Thursday, October 26, 2006

Are Art Colleges out of sync with today’s Ad - world?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the loaded poser through power-packed perspectives from the ad-frat!

Once upon a time, most of the eminent, respected, coveted and hot-shot art directors of blue-chip ad agencies came from art colleges. Be it Mumbai’s J.J. or Baroda, Delhi or Kolkata’s revered, hallowed premises, art colleges were indeed the acknowledged hub, nursery and breeding ground of talent that defined visual language in the specialised area of advertising communication. Today, in year 2006, one can practically count on one’s fingers how many art college students have actually managed to get a toe hold in Adbiz. Why? What happened? Why this total disconnect and eclipse? Who’s to blame?

Delhi-based Sanjay Bhattacharya, a red hot gifted celebrity artist who happens to be a Kolkata Art College alumni (with years of working experience in various ad agencies) opens the batting with characteristics flamboyance. “When we started out in the seventies and eighties, our goal was to join an ad agency and hopefully some day to become a successful art director. Today, with the insane and obscene amounts of moolah artists are making (aided and abetted by gallery owners actually swooping down on several art colleges to identify and showcase raw talent) the ad agency bimari has been flung to the backburner! Today’s agenda and funda is simple for the art college types: Get fame, name, big bucks and page 3 celeb status by going the art route. How many ad agency art directors enjoy even a fraction of the aura that many young artists do? I rest my case!”

Gulu Sen (the dynamic NCD of Dentsu and a Delhi Art College product himself) doesn’t hesitate a second to lament the situation... “While it pains me, I have to admit that art colleges today definitely suffer from a total disconnect with the basic dynamics of the contemporary ad-scene. Prehistoric courses taught by people light years away from the ever changing nano-second communication business, act as irreversible road blocks. Sure, visiting faculty from the ad industry helps but at best these are one-off exercises. What is really needed is a professional orientation built into the course, programme and curriculum.” Sen also feels that the art college obsession with “design” must stop, because the ad-scene has irrevocably changed. “Today advertising is totally idea-driven, hence the earlier skill sets have to be quickly replaced with concepts and thinking that embrace the here and now-not stuff that comes wrapped with the smell of mothballs!”

Siddhartha Roy (Executive director of the Kolkata-based RESPONSE) wonders why art colleges continue to be so myopic in both their vision and mission. “Look at how amazingly National Institute for Design (NID), Ahmedabad has fused in seamless fashion, their blueprint with the new age demands and requirements that embrace the new world view in the work space. It’s something to be lauded.”

Roy also feels that the best talents today consciously stay away from the art colleges, educate themselves in the visual language and ultimately veer off towards exciting terrain like editorial designing, web designing... even film making!”
Shantiniketan-trained graphic artist Pia Sen (who presently works as a respected consultant in Madison Avenue NYC) is appalled at this denigrating line of thought and protests vehemently! “Unlike the upstarts in India, I work with some of the finest practitioners in the business, in the fabled capital of Adville and you guys have no idea of how appreciative they are of my graphic design grounding. They find it artistic, exotic, subtle and understated in an environment that often tends to be too overtly addy, flashy, aggressive, loud and straining for effects.”

Sen believes , it is today fashionable for the ad frat in India, “enjoying their first flush of kudos from the west” to bad mouth art schools and ra-ra the role of technology as the prime mover and driver of modern communication. “Ironically here, the true blue creative minds still woo and romance the ‘idea, thought and concept’, and believe that simplicity remains the most powerful, persuasive and magical catalyst, and connect between the brand and its constituency, not the fancy hi- tech gizmos!”

Shabuj Sengupta (an ex-Delhi art college alumni and presently associated with BATES as Art Director) reinforces Pia’s whammo in his own fashion. “Despite the supercilious and dismissive attitude towards art colleges, it is interesting that in most ad agencies, the head honchos powering the art department are from art colleges themselves!” Sengupta admits that both the applied art courses and the teaching staff have not really got into any form of “reality check” but that’s largely to do with the red tape, formality and the zillion procedures that come with the sarkari territory. “I do believe that from the third year, ideation should be taught since ad-biz is essentially a business of ideas. Also, it might be a good idea to form a committee comprising some of the hottest art directors from the industry (who are ex-art college students) and consult them in terms of direction and focus towards making the course more relevant, meaningful and industry-centric. I have no doubt that most of the students would love to participate and contribute in a movement like this.”

At the end of the day, basics are the real foundations and Sengupta believes he owes a tremendous amount to his Delhi Art College grounding. “If the Ivory Tower critics are so much against the art college module, let them convince the government to close it down and let the industry pick up talent from the Apeejay’s and Wighan&Leigh’s of the world... They’ll figure out for themselves the difference in record time! After all, heritage counts.” Sure thing!


Thursday, October 12, 2006


Bollywood mavericks go eyeball to eyeball with Adland’s whizkid filmmakers over who’s hotter on TVC turf! So, what’s the score? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates ….

Farah Khan makes the Getz TVC (Television Commercial). Rohan Sippy does Pantaloon. Ashu Gowarikar directs Coke. Farhan Akhtar – and maybe some others – do their number… what’s going on ? Why is Bollywood trespassing into TVC-land, where the blue-print, dynamics and parameters are totally different? What motivates this blitz? Most importantly, can they ever hope to bring to the table the same talent, discipline, knowledge, insight, focus and overall (informed) professionalism that the task demands?

“I think its possible, largely because the lines between the feature and TVC are blurring.” That’s the Dada of the genre, Shyam Benegal talking, a person who was around when it all started in the sixties. The maker of endless commercials on Lux and Dalda (when he was employed as a Film Executive at Lintas), believes that this relationship with Bollywood began because of the easy access and comfort levels that directors (like BR Chopra) had with stars – something that the client, agency or independent could never hope to establish. “Today, when the big stars have turned into big brands, this rationale pretty much endures. Obviously, Aamir would be more at ease working with Ashu and Sharukh with Aziz than some unknown and unfamiliar ad film directors.” Two other things, Benegal says, have also driven this phenomenon. One, the condescension levels that the film industry traditionally harboured towards the ad-film frat (second-class citizens!) has totally disappeared due to ad-lands morphing into a cool, sophisticated, techno-savvy, hot n’ happening profession. Two, ad films spell mega-bucks! “I am sure the stars today make more money on endorsements than on the pay cheques from movies… and this goes for the cross-over directors too. As for the ads, the agency is there to monitor it. No issue. After all, it’s the age of specialisation, remember?”

The enfant terrible of Adland (raging bull in a china shop?!) gets spot-on instantly. “There are really only good and bad film-makers, the form and genres be damned!” A warmed up, Prahlad Kakkar, turns on the heat. “Do you know that many of the Bollywood directors – the younger ones – have cut their teeth in ad film territory, either assisting, choreographing, …whatever? Farah Khan, for example, must have choreographed at least fifty of my commercials. She was a fantastic talent whose contribution in terms of look and feel of a commercial was truly great. As a choreographer, she directs an entire song – from visualising it to breaking it down covering all the nitty gritties – which gives her a total knowledge of the medium.” Besides, Kakkar believes, making ad films is not a rocket science and any intelligent director will recognise and understand that it is neither art, nor self-indulgence, but an application-driven, hard-working piece of business communication created and designed to drive the brand towards the purchase-intent zone. Period.
Alyque Padamsee begs to differ. “Can an ear specialist also be a whiz at tonsil operation? They are two different disciplines demanding two separate skill-sets. Same here. The Bollywood guy works in a completely different zone, where everything is larger than life – budgets, setting, storylines, plots, drama, heroines – unlike the minimalistic ad-film practitioner. Also, the terms of reference and dynamics that go into the making of an ad film in terms of detailing, precision and endless pre-production meetings with client and agency personnel is not something they understand or approve.” For his money, Padamsee would any day go to a Sumantra Ghosal, Prasoon Pandey or Prahlad Kakkar than the Bollywood brigade.

Prasoon Joshi, the hot-shot creative celebrity successfully straddling both the worlds in style, offers his educated spin. “Initially, when I started making commercials with Bollywood stars, I was led to believe that Bollywood directors would be the most appropriate guys as they – only they – could understand, manage and bring out the best from the stars. Today, I can confidently say, it’s bullshit!” Over the last few years, the respected Creative powerhouse of McCann Erickson (overseeing South-East Asia) has worked with some of the hottest names in Tinsel town – Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay-Kajol, Saif-Rani and now Sharukh Khan – and never for a moment has there been the slightest snafu. “I’ve worked with quite a few Bollywood directors on TVC’s and found them (with one exception) unsatisfactory. They bring to the table attitude and arrogance that they probably can get away with in their domain, but which can’t (and doesn’t) work here. They seem to be distinctly uncomfortable with discussion, debate, collaboration and any form of dissent or second opinion. That is not on with me, simply because I know my brand better than them and the final word has to be mine. After all, I represent my clients interest. Weaker creative heads, I guess, are either bullied or the poor bozo’s are so star-struck by the Bollywood star-director dazzle, that they are perfectly happy to bask in their company, irrespective of the quality of the TVC.”

Prasoon also detests the attitude of some of the Bollywood directors who have (in the past) approached him for doing TVC’s because “aaj kal khali hai. Next production six months baad. Kuch Ad films hai to karte hai, boss …” For a professional who’s bread ‘n’ butter comes from advertising, a calling he’s invested passion and commitment to, this casual “time-pass” approach is both sickening and shocking. Like Padamsee, when the crunch comes, its tried n’ tested pro’s like Prasoon Pandey or Ram Madhvani, hands down!

The last words must come from the hugely respected and gifted Ram Madhvani himself, a partner and hands on director of the classy production house Equinox. “I don’t know what the fuss or frisson is all about! If professionalism is the bone of contention and it supposedly invests in the ad film guy that extra cutting edge, I disagree. For me, this term has always spelt bad news; something that is a cut ‘n’ dry management cliche reflecting the cold- blooded spirit of a guy of doing a job competently in return for which he receives a financial package. I believe the visual arts – of which film-making is a branch – is about passion, talent, energy, imagination and a relentless desire to explore, learn and discover.”

Madhvani is convinced that Bollywood does that brilliantly. “They bring colour, drama, vitality, vibrancy and a chutzpah that powers a TVC to another level. I am all for their making waves on our turf. Hey, cross-fertilisation – cultural and biological – is just what today’s exciting times need!”