21 October, 2021

Once you’ve lived in and loved Bombay, it's difficult to find another city that you can call home in the same way. To find your space in this city and own it is a true hustle. Here we talk to three women who are cementing their spot in the busy lanes of one of the busiest cities in the world. Neha, Tina & Naina are ambitious women, carving a niche in their respective fields and overall being kick-ass girl bosses. Working in fields and industries that are off the beaten path, they help us understand a little about how their days look and what they love most about their city. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm a former journalist, current podcast producer at Spotify, and desperately looking for hobbies other than trying to make my cats get along.

Working with Spotify seems super cool. Shed some light on what a podcast producer does and what does your work entail, please?
Honestly, it is super cool! It's some other kind of privilege to work with really smart and kind people, in a job that seems to be laying the foundation for a new industry in India. Podcasts are just seeping into the consciousness of urban Indians, and my job as a podcast producer is to essentially create shows and identify talent that makes podcasts accessible and so interesting that listening becomes a daily habit. It's building a show from scratch with our production partners- hearing pitches, tweaking to suit our strategy, reading scripts, working with the partners on how the show sounds and how it will be packaged, and then working with our internal teams to do fun marketing around it.

What is your favourite part about Bombay?
I've lived across the country, but nothing has ever felt like home as much as Bombay. One thing I love the most is how nice everyone is to each other despite it being such a struggle (financial and otherwise) to live in the city. My Bombay feels like a city of outsiders, dive bars, good gigs and great company.

Neha is wearing the Cyclops wrap dress.

Any hidden gems of Bombay you would like to share?
I’m not sure if it survived the pandemic, but one of my favourite spots in Bombay was this BEST bus that has been converted into a chai and bun maska restaurant outside of Oval Maidan. It has two tables, kadak chai and is the best place to catch a breath. Then there's the Sister Library in Bandra, created by artist/activist Aqui Thami that honestly more people should know about. Aqui has curated and created a wonderful feminist space for the works of women writers and zine makers but really the space is so much more. Aqui is a fantastic indigenous woman from Darjeeling who's committed to using Sister Library to showcase the work of women that you won't find everywhere, to making an open space for kids to learn, creating a Sister Radio where we can listen to women talking about everything from caste to healing, and a place that enables anyone to make their own art. She's also truly a fashion icon.

What does a normal day in your life look like?
I wake up to either one of my two cats biting my toes to be fed, and regret both theirs and my existence for a hot second. Turns out programming a "Happy Mornings" music playlist to be an alarm clock gets you no closer to being a morning person and only develops an intense fear of Fleetwood Mac's Dreams in you. On a rare, good day, I put on some pants, see my plants and terrarium thriving, finish my mini crossword in under a minute, come up with a great show idea or close a fantastic deal, get at least 50% of the answers right while watching comedian Kumar Varun's quizzes, find a new podcast I love, finish a quest in the video-game Horizon Zero Dawn, have my cats love me, kill it in our Zoom strength-training class, cook and finish a really well-written and smutty fanfic book. On a bad day, I zombie walk through my house listening to Hasan Raheem and wondering what the point of anything is.

Neha is wearing the Dodo peasant dress.

Top 3 podcasts everyone should listen to.
Podcast recommendations are honestly so specific to an individual but if I had to recommend a universally loved show to introduce others to the wonders of audio storytelling, it would be WYNC Studios' Radiolab. It is truly an incredible sensory experience you can lose yourself in and you can start with literally any episode.

An Indian show I've always recommended is 3 Things by The Indian Express. My former colleagues do a brilliant job of contextualising the most important news stories of the day, and because the news can be so hard to get a grip of, it's a truly valuable show that everyone should listen to instead of relying on half-assed opinions on Instagram.

Another brilliant Indian show to put on and constantly laugh with is Our Last Week by comedians Kunaal Roy Kapur and Anuvab Pal. It's all sardonic wit and making comedy gold from the trash fire that daily life can be.

If you could switch lives with a person for one day, who would it be?
Definitely Tessa Thompson on a day where she's not filming. I want to wake up, put on a Valentino gown, message my girl Janelle Monae so I can pop on set and do a bit in another one of her music videos, then play a bit of Fortnite with Brie Larson, write a fabulous essay on activism in our times, play with my band and round the day off with a wholesome threesome with Taika Waititi and Rita Ora. 

Tell us a little bit about your company Shaadi Squad and how you ventured into wedding planning?
I am the co-founder of Shaadi Squad, a wedding and event planning company. Before I stepped foot into the wedding planning industry, my partners and I were deeply involved in film production and our years there exposed us to the commonalities between both these fields. It’s quite a funny story actually! Saurabh, my business partner, was planning his own wedding back in 2015. I hopped onto the planning bandwagon with him and that's when the seed was planted in our minds, to begin something together and what better than events! Both Saurabh and I love a good party and the thought of doing this together excited us. Around the same time, we also roped in Manoj who’s seniority and experience is something we truly treasure. This is how the Squad came into being.

Share a few words of wisdom for someone starting their own business?
For anyone looking to start a new business related to servicing, my only two cents would be , that only and only listen to your gut and your customers. Be your only competition- don’t play the game to outdo anyone but yourself, each day, every day!

Tina is wearing the Durrel blouse & skirt.

What do you miss about having a boss and what do you not miss?
Good question, I must say. On some odd days when I face a bottleneck at work, I wish I had someone senior momentarily to sort my issues but on most days I feel liberated as I am the queen of my own castle and it's just great to be able to crystallise my vision and thoughts into action. Here for all the bouquets and brick bracks and won’t want it any other way.

Do you have a mentor or anyone that you look up to?
Nah not really! I don’t think you can have one mentor all your life. I get the chance to meet people with different career backgrounds and demographics even, who amaze me on a daily basis and I almost always learn or take back a thing or two from them. There are of course a lot of people who have helped me shape my life and my trajectory at work and for that, I will be forever grateful.

You have planned some of the most talked-about weddings from the past 5 years. What has been the best and toughest part of planning celebrity weddings? Which one has been the most memorable?
We’ve always tried to treat celebrity and high profile weddings exactly like any other wedding we are a part of. The idea is to make every couple feel like a celebrity and for us to make every celebrity feel like a regular person as that’s when a real connection builds up; they feel comfortable enough to speak their mind freely, without judgement of any kind.

Hands down, our most cherished and memorable wedding has been that of Anushka & Virat- We were a bundle of nerves while planning their wedding, the secrecy involved also gave us a sort of adrenaline rush almost like it was a heist of some sort. The wedding itself was so dreamy and intimate. For us, they are now lifelong friends and for them, we are always just a call away.

What has been the biggest lesson you have learnt as an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship doesn’t come with a manual and a textbook you can refer to. You have to experiment and take it one day at a time. To me, it's an ongoing everyday journey of lessons- every day is different and ever so often one gets thrown in a circle of new problem-solving. It's honestly shaped me and who I am today as a result of my work. The company I co-own- it's a big part of my identity and it's what I am most proud of. Putting my head down and working really hard has been my biggest takeaway thus far.

What plays the role of major inspiration while planning a wedding?
The couple themselves! The energy we derive out of them and their story is key to planning a wedding truly dedicated to their personality and character. 

Tina is wearing the Margo day dress.

What is your favourite part about Bombay?
The fact that it is truly a hub of opportunities sets the city apart. Also, it's home to most of my favourite people in life so it becomes even more special in that sense.

Any hidden gems of Bombay you would like to share?
Does food count? Good old chutney sandwiches from Candies in Bandra, mouth-watering extra buttery dosas from Mani’s Dosa and Magai paan ki jodi from Muchhad Paan wala! (only my second favourite after the girls at Jodi.)

What's your favourite cocktail?
Finally, a question that needs no thought whatsoever- give me a Gin & Tonic with a dash of cucumber and I’m all set to party!

Naina is wearing the Margo dress.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I started my career as a journalist with The Indian Express, and joined Ogaan Publications (which runs luxury/fashion publications such as ELLE India). I’ve also contributed to GQ, Sommelier India, The Indian Express, Harper's Bazaar, Tweak India and Hindustan Times and consulted as a Content Director with a pan-India Brand Consulting & PR agency. I am currently the co-founder and COO at Sirf Coffee, a dating facility set to help global Indians, find love in modern times. Here, I focus on driving growth in existing and new markets and oversee strategy, international growth, marketing initiatives, and business operations.  

What fueled the decision to start Sirf Coffee? For someone who has dealt with a number of different work profiles, what made you gravitate towards working in the Indian matchmaking community?
In 2008, the first iPhone was just launched; when “start-up” wasn't even a phrase; and the only existing Indian relationship platform was S*****.com. The pundits, parents and bio-data circulation approach felt like high pressure, without privacy and ridden with awkwardness – and it was stripped of any romance. We wanted to create a genuine, offline approach to dating – without the digital noise (no swiping or photoshopped photos). While many new mediums have emerged since then, what hasn't changed is purpose. Everyone needs, and wants, love.

Share a few words of wisdom for someone starting their own business?
Believe in your idea, but know when to question the things that you need to do. Create a business plan and work on it with confidence – the rest is hard work, luck and perseverance. 

There’s been a lot of conversation in recent years about what it means to be a “female entrepreneur,” and what it takes to get there. Do you like this narrative? Do you feel like you “fit” it?
An entrepreneur is an entrepreneur – but there is a riding wave of more women in business. To see others make bold choices, dream big and see things through, is inspirational.

What do you miss about having a boss and what do you not miss?
I enjoy working for myself – while learning the ropes of being (hopefully) a good boss.

Do you have a mentor or anyone that you look up to?
My co-founder and sibling, Sunil. The stories and rise of others greatly inspire me too. And I am truly grateful for the ability and access to so many remarkable people through my line of work. We share work advice, learnings and exchange notes all the time. 

What is your favourite part about Bombay? 
It's the city that embraces and accepts – and lets everyone be who they want to be. 

Naina is wearing the Spiro dress.

Any hidden gems of Bombay you would like to share? 
None of these are really hidden, but St Stephen's steps in Bandra for some morning peace and quiet. Walking trails around Sanjay Gandhi National Park. For some of the best food- kebabs from Joseph's Kitchen, apple butter tea at Tea Centre (life literally slows down there), romantic sunsets at Cecconi's, Juhu.

What has been the best business decision you have made?
Staying on this path, even when I've had serious doubts.

If you could tell your younger self something what would it be? 
Don't take life so seriously. It's all going to be okay – in fact, you'll be killing it.

Photographer: Soujit Das