Interview with Andrea Costabir editor of ‘Savvy’ magazine

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Andrea Costabir, editor of one of India’s leading women’s magazines explains to BizAsia’s Hamant Verma how she keeps Savvy magazine so popular and sets out what the Indian government can do to boost women’s rights.

Launched in 1984 and from the Magna Publishing Company stable, the monthly magazine aims to publish a vibrant collection of articles for women of all ages, celebrating the magazine’s tagline: Real Women, Real Stories.

‘Savvy’ has been published since 1984, so how do you try to surprise your readers with your content or use of images?
Yes, that’s 33 years nonstop and counting! We ideate ‘n’ create rousing and fun content. And this surprises and bonds ‘Savvy’ with its readers, month-after-month.

We work at giving our readers real-life stories that motivate. Content in ‘Savvy’ is constantly evolving while keeping the inspiring foundation intact. Starting with our cover story (‘I Believe’) – our unique selling point – and the powerful women (Nita Ambani, Deepika Padukone, Smriti Irani, Gauri Khan, Ananya Birla, Alia Bhatt, to name a few) who have connected deeply with millions after being featured on the cover.

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Engaging interviews with people who have floored us with their ideas and endeavours, plus hefty helpings of trending features – fashion, beauty, food, lifestyle, relationships, parenting, sex – awesome images and high production values ensure that ‘Savvy’ is a sizzling read.

Do editors have carte blanche as far as using photographs in magazines and on websites in India now?
It would differ from organisation to organisation. At Magna Publishing Co Ltd (of which ‘Savvy’ is a part), editors definitely have carte blanche. But every wise editor knows that walking the legal path, abiding by copyright laws, taking one’s team into confidence and working in tandem with the team is what ensures success.

Also, to be honest, for our Chairman, Nari Hira, editorial is sacrosanct and thanks to him, Magna’s editorial and advertising departments remain far removed from each other.

What challenges would face a British Asian journalist in working for ‘Savvy’ magazine in India and do you think they could be overcome?
India is a vibrant mosaic; it welcomes and celebrates people of varied countries, ethnicities and cultures in all its streams. Warmly embracing people into our fold is a given.

Coming from a systems and process-driven society, I see them facing a few cultural differences. For instance, a somewhat conservative society which British Asians might find intrusive; also food habits to a certain extent. But if you are able to overcome these small challenges and adjust, you will come through with flying colours. Incidentally, state-of-the-art technology, the work ethic and all else is at par.

For the record, British media students have interned with ‘Savvy’ and we’ve worked closely and enjoyed our time together.

What single move can the India Government do to boost women’s rights?
Though school education for girls is absolutely free, the Government of India can still provide tax breaks or straight away transfer a monetary incentive into the mother’s bank account to keep the girl child at school; this is over and above the education fees which GOI is already paying for. Education is the backbone of any society and will eventually lead to social upliftment and security.

Education apart, I firmly believe that through a sustained public campaign, the Government of India should influence women into changing their mindsets. The Government of India has already put in place a number of empowering laws and schemes for women. But more often than not, women do not use these schemes and laws to empower themselves because many of us are still stuck in a time warp or do not have the confidence to be assertive and stand up for ourselves. Not showing our spine is our biggest failing. We need a mindset change to realise that we have spine and be unafraid of showing it.

The Indian government has to train its energies on bettering the social and financial health of Indian women. Simple things like the waiving off of stamp duty or government charges on land and real estate bought in the name of women, will see a huge surge in registering property in the name of women – as we will try to save that significant amount in fees. Please note, nearly half of India’s household savings are held in the form of property, so this single step will see huge transfer of wealth in favour of women and provide them with security.

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If you could recommend two or three Bollywood films to British women that sum up living and working in India as a female today, what would they be and why?
In the movies‘Wake Up, Sid’ and ‘Masaan’, you see two young working women– one trying to navigate her life and career in open-minded urban India, while the other is in a semi-urban but highly religious India. The commonality of the aspirational part of India’s youth cannot be ignored when you see both these young women. The value system in middle class India and rich India, and its overlaps, is not to be missed.

‘English Vinglish’ is about a traditional Indian woman, a homemaker, who overcomes her challenges and gains self-esteem.

At the centre of all these three movies – ‘Wake Up, Sid’, ‘Masaan’ and ‘English Vinglish’ – is a strong woman and a glimpse of Indian culture in today’s India. In these three movies, the mosaic that India is, is there on full display. I would strongly recommend watching these movies to understand India better.

Interview by Hamant Verma
Contact at: @Hamant_Verma / Contacthv@yahoo.co.uk

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