It is well said that leadership is “The Art of Influencing People,” and everyone cannot influence the people easily. It’s only that handful of people who got this talent. Gaurav Bakshi ‘The Youth Leader’ is one among them. He is an Emerging Citizen’s Rights Leader and Actor who was also the co-founding member of the historic anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare. He is the Founder & CEO of HelpdesQ.in, a legal-tech start-up incorporated in Goa.
In an interview with The Statesman’s correspondent, Shweta Kumari, he shared his journey and experiences and spoke vividly about his opinions related to Cinema. Excerpts:
1. What was the whole idea behind founding HelpdesQ.in?
The past ways of availing government services and seeking legal solutions were riddled with bribes, made opaque by middlemen and agents, and a very frustrating, costly & harassing experience for citizens and businesses.
HelpdesQ.in was launched to allow citizens and businesses to access time-bound, corruption-free, pleasant, and seamless delivery of services from the government and to bring ease to typically complex legal, tax, and compliance services across our government and judicial systems. We analyzed loopholes, mapped the system, and developed insight to plan, negotiate and manage resources when it came to legal and administrative work. It is now our expertise that can be availed by all in the form of legal services.
HelpdesQ.in has helped save hundreds of crores in bribes for our customers and is possibly the only entity in India to successfully offer & deliver 100% corruption-free services for everything government. This is something that most believe doesn’t exist and often can’t even imagine vaguely possible.
HelpdesQ.in is now a well-known brand in Goa having served over 500 customers, including startups, MSMEs & NGOs such as 91 Springboard, Oyo Weddingz & others.
2. What inspired you to become an anti-corruption activist?
Then an NRI, I returned to India from the US in 2010 and realized how widespread and deep-rooted corruption was in all layers of governance. One of the peaceful protest marches organized by me in Noida to expose corruption in Noida Authority on 15 Jan 2011 resulted in my illegal arrest, along with then RTI activist and current Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and others.
This garnered national media attention, including being given the CNN-IBN Citizen Journalist Award, and sparked the idea that would eventually lead to HelpdesQ.in years later. In 2011, along with Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, and others, we became the founding members of the historic ‘India Against Corruption movement and I was seen widely on national & international media as one of the young faces of Team Anna and on-ground leading protests.
3. Tell us something about your family background and early life? (What especially has contributed to making you what you are today?)
My father was in the Indian Air Force and growing up in the environment of the armed forces was a matter of pride. Being upright and honest was a natural way of growing up. This environment provided the early foundation.
Later, I was influenced by an uncle who was a pioneer in the Indian IT Industry and had decided that I would pursue a career in the corporate sector in the US, and “planned” towards this future from the age of 14. I made it to Germany & Switzerland post-college, with the aim of International exposure and saving up from these opportunities, for the future US move.
After a brief stint with GE Capital in Gurgaon, I left for the US for an MBA and spent a few years in the US Corporate sector, before eventually returning to India. The move back to India was influenced by the time I spent with the Isha Foundation in the US, in the capacity of a volunteer. To be around Sadhguru was an experience of immense depth and enrichment that words cannot describe. Through movements such as Save Soil & Conscious Planet, Sadhguru continues to work towards a more conscious and meaningful life for all.
4. Give a brief about your acting career (how and when it started)?
My Mothers cousin, Prakash Mehra, had been a well-known Director in Bollywood, and during a family visit to Mumbai in my teens, he ensured film set visits and meetings with Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Sridevi, Anupam Kher, and others.
These interactions left a footprint and somewhere the desire to act stayed. It was many years later, while in a corporate job in the US when I started actively engaging with the Indian community, co-founded the local chapter of Asha for Education in Atlanta, and involved myself in theatre and various cultural activities.
5. How did you get this idea of moving towards and becoming a citizens’ rights leader?
I don’t think of myself as any leader but have always wanted to work towards and stand up for a society that provides equal access to justice and opportunity and to basic human needs that are fundamental rights of every human being, while living in harmony with nature (as opposed to rampant environmental degradation and destruction towards thoughtless economic development).
These are components of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well. A critical component towards achieving this is awareness of citizens’ rights and an awareness of the environment around us.
I’ve had opportunities to voice myself at various forums and bring impact to government behavior. I’m grateful to the public, media & rightminded government officials for their continued support towards this.
6. Tell us something about your organization (when and how it started)?
The more recent incidents that eventually led to forming the brand and entity “HelpdesQ.in” was coincidentally another personal experience of corruption with Noida Authority, when going through the sale of a flat in Noida. A purchase of a property in Goa had also exposed various unscrupulous illegalities & violations that the builder lobby engages in with the active support of crooked government officials and politicians.
After exploring Noida, we began marketing services in Goa, our new home where we had moved. Corruption is hugely entrenched in this tiny state of Goa and therefore meant a large opportunity to address it. As word spread about us, request for services kept increasing and hasn’t stopped since.
7. What are your plans for joining politics (will you join ever in the future)?
The journey with HelpdesQ.in has given us a wealth of insight into governance and the political system. With this knowledge, we are in a unique position to share these insights and support governments in improving the delivery of services to citizens. For governments with the right intent, we would be happy to partner with them toward this objective.
I have no plans of joining electoral politics. Politics, instead of becoming a vehicle to serve, unfortunately, has become the means of blatant abuse of power, breaking of all laws by the very lawmakers elected to uphold the laws, and accumulation of ill-gotten wealth under the nose of even our judiciary. While right-minded citizens need to enter politics, I’ve chosen to engage with the government at various levels and bring impact.
8. Which field do you prioritize more acting or social work (have you ever felt like compromising your acting career for your social upheaval)?
Working towards better governance for citizens is the priority that I give most of my time.
Acting has always been a creative outlet, though I don’t look at it as a career. I am grateful for the opportunities that come my way and ensure my full involvement with the projects.
I’ve done a few cameos that allow screen presence & acting exposure and yet don’t take too many days of shooting. Interestingly, the move to Goa from Mumbai has resulted in quality web & film projects, such as Netflix Bombay Begums, Zee5 Naxalbari & Sunflowers & the recent Telugu/Hindi Prabhas starrer Radhey Shyam.
9. Being an actor what is your stand over OTT platforms (sensor and all)?
OTT platforms are a refreshing change from the highly regulated world of Television as we have known it. These platforms are catering to the needs and demands of modern-day society by providing believable content that is in touch with the realities of evolving societies.
However, freedom brings with it responsibilities in ensuring no obscene, pornographic, or unlawful content and shall not harm minors. These platforms have also been in contravention of Article 19(2) of the Constitution which provides for reasonable restriction on Freedom of Speech and Expression in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of State, public order, decency, or morality, etc. In short, some form of regulation is required to address the gaps, while keeping in mind the needs of the people.
10. As an actor do you think in the upcoming time OTT platforms will take over the industry?
Personalized on-demand content accessible anywhere, anytime on any device in the future. In the west, it is already there. In India, due to various economic & social reasons, it will take some years to become mass.