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July 03, 2020

Scene Change

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

Writer, director and producer Aleya Sen insists on developing a comprehensively mindful work ethic in her Mumbai office and on her film sets

In small but hopefully significant ways, I am trying to make a difference to our surroundings through how I run my office. While initiating several changes that are required to create and manage a sustainable workspace at Chrome Pictures, the toughest battle continues to be the tuning of every employee’s mindset. I believe this is essential, because, as the Greek philosopher Plato pointed out centuries ago, “Reality is created by the mind…we can change our reality by changing our mind.”

Employees must understand the importance of maintaining a balanced environment. This can be difficult when our actions often don’t have an immediate impact or any direct implications. So, it is necessary to ensure that proper functionality is inculcated through the rules laid down. Fortunately, recent mandates by the government on cleanliness and recycling have worked to create some awareness.

The Purposeful Motivation
I was greatly inspired by Delhi, the city where I grew up. About 20 years ago, the capital was a cleaner and greener place. I lived in South Delhi (Chittaranjan Park in the Greater Kailash area) and have an inherent love for natural light and greenery.

Coincidentally, all three of us co-founders of Chrome Pictures – Amit Sharma, Hemant Bhandari and I – grew up in that city where we became used to a green cover. You could say that the need to live in an eco-conscious way is in our DNA and that this desire shaped our lives and workspace too, when we formed Chrome Pictures in Mumbai in 2004.

The Integrated Workspace
Chrome’s new office in Andheri opened in 2018; it has been designed by Santosh Barmola of Straight Line Designs. He aptly executed our vision: an environment-friendly, open-office layout that endorses free-flowing creativity, productivity, unity and camaraderie. It also encourages a healthier lifestyle.

I am an artist myself, and I was clear that I wanted to use materials that were raw and organic. We have predominantly used wood, glass (which was already a part of the structure) and metal. We’ve consciously tried to avoid plastic in any form; so, there are hardly any plastic cabinets. Unlike other offices that are of the same size, ours does not have a central air-conditioning system, which needs to be turned on even for a couple of people, but it has cassette air-conditioners that can instead be turned on depending on occupancy. This has proven to be energy-efficient. Santosh also used cork for the pin-up boards, and he sourced sustainable timber and pruned it to suit our needs. We’ve put up as minimum a number of walls as we could do with, thus reducing the need for artificial light. I was also keen on having ample greenery within the space so I could create an ambience that would make people happy. That is why we have a Chrome Tree that we feel is symbolic to the way our work has grown.

Most divisions between the different areas of the office are see-through. Our spaces literally encourage transparency, and when you walk in, you can see a lot of light. Some cabins are closed and soundproof because, as a creative house, we do extensive jobs both online and offline. I have made sure that well-lit corners are used optimally. We have a wonderful 1200-square-feet balcony that is accessible to everyone, and we encourage people to spend time there. Considering our hectic and erratic schedules, it is important for all of us to have an open space where we can unwind.

The Everyday Culture
Although paperless work is encouraged, I know a complete shift is not feasible, considering the different tasks that any business, especially a creative one, engages in. But every sheet of paper that is used has to be accounted for. I am not a miser, but our philosophy discourages wastage: if you need one sheet, do not take five. We also have dedicated shelves for recycled paper. For instance, if any department has used only one side of a sheet for their needs, we still keep it afterwards for others to reuse if they need paper to sketch or write on.

There are no couches at work. We have benches without back support instead, which discourages couch potatoes from sitting for long stretches of time. After seeing how the accounts and administration teams primarily work at their desks and that a work-life balance is often missing for us, we began organising daily yoga classes for the 60-odd employees in our office.

The Conscious Set
We do about three or four shoots a month and have systems in place for all of them. Whether it is a celebrity or food-styling shoot, we follow the rules. At shoots, by default, all kinds of wastage tends to happen, and it is our responsibility to curtail it. We are continuously sensitising our employees and crew members to this. It does take time for people to come around to our way of thinking, but I have discovered that persistence prevails. There is a no-littering mandate on shoots. If that means a litter bin needs to be installed at every 10 feet, so be it. An AD (assistant director) is made responsible for ensuring that there is no littering. They do not need to follow people around but can delegate the task of maintaining protocol.

On many other sets, costumes are brought in huge plastic bags, but we have discarded these. I designed jute bags, with Chrome branding, and they are used for other purposes as well.

We do not use plastic bottles for water. Through experience, we have learned that people tend to drink a few sips and then discard the bottle. It is only when the budget sheets are done that one realises how many bottles were consumed, and that number is completely disproportionate to how many crew members were present. We offer filtered water on sets, and our regular crew is provided with metal bottles. In the office, we offer visitors water in paper cups.

The Food Factor
I am a Bengali who now prefers to mainly eat veggies and fish. “Eat healthy, stay healthy” is a mantra I encourage. This saying resonated with me to a greater degree after I had my child, and I began giving attention to how important diet is. In our younger years, we tend to neglect it. Now, of course, the younger generation is far more conscious. But as an organisation, it was important that we laid down certain mandates. We do not serve junk food or aerated drinks in our office. On a 12-hour shoot, the habit of munching between meals prevails. So, we offer a standard menu that comprises fresh salads, juices, vegetables, fruits and nuts. This prevents our crew from munching on chips.

The Long-Term Plan
Chrome follows a ritual of planting trees after every outdoor shoot. It is our way of giving back to the environment. When we are on outstation shoots, we often work with local people. They feel good when we do something for them, and this is not measured in terms of money. Now, we do the same even if we are shooting in Mumbai.

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