For the average middle-class woman watching Zee with her family, the focus is on the lavish jewellery, intricately designed sarees, a sprawling mansion, and family drama—a lot of planning goes into the concept of a show on Zee, but what about the legalities associated with this type of content production?
In this exclusive interview, Sucheta Burman, Vice President, Legal, at Zee spoke to Ethisphere’s Aarti Maharaj about her role as Chief Lawyer in bringing the movies, Indian soaps, and lifestyle programs to the homes of millions of viewers around the world.
Aarti Maharaj: What is your structure at Zee? Who do you report to and who reports to you?
Sucheta Burman: I majorly look into content-related work and report to the Managing Director, Mr. Punit Goenka. I have 22 lawyers on staff with me who are looking into content-related legal work, which includes content regulations, rights management, documentation, litigation, intellectual property rights, negotiation of deals, system and processes, etc. Our work starts from the conceptualization of the theme of a show or piece of content and goes on with the commissioning of the content until the final distribution of the content to the viewers. I am also a whole-time Director of Essel Vision Production Limited (EVPL), a subsidiary of ZEEL. EVPL is in the studio business under the banner “Zee Studios” and is involved in the production and distribution of cinematographic films in India and international territories.
AM: Tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get to where you are?
SB: After my graduation from the Government Law College in 1994, I had joined a solicitor’s firm—Crawford Bayley & Co. Under the mentorship of Senior Solicitors Mr. R.A. Shah and Mr. A. R. Wadia, I practiced intellectual property rights (IPR) for five years, which then included the process of registration, opinions to clients on identifying IPR and its availability for registration, litigation in IPR, etc. Later I had joined Solicitor Mr. J. Gagrat and practiced litigation in the courts, and after this, I joined corporate. Essar Oil Ltd. was my first corporate experience. but I could not have focused much in the oil industry, and I was craving to do IPR. That is when in a year I quit Essar to join Zee.
My journey at Zee started in 2006, and then there was no looking back. I got involved in content extensively—like, when a theme is conceived, what would be the legal implications when the theme would be developed into a concept? I started looking at the creativity side so that I could suggest changes in the creativity of the content without having a legal impact on the commissioning of the content. The thought process also included what the taste of the viewers would be and what can make content enter into the minds and hearts of millions. My viewers are mainly middle-class women from midtown watching television with their families—so, from a creative perspective, we have to collectively think, what are her dreams? Lovely sarees, gorgeous jewellery, a big house, an evil mother-in-law or sister-in-law, etc. This is what we have to bring on the television screen. What is legal are the thin line points where the creative team would want to express without impacting the guidelines of the IBF (Indian Broadcasting Foundation of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting), and that is where my team and I provide the guidance needed to help them, from a legal perspective, to bring what they wished to develop to life onscreen. I am in this vast and inspiring role today because of my involvement in an area which was not legal, but was required to follow legalities to bring such content on screen that could have traditionally been restricted by law. For example, driving awareness and promoting women’s empowerment—showcasing a dark-skinned or stout woman or a woman from an underprivileged community accomplishing her dreams of fighting social hindrances.
AM: How has COVID-19 impacted your department and your initiatives from a compliance perspective?
SB: COVID-19 has given us lots of different teaching in our daily jobs. We have become more innovative, and my department developed some initiatives for the execution process, the filing process, and compliance—which are done online and have become more effective and quicker. Discussions and meetings on Microsoft Teams have become effective. Software like the rights management system is being extensively used for approval processes.
AM: I was looking at your website, and on the mission statement, it lists as one of your core goals to “GO FOR BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOALS.” As a chief lawyer at Zee, I’d assume that trying to balance the regulatory requirements with such a hard-driving mission keeps you up at night from time to time. How do you balance those goals with your core mission to protect the company?
SB: Considering Big Hairy Audacious Goals, we do have a clear and compelling target to strive for each day. As the chief lawyer, I have to stimulate progress and target business revenue. As an in-house lawyer, another task is having strategies ready like A, B, C and also having back-up plans in the event plan A or B falls through. More than strategizing plans, the difficult task is delegation of the jobs to the team.
As a leader, first I have to be confident and have the courage to take up challenges, and then I brief my team and remind them that we are all in this together. Holding their hands along the way, I ask them to put their feet in the shoes of the business and then strategize to take bold steps in the interest of the company from a legal perspective. This can be done only when we have the target to be an achiever, and I believe that to be an achiever you need to have a magnificent quality of balancing the two opposite behaviours, i.e. “maximiser” and “includer.” So as a maximiser, I select my best colleagues for their respective roles and as an includer I pull together the entire team and I align them with areas that they excel in. This helps me create the momentum to keep going forward. Taking risk for the business is one factor and facing the risk with the regulatory bodies is another Herculean task, so midnight oils are often burnt as we use those defences, which are treasured when the plans were being strategized. Protecting the company is our core mission, but safeguarding the promoters and senior management also falls under Big Hairy Audacious Goals.
AM: Tell me what it means to you to be a woman in this traditionally male role.
SB: To be a woman is a blessing, and serving in the role as a female lawyer, I feel empowered to make the right decision each day. When we appear before male judges, police authorities, government officers, we do not think about gender; we think about getting the job done with a high level of integrity—displaying confidence through speech, voice, and actions are all respected attributes of a confident leader. In my experience, I have always been successful whenever I appeared before any judges or commissioners and have been given due respect by all. In my approach, I prepare. I consider my body language, speech, and most importantly my knowledge of the topic. Together with the support of the male leaders at Zee, I feel confident in leading and continuing to do my job.
AM: As a woman, do you think you do things or see things differently than your male counterparts?
SB: Yes. As a woman, I do see certain things differently from my male counterparts. Women consider things more from the angle of empathy, emotional aspects, costing, a futuristic approach, and most importantly to complete or close jobs. I have often found in male counterparts that they have huge plans with heavy costs and no timelines. This of course, is my personal experience.
AM: What do you like to do during your free time?
SB: Spending time with my daughters, like telling them stories, watching television, and cooking for them. When alone, I like to do arts and crafts.
About the Expert
Sucheta Burman is Vice President, Legal, at Zee Entertainment. She has more than 25 years of experience in the legal space. Burman has been working with the leading media company for more than 14 years and have provided outstanding performance by having demonstrated and handled various legal aspects including cases of various kinds spanning civil, criminal, arbitration and commercial besides have expertise in Intellectual Property laws. Her core competencies span litigation, risk management, arbitration, conveyance (drafting of contracts, deeds & other documents), legal advice and negotiation.
About Zee Entertainment
Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (“ZEEL/Company”) was launched on 15 December 1991 as Zee Telefilms Ltd. as the Essel Group’s venture into mass media and entertainment under the Chairmanship of Dr. Subhas Chandra. The Company launched as India’s first Hindi satellite television channel, Zee TV, on 1 October 1992