Entrepreneur & Alternative careerists

“Business helps social empowerment firstly by breaking down barriers, secondly by generating income for livelihood and thirdly by providing mental-emotional support.” – Niharika Gaonkar Naikar, Independent Legal Practitioner & Founder of “KriNi”

This interview has been published by Namrata Singh and The SuperLawyer Team

Could you walk us through your journey from college to becoming an established professional in the Media & Entertainment law sector? What inspired you to pursue a career in law, particularly within this niche industry?

Absolutely! My journey as a legal professional wasn’t something that I had preplanned like any other child. Anyone who knows me will tell you how creative and artistic I am as an individual. Craft and arts, including performing arts, have been my favourite subjects. So, the childhood dream was always to be a designer. However, my mom was too fascinated by her brother (my mama) who is a first generation lawyer practising in a different field of law and has always been outperforming. He set the bar so high that my parents somewhere deeply wished for me to be a lawyer like him. So, as they say the universe always has better plans, I started my journey with Government Law College, Mumbai and graduated in 2014. Until my last year I was very sure that I would make a career in criminal litigation, however when I studied Intellectual Property Rights in my last year, I was so fascinated by the subject that I decided to build my career in the same. I had the opportunity to intern with a media distribution company in my last year which further made the decision concrete.  

Your journey has been quite remarkable, transitioning from esteemed organizations to establishing your independent practice. Could you share with us how your experiences in those organizations have shaped your approach to legal practice in the Media & Entertainment industry?

The choice between being an in-house lawyer vs a law firm lawyer is a tough one. The remuneration of law firms is high but the work-life balance is off. Similarly, there is good work-life balance in an in-house role but there might not be as much diversity in work as compared to a law firm. I started my career with a leading media distribution company where I also did my last internship. I was given an offer to join immediately after I finished my exams. I was honestly more than elated as I loved the work culture there along with the international level exposure I was going to have. Many times I get asked in interviews as to why I have switched places, well I kept transitioning from one Media and Entertainment sector to another like from distribution company to a production house to studios etc. because each such transition allowed me to learn and master the different verticals in the M&E sector. I strongly believe that in-house roles offer you a better understanding of business as well as commercials. Later on moving out from these in-house roles to getting into a law firm was solely because I lost both my parents in the second wave of Covid in a week and I knew that work is the only thing that will keep me going ahead positively and this challenging role will allow me to have a strong change of environment. I consider myself fortunate to have worked at different organisations because it not only helped me grow as a professional but also allowed me to grow into a better person. Be it handling clients to handling tough situations to standing for/ with your team to extensive learnings to working under great mentors (legal as well as non-legal) it all has been a wonderful journey. Starting up my own practice was something that happened a bit earlier in life than what I had planned for but I am deeply grateful for the amount of trust and respect showered by my clients in me. The aim is to build an organisation where fairness is the key.

Having worked extensively with clients from the Media & Entertainment industry, what would you say are the key challenges they face regarding Intellectual Property rights, especially in the digital age?

Primarily, it’s the protection of their IP’s that the Clients face challenges in this digital age. However, when I started in 2014 there were 3-4 major categories of rights for generating revenues. Whereas if you see now, there is a plethora of rights with sub-categories. With due respect not all at present be it lawyers or clients understand the possibilities that they have when it comes to rights. So, the key challenge I feel they face is to understand the various options they have to monetise the IP and generate as much revenue as they can. 

You’ve had the opportunity to work extensively in both Bollywood and the South Indian film industry. How do you adapt your legal strategies and approaches to suit the different dynamics of these industries? Could you please share some insights of emerging trends or challenges faced by these industries?

The aim of moving down south in 2020 was to understand the industry better. I strongly believe that with just legal knowledge we cannot emerge as great lawyers until we actually understand the practicalities and functioning of the business side of any industry. The M&E industry in the Southern states of India functions very differently from the Bollywood. It was my privilege to help set up a branch office for one of my ex-law firms in Chennai. The challenges that are faced there are very different compared to those in Bollywood. The value system, the modes of working, agreements drafting to negotiations, and remuneration received vary in South and in Bollywood. The legal approach is of course the same as the same set of laws apply, however the functioning is not the same. In my honest opinion, entering the market as a leading law firm or as an eminent lawyer will not get you any place there unless you have the patience to wait until being accepted. 

Apart from your legal career, you’re also the founder of “KriNi”, aiming to create job opportunities for women. How do you balance your professional life with such philanthropic endeavors, and what role do you think businesses can play in social empowerment?

Crochet is a hobby turned into side business. My mom and my aunts were crocheters in their young days. One day during the first lockdown while I was cleaning a chest of drawers, I came across a crochet needle and a tiny ball of yarn. I picked up a very basic video on YouTube and started learning and it came out so well that I decided to continue. 6 months down the line I was so addicted that I started picking up random projects and tried to better my craft and then started posting it on my Insta page. Crochet is my therapy! I started getting crazy orders so much so that in January 2023 I got KriNi registered. I was falling short of hands and then I decided that I can take help from family or from people outside. I get messages from women in their 40’s-50’s and kids in colleges wanting to tie up because they are studying/ retired/ bored at home and are looking for some sort of extra income. The goal of KriNi is bigger and I hope I achieve it someday soon. I honestly can’t dedicate as much time as I want to but I make sure that I treat it respectfully and do as much justice as I can. Business help’s social empowerment firstly by breaking down barriers, secondly by generating income for livelihood and thirdly by providing mental-emotional support.

Your expertise includes talent management in addition to Intellectual Property rights. How do you navigate the legal aspects of talent management while ensuring the best interests of both the talent and the production houses?

Well, this is one of my favourite aspects of being a M&E lawyer. Having represented multiple artists/ talents in Bollywood as well as South including influencers, when I am on this side of the table the aim is to protect my talents to the maximum possible. That doesn’t mean that I come out with one sided clause. I choose to be a business friendly lawyer who is fair and understands the practicality faced by these production houses but someone who also ensures that the talent is protected as well. I believe closing transactions is an art, we all can very well stretch and argue for hours as lawyers however, it’s important to understand what to fight for and what to let go! 

As a recipient of the LEX FALCON GLOBAL AWARDS, what advice would you give to aspiring lawyers looking to excel in the field of Intellectual Property, Media, and Entertainment law?

Firstly, I am honoured to be a recipient of this prestigious award. Today’s aspiring lawyers function contrarily compared to our days. We believed in grilling and not focusing on work-life balance, where money was secondary and grabbing opportunity was primary. Well, the debate on this can go on however my one sincere advice to all aspiring lawyers would be to be honest to your profession. There are plenty of lawyers in the market who might be way more knowledgeable than what you are. But what will make you stand out in the crowd is your honesty and dedication towards your profession. Don’t just stick to the legal side of things, also try to understand the business/ commercial functioning.

Your dedication to educating students and professionals about the legal and business aspects of the industry is commendable. What motivated you to start these private sessions, and what do you hope participants take away from them?

I had just finished my 10th boards when my neighbour asked me to help her kid with studies as she had some personal emergencies. The journey started there! It was purely through word of mouth and was unplanned! I was surprised with the kind of response I received. Until my very last year of law college, I took private classes. While my friends were enjoying their college lives, I was busy teaching school kids post my college hours. Abdul Kalam once said that “Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, caliber, and future of an individual. If people remember me as a good teacher, that will be the biggest honor for me.” I am extremely happy to see all my students well settled today. I personally do not like glamourising this side of mine and love to maintain the nobility of the teaching profession. Over the weekends I take online legal classes. The aim is for my students to not just acquire knowledge about the M&E industry but have a mentor whom they can reach out to for any sort of career guidance.

With such a demanding and dynamic career, how do you unwind and recharge outside of work? Could you share some of your favorite hobbies or activities that help you find balance in your life?

Travel! With the kind of multi-tasking that I do, travel is the only way I unwind and recharge myself. I work hard so that I can earn more and travel more! Travel adds more colour and adventure to your life. Every New Year’s I have a list of places I manifest to explore and ensure I tick them year after year! My work philosophy is “don’t overexert yourself if you don’t have to”. Hence, it’s very important to maintain a work life balance.

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