A new breed of ad filmmakers hits the screen
It is a fact almost universally acknowledged that the advertisements that are flashed on our TV screens are invariably more entertaining than the programmes that follow. Entire families have been known to stare spellbound at the small screen as a young girl emerges from her bath, dusts Ponds Dreamflower Talc liberally on herself, and sets off for that all-important job interview. Her confidence at an all-time high, thanks to the sweet fragrance emanating from her body, she makes a great impression on the panel of interviews and, of course, walks away with the job.
But the attention of viewers doesn’t flag even after her happy visage has faded from the screen. For, in her stead, there looms before their bemused eyes the image of tall, strapping man clothed in leather, his head encased in a helmet. Scarcely has the audience taken in the details of his appearance when oh horror! A cheetah comes bounding up the street towards him. But just as the beast comes turn into a mobike. And no ordinary bike, mind you, but the Kawasaki Bajaj on which the man rides off with much squealing of tyres.
Images such as these tend to stick in people’s minds. And every one of us has heard children-whether in the family or the neighbourhood-hum along with the jingles popularizing products ranging from Carona shoes (remember the ad that has several kids walking the walls and the ceiling of a room in their magical shoes) to Bajaj scooters.
But while these advertisements have become part of our collective consciousness, the men and women who are responsible for their creation remain little,known figures outside the advertising community. Names like Shyam Benegal, Mukul Anand, Pankaj Parashar and Vinod Chopra may be recognizable as film directors, but very few people are familiar with their ad filmmaker avatars. And such others as Prahlad Kakar of Genesis, Shyam Ramanna of Z Axis, Sumantro Ghosal of Symmentics and Equinox, Subir Chatterji and Namita Ghosh Roy of White light Movie Makers are rarely-if ever-acknowledged by those who watch their ads with such avidity. Nonetheless, between themselves they account for more than 90 percent of all ad films produced.
According to conservative estimates, India produces anything between 1,400 to 1,500 ad films every year. The sheer volume of work ensures the existence of a huge multi-crore industry behind the glossary advertisements that we see on the screen. And surviving in this industry doesn’t just joke huge doses of creativity; hard work is just as important.
Cut to R.K. Studios in Chembur, Bombay. It is 10 pm and the streets outside are emptying rapidly. But inside the studio, frenzied activity is in progress. It is the final day of shooting for the new Lehar Pepsi ad, and the production unit is engaged in a race against time.
Mukul Anand has replaced Vinod Chopra, who directed the Lehar Pepsi launch advertisement featuring Remo Fernandes and Juhi Chawla. In fact, only Remo survives from the earlier team, with Chawla having been replaced by the young singer Penny Vaz. And there’s Shiamak Davar and his troup of athletic dancers to help the duo final out if we’re still in the mood for magic.
Mukul clearly isn’t. Just minutes earlier, a unit hand had accidentally broken a small piece of the neon light which depicts the logo of Lehar Pepsi in the ad film currently being shot. Not a significant loss in itself, but crucial in that it disturbs continuity. Understandably, Anand and his partner, Sunil Manchanda, are livid, while the unfortunate chap no broke the light cringes in one corner. Now, shooting will have to wait until we requisite repairs have been done. The delay will cost the producers a lot of money, but quality cannot, it is made clear, be compromised.
It this attention to detail that makes Mukul Anand such a successful ad film-maker. Though Anand himself insists that the major part of his work is conducted off the sets. “The major portion of time, money and energy in making an advertising film is spent in the post-production stage,” he says. “This is where the final film has to be given shape.
This makes sense when you consider that ad filmmakers often shoot for days on end, exposing innumerable reels just to get that perfect 10-second spot on TV. Take the Prahlad Kakar advertisement film for the Bajaj KB RTZ 100, for instance. The clip, showing a young man waiting for his mobike at a Rajasthan small-town’s railway station, lasted for about 20 seconds. But the time spent in its making, perhaps, aged Kakar by about 20 years.
“We made the film in May 1989 at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan,” he reminisces. “The temperature was about 48 degrees centigrade. The streets were absolutely deserted and even the street dogs lay in one corner panting away. The only time when the place would come alive was when the train would come once a day, otherwise the station was deserted. But for three days we had to hang around constantly to make the film in time. The advertising agency, Lintas, which gave us the contract, wanted the finished film before the monsoon”.
Kakar’s wife was pregnant at that time, but schedules dictated that he leave her alone in Bombay and go off to Jaisalmer. “It was so hot that even a tiny movement meant dehydration of water from the body,” says Prahlad. “And most of the time our food was covered with sand! And then my wife gave birth to my son when I was away shooting. I guess she will always remind me of it”!
After training under Shyam Benegal, Prahlad Kakar started Genesis with Manjit Kakar and Ravi Uppor a few years ago. The going was tough initially, though today, Genesis is considered a top-grade advertisement filmmaking agency. But part of the difficulty lay in the nature of the craft itself. Admits Prahlad: “To talk about a product in 20 seconds is as tough as writing a book review in 20 words. But since we are in the business, we have to do it or we have no right to be in the field. Today, consumers do not have much time. The ad film has to convey the best qualities of the product in the shortest possible time.”
Some filmmakers solve this problem by taking recourse to special effects. The most memorable of such effects is, of course, Shyam Ramanna’s Bajaj Kawasaki ad-as distinct from the one shot by Kakar-which had a cheetah turning into a mobike and vice-versa.
But Kakar has had his inspired moments, too. And among his more inspired ads is numbered the Carona Champ shoes advertisement, which had children climbing the walls and ceiling of a room. How did Kakar achieve that effect?
“A special made-to-order strong-room was constructed of which on side was left open,” explains Prahlad. “The kids were allowed to walk as they liked. The room was made in such a way that it could be revolved yet remained firm and not cause any disturbance. It was great fun doing that advertisement.”
It doesn’t look as if Namita Ghosh Roy and Subir Chatterji are having much fun on location at the Bombay Port Trust bungalow on Carmichael Road, at 6.30 am. An advertisement film on the Telco Estate car is in the making, and unit members are busy polishing the vehicle so that it looks good on screen. Cameraman Kiran Devhans awaits instructions, while model Firdausi Jusawalla gets ready to recite ten qualities of the car in sequence.
The same shot had been canned a day earlier, but both Namita and Subir are not happy with the results. So, the entire sequence is being re-shot. Firdausi is clearly trying his best to act naturally, but it is equally clear that both the directors
Are not happy with the results. Retakes, then, are the order of the day. And a sequence which will last for barely five seconds on TV takes three hours to can.
The process of making an ad film is initiated when a company gets in touch with an advertising agency, which then, liaises between its client and independent producers. On very rare occasions do advertising agencies make the films themselves; they usually pass it on to the independent filmmakers.
Usually, the ad agencies give what is called a “story board” to producers. This something like a comic strip, which plains the entire shooting sequence frame by frame. The music that is to be used in the film is also pre-recorded and given to the producer. The producer then tries to make the film according to the storyboard, using the music that has been provided.
The leading agencies which make ad XXX; include Hindustan Thompson Associates (HTA), Lintas, Mudra, Ogilvy and Mather (O&M) etc. In the normal course, around 90 present of the films are handle by these major agencies, while the smaller fry make do with their leavings. The agencies are in control at every stage; the client and the ad filmmaker rarely meet each other.
The agencies, for instance, are totally involved in the post-production work for an ad film. This is, in fact, the most crucial of all stages for editing can either make or mar a film. In fact, editing a 30-second ad film can be much more difficult and time-consuming than editing a full-length commercial film. At times, five hours or more of food stage has to be pared down to 30-seconds: a nerve-wracking task, at the best of times. Take Shyam Ramanna’s Kawasaki Bajaj ad, for instance. The initial duration of the film was seven hours, which was cut down to 45 seconds by Dilip Ahuja, editor at Z Axis.
Another problem that arises from producing ads for television is the necessity of adhering to the various Doordarshan regulations, with Mandi House often insisting on being given the storyboard in advance. Also, ads for such products as underwear, cigarettes and alcohol are strict no-no.
Such advertisements, then, have to be shown on video cassettes and on cable TV. An association of advertisers in Bombay has struck a deal with cable TV operators, according to which they pay special charges so that their ads are not fast-forwarded off people’s screens.
Such wheeling and dealing becomes necessary when the returns are so impressive. And if there’s any truth to the rumour that a top-grade ad filmmaker makes as much per assignment as a white-collar worker in a multinational does in a year, then the stakes are high enough to justify an 18-hour working day.
And no, they are not apologetic about the megabucks they earn in a country where 40 percent of the popular lives below the poverty line. Says Ghosh Roy: “Let us be Honest ourselves. What are we here for earn money, not to do charity. What if we earn megabucks? The amount of time and energy we Adds Sumantro Ghosal : “I think deserve more and what we earn enough.”
Perhaps, if their talent proven impressive as their appetites ad filmmakers will get what they consider due, in time.
Ketan Narottam Tanna/ New Delhi