitable. And that’s when we are forced to implement plan B and plan C. That’s a basis for us- to always have contingency plans if we are branded for doing a non-stop, unhindered show. We cannot completely depend on technology nor can we rely on our past. It’s always important that every show is checked thoroughly and many times- so we don’t look at a last-minute problem as one. We only need to see what buttons to activate and what to avoid.

We firmly believe in being sure of what we do and again this is probably something we’ve learned from the master himself. In short, we over prepare to give and give ourselves a buffer, so that any additions or removals requested by Mr. Rahman can be carefully taken care of.

But beyond all this, it’s a musical show, if nothing else works then the music is working, the band is playing, and Mr. Rahman is singing, and the show goes on. In short, after a point, nothing else but only Mr. Rahman matters to the audience.

What are some of the ways you measure an event’s success with?

Business sense: If a promoter calls you back and says let’s do the next show, then you know that you have made him happy and he has financially recovered his investment. That’s a great sign of success.

Audience experience: It also depends on the audience. When we see our audiences enjoying and go back with a huge smile, that’s probably our biggest reward.

That is the only way we measure the success of a show. But each time, no matter how successful we perceive the show to be, we always go back to our office to run through what had happened during the show. There are two main reasons for this. The first is to learn from our mistakes and the second is to improve even further. And that’s also artistic satisfaction .

What event planning software, tools, and techniques do you use?

Firstly you need a strong team. And a team that stays together. That’s possibly the most important tool. Discipline on the field and off it, even more important.

The ‘AR Rahman Live Experience’ is larger than life. The ambition needs to be matched with the planning. We aim at designing stages that are over 300 feet in design and subsequently the inventory is huge. It surely means that all this needs to be developed with a great sense of planning and execution.

Our technical planning is also extensive and large and for that, we have visuals and lighting programs, including 3D visual studios right in our office. We literally pre-program an entire show from scratch. So, we have the sound with us, the recording of the audio is with us and we sync the dynamics into the sound, lighting and visual elements. This massive technical planning takes months because we never leave anything for the last minute.

For lighting, we use the top of the line - Grand MA3 which is the newest in the market. Pre-visualization softwares like WYSIWYG and Capture to pre-design our lighting ques ahead of time. The larger part of our software and tools usage is for visuals, comprises of Cinema 4D, Notch, Adobe After Effects and illustration softwares. I am ably supported by the genius minds of VJ Kaycee and Harold Fernandes to help me achieve this.

How do you keep your event budgets on track?

I have Vivek in my team who walks with the gun on my head all the time for the budget.

In any event, when I say that we are planned, I mean our budgets are also planned. For this, we agree to a budget and work backward on it. The basic aspect is to get the artist rider fulfilled which doesn’t need to be compromised because of budgets, as that is an important requirement to deliver a quality concert. This becomes easy for us when vendors step forward to help us and I am so thankful to the vendors. It also makes a business sense that we all work together and back each other. This is why we have a mutual understanding with every vendor, and we make sure that they all stick with us. I think the underlying fact is that they all also want to be associated with a huge act like the Rahman Concerts and the immense love for him. Here I would like to take this is as an opportunity to thank all our partners/promoters who have stepped forward to make the shows happen. I don’t think our shows have every been compromised because of budget or lack of it because almost everyone subscription-ally comes forward.


AR Rahman’s first show in twenty-six years in Doha at the Khalifa stadium executed by BToS

Could you share your opinion about safety at events?

When we go that large scale in our production, the key element that we should keep in mind is the safety of each and every individual, which includes people on stage, working around the stage, the audience, etc. We have seen accidents and hazards happen therefore it’s very important for each one of us to subscribe to safety. Sometimes in an attempt to satisfy a smaller budget, organizers use a compromised product and that can become a safety hazard because you are dealing with something substandard. It may not be able to hold up the way it is supposed to hence, I think this should be a principal for everybody in general that no matter what the scale of our production is safety should be our priority.

We also have learned a lot from companies like Men at Work and Media Pro both of them are great teams who give safety top priority. When you have trusted partners like them on board, it becomes sure that safety will be their foremost objective, irrespective of the budget. Therefore, for us, it is most important to tie up with partners for whom safety is a priority. This also enables us to focus on delivering a great show.


Major shows conceptualized and executed till now?

Almost every Rahman show is iconic for us, as each time you get a chance to explore Rahman’s music. It is very exciting both visually as well as in terms of production. Every time, Mr. Rahman mentions us on stage, it becomes a memory. He is the obvious reason behind anything or everything we have achieved until today. His stature has also helped us go places and do shows, which one could never have imagined.

Two years ago, we did a show at the United Nations Assembly in New York. We were the first Indian company to build a stage, put LEDs and successfully execute an upscale Rahman show inside the UNGA hall, where only people like Michel Jackson, Shakira and John Lennon have performed. We brought the whole AR Rahman experience into the United Nations hall.

That experience was brand new to the UN because they had never seen anything like this before as that hall is meant primarily for peace talks and speeches, but we got to use that hall to build a full-fledged AR Rahman production.

The collaboration with Chris Martin on the Global Citizen Stage and the collaboration with Carlos Santana in San Francisco are iconic, life-changing moments of our lives.

Then we have the absolutely amazing band who contribute and make the whole AR Rahman concert better and larger - inimitable singers like Neeti Mohan, Jonita Gandhi, Benny Dayal, Haricharan, Hariharan, Shashaa, Shweta Mohan and Ranjit Barot, the music director who assists Mr. Rahman to recreate the compositions in a way that is more fitting to live concert, sometimes moving away from the cinematic context.

Please elaborate on the challenges you faced while putting up the show at UNGA and in Doha?

Since it’s the UN, one of the most heavily secured buildings in the world, the light and sound equipment are not on their security list, due to which we were not allowed to take any gear inside.

To get permissions, we had to submit a list of inventory for two months in advance for them to understand each product. Although it was challenging for us, it was great fun because we were building a stage at an iconic place where a full-fledged concert had never taken place.

The other challenge we faced was planning the placement of lights and trusses. We changed the characteristics of the entire United Nations building. We built a stage where four rows of seating were covered with the stage and we decided to use minimum trussing on top. We also used the balconies and windows of the circular building to place the lights.

Similarly, the show in Doha was also iconic for all of us as this was Mr. Rahman’s first show in twenty-six years in Doha. We performed at the Khalifa stadium where the FIFA world cup was scheduled to happen.

Fortunately, we had like-minded partners who had control over the venue and venue restrictions. They understood the vision and helped us build a 300 ft. wide stage in that venue with all the technical support needed.

I rate Doha as one of those shows where promoters had the same vision as the producers. They came together without any collision and that helped this large product call “AR Rahman Live in Doha.”

What are BToS plans for the near future?

To never stop learning. We are focusing on building newer ideas to up the game. Newer concert ideas, innovative methods of incorporating Live Feed into visuals- all this from a concert standpoint.

We are garnering a lot of interest from platforms to provide then with quality music content. Still too early to talk about it as we are currently only squaring up ideas.

Besides, of course, to continue serving the artists, their fans and the fraternity with all heart and mind!

Would you like to say a few words about your mentor Rahman sir?

No matter how much I speak, words will fail me, and I will never be able to justify how much he means to me and how much of a game changer he is. He’s also made me believe in the power of faith and hope. He is simple and that’s probably his biggest strength.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay my tribute and express my gratitude to Rahman sir for placing his trust in a young and raw team like BToS. At his level of achievement and experience, he could have wanted an equally experienced team to deliver his vision and expectations. But the fact that he put his faith into a few youngsters who just promised to be with him is a great statement of his belief in nurturing talent and how down to earth he is. This is something the world can learn from him. I want to thank him for being such a cool leader. Each time he speaks or performs, he teaches us something. He is directly or indirectly part of every moment of us. From him, we have also learned the art of being constantly upgraded and updated. There is no space for redundancy and for anything that is obsolete. He is evolving by the day, his music is evolving, his sound is changing and that’s the reason for us to keep evolving and growing.

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