Her firm, Sterling Media, is credited with giving Bollywood a global identity. But the most recent feather in 33-year-old Natasha Mudhar’s cap is the #WhatIReallyReallyWant campaign, which went wildly viral. A remake of the Spice Girls’ video Wannabe, the short film was launched to tell world leaders what women ‘really really’ want to become empowered. It was part of a larger campaign to promote the Global Goals for Sustainable Development agreed upon by 193 world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly last year. As the India director of the campaign conceptualised by filmmaker Richard Curtis, it is her job to communicate the goals to the Indian population.
The #WhatIReallyReallyWant film notched 150 million views on Facebook and 1.6 million views on YouTube within a few days. It was recognised as one of the most disruptive campaigns of 2016, getting international celebrities like Victoria Beckham and Emma Watson on board and winning the Asian Media Award for the Creative Campaign of the Year. “I’m particularly proud of this work, where girl power broke the internet,” says Mudhar.
Mudhar had a few other firsts this year. First, she persuaded CNN in New York to feature a live Bollywood performance—Baar Baar Dekho with Katrina Kaif and Siddharth Malhotra. Then, she got stars from Hollywood (Salma Hayek and Matthew McConaughey) and Bollywood (Akshay Kumar, Abhishek Bachchan and Parineeti Chopra) to be part of the Global Teacher Prize Award in Dubai. “We have just completed a project with Esquire Magazine Middle East on their Man At His Best awards, where Ranveer Singh was presented with the International Man of the Year award—a first for a Bollywood actor,” she says. “I’m proud of being recognised as the first company to take Bollywood global and create many market firsts.” Her company also runs a realty firm and an entertainment fund.
For the last 20 years, Sterling supposedly has been the first port of call for actors, producers, distributors and content owners in the Indian film industry looking to expand to the global mainstream. “Sterling has represented actors like Hrithik Roshan, Shah Rukh Khan, Anil Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and the Bachchans,” says Mudhar.
Mudhar has been the India and Africa communication strategist of the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation “to address the double nutrition burden affecting children in developing nations”. She also won the People’s Choice award at the annual Sikh Awards 2016 in London.
How did it all begin for her? Mudhar was born and brought up in London and graduated from City University with a degree in sociology and media studies. She joined the family business in 2004 after completing her education. “Sometimes I wish I had started even earlier,” she says. “The business was established by my mother, Teji Singh, over 20 years ago—she was one of the first women from an ethnic background to set up an international communications agency in the UK. Now, I want to expand the legacy she created.”
What gives her an edge over others? “I’m not sure if I can call this an edge but I have an unfettered commitment to add zing to everything I do,” she says. Media is an industry, she feels, where knowledge is a bargaining chip that delivers required results when acted upon with confidence and speed. “It is not about having something other women ‘may not have’; it is about having a constant mindset of receptivity and reactivity that only experience can bring. Life has shown me opportunities; I turned them into invaluable experiences.”
Even though London is a multi-cultural city, Mudhar says that when she started out, it wasn’t common to see successful Indian women leaders in the communications sector. “The media sector was and still is quite male-dominated so it was a case of double discrimination at times.” However, the factors that might have intimidated a newcomer became drivers in her case. She converted challenges into opportunities and by doing so, garnered the respect of her male counterparts.
The glass ceiling is firmly in place, says Mudhar. Inequalities exist even in the western world. “It shocks me that even today we are dealing with issues like giving equal pay to women for equal work.” Her advice to women is not to be afraid to challenge the outdated hierarchy. “Know your strengths and surround yourself with a team that brings out the best in you,” she says. “Never underestimate the power of initiative. Embrace the role of change agents, focus on the ‘can’ and ‘why not’—a positive outlook goes a long way. Networking is also a key factor that gives one an edge in communications.”
What was it like being an Indian trying to make it big in another country? “Ironically, I faced the biggest discrimination from Indian peers and clients who, because of my Indian heritage, had the misconception that I only worked with clients of Indian origin. But I used this as an opportunity. As an Indian brought up in London, I have communicated India’s success story through both a national and international lens.”
She says she plans to pursue global issues of poverty, health, gender equality and education and it seems she’s already on her way. Recently, Sterling Media was appointed by the US government’s agriculture division to implement the launch campaign of the Global Open Data on Agriculture and Nutrition Summit 2016. This is to encourage world leaders to open their data on agriculture and nutrition to end hunger.