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!”


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