"I'm an independent individual and I want my child to see both his parents as equals": CEO Mom Ashi Dua
The film producer and entrepreneur tells us how she gets it all done
Ashi Dua has three babies. Her two-year-old son, a production company behind films like Bombay Talkies, Lust Stories and Ghost Stories, and a fashion company, The Dhoom Dhaam Company, which she co-founded with her friend, celebrity stylist, Tanya Ghavri.
It all started with a scriptwriters’ workshop she took part in with Anurag Kashyap. He nudged her towards becoming a producer — she had no idea how filmmaking worked and fell in love with the process when she worked on Dev D.
She was only 22 when she set up Flying Unicorn Entertainment which, today, has some of Netflix’s biggest Indian titles under its belt.
A lot of things came to pause with COVID-19, except watching her (human) baby blossom over the last six months in lockdown.
Her juggling act is the latest edition of our series CEO Moms, which turns the spotlight on those women who seem to be able to juggle it all – professional achievements, family and self-care. We know that what you see on Instagram is never the full story, so we’re asking these inspirational women to give us their cheat sheets, dirty diapers and all.
If you’ve been feeling bouts of mom guilt after getting back to work or curious about how CEO moms get it done, let Ashi Dua be your inspiration.
CEO Mom Ashi Dua on work-life balance and having a supportive partner to get through it all
What does a typical day for you look like?
Pre-lockdown, I’d wake up, get the house in order and leave by 10am. Since I’ve had my son, I try to come home around 5pm.
My life changed after the baby. Earlier I would take up 7-8pm meetings and be home late, but now I’m quite particular about wrapping up my workday by 5pm, unless I’m shooting, of course.
My evening is pretty typical. We go for a stroll, I read to him, we play, and once he goes to sleep (around 8:30pm), it’s me-time — catching up on shows, reading scripts or just reading for pleasure.
How would you describe your approach to efficiency: multitasking, focus on one task at a time, delegation?
Over the years, I’ve learned the art of two things. The first is multitasking. Working mothers are multitaskers. Sometimes I’m in the middle of cracking a deal and my nanny will call and she’ll be like, “Kitna doodh dun?” or, “Tamatar mein yeh daalu?”
The second thing I’ve learned is delegation. Find the right people to work with you, who have the same kind of work ethic and delegate. Delegate effectively so everyone can do their respective jobs well.
What’s the one area you’ve seriously improved in, from when you first became a mom + entrepreneur?
I believed that patience is a waste of time. I just wanted things to happen. As you grow older, whether you become a mother or not, you realise that patience is a virtue.
I still struggle, but now, I’m letting things go and trying to be more patient with people, decisions and life in general.
How important is the role of the spouse in being able to do what you do? How did you arrive at the dynamic you currently share?
You need a partner who understands where the madness is coming from. Especially for people who don’t work in a typical corporate job. They understand that it’s not just the haywire timings but also that you don’t feel constant security in your work, no matter where you reach.
You’re dealing with stress and uncertainties. Have I got the project or not? Once I get the project and made it, I don’t know how it’s going to do. So having a partner who understands and embraces that, especially someone who is not from the industry, is something I’m grateful for.
My partner is a feminist and he’s been very important in my journey of being a mother as well.
Fifty-five days after my son was born, I was out for a five-day shoot in Gujarat. He took care of our son and the household. Last year when we were nominated for the Emmys, my son was only a year and a bit and I was in New York for a week, and there have been lots of times like this where my partner has stepped up and taken care of everything.
It is very important when you’re a working mother in any field to have a partner who understands your career goals and who realises that household duties and parenting are equal responsibilities.
How do you balance your ambitions with working parent guilt? Where do you draw the line on how you spend your time?
In the beginning, I felt a little bit of mom guilt. But later on, it became more of FOMO. I was more worried about missing out, like, what did I miss today?
I thought to myself, I don’t remember where my mother was when I was one. Nobody remembers what was happening as they grew up.
But you definitely want your child to know that these are the 10 things their mother did in her life. That is something they’ll remember and talk about, not that their mother left them for eight days when they were kids, you know?
What are the advantages and disadvantages, in your experience, of being a CEO Mom in India?
I went to a boarding school so I have friends all over the world who are working mothers and struggling, and I feel so bad for them.
It’s a huge advantage to be living in India because there’s so much support from friends and family. Also, we can afford help very easily.
People who have a traditional corporate job get six months paid leave but people like me who in work in independent, creative fields don’t. I had to be back at work in 55 days or else my employees would’ve switched off.
It is an advantage to have a job because you can take those six months off and enjoy motherhood which I didn’t have. But if you’re working for yourself, you also have flexibility, right? I’ve taken my child to my office so many times and he plays while I’m doing my meetings.
How do you carve out some time that’s just for yourself?
I plan everything — even something as frivolous as going to a salon and getting a manicure, I’ll try to get it done in that window when my baby is down for a two-hour nap.
I might sound like a bad mom, but I wait for that time in the evening when he’s in bed and I can just watch my shows and relax, without being interrupted. As much as I look forward to playing with him, I equally look forward to my TV time or going out and meeting a friend.
I am fortunate. My heart goes out to mums who work and can’t afford help. They have to do everything themselves, cook and clean. They’re the real heroes we should look up to.
How do you want your kids to view you, and what are the ways in which you’re establishing positive gender roles in the home?
I’ve noticed that in a lot of families (even my friends and their kids), gender roles are very defined. For example, whenever a child needs something financially or materialistic, they usually ask the father. They come to the mother for all the emotional needs. I wouldn’t want that.
I am independent and I hope to stay this way, because even if my child needs something monetarily, they shouldn’t only look up to their father, they should be able to ask their mother.
In a lot of home setups, the mother is home and the father is out working. I don’t want that differentiation between genders in my home. In our house, we both do everything. My husband loves to cook and takes on a lot of the nurturing parts while I’m the one who is running all over the city and getting everything that is needed.
It’s difficult to do it later, so we start young. I want my child to look at us as individuals. That I am his mother, a working mother and also a woman. I can ask my mother for what I want the same way I can ask my father. He needs to see us both equally, which I’m sure he will.
What’s the one piece of advice you were taught or learned the hard way, that could seriously sort out a lot of fellow professionals?
Have your own back because nobody else will and look out for yourself in every decision you make — good or bad. Try to work with people who will see you as an equal, recognise your worth and not exploit you and your talents.
Treat others how you want to be treated. We have been someone’s senior at some point and we have been someone’s junior at another, so we know how it feels when someone treated us a certain way. Instead of furthering that cycle — just because someone made me slog, I will now make my junior slog — end it when you can.
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