Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ads v/s Movies a Cannes Report Card!

4Ps B&M’s Monojit Lahiri investigates the disturbing disparity between these two

First a quick intro for guys who came in late or are supremely innocent about the ‘Cannes’ phenomenon! Founded in 1939, the Cannes Film Festival is generally considered – apart from the Oscars – as the most glamorous, hi-profile and artistically relevant event on earth. Located in the south of France, this hot n’ happening affair combines high art and commerce, magic, mystique and market forces in one seductively tantalising embrace. A spectacular global platform where the film fraternity converge to celebrate cinematic excellence without boundaries, the entire drama is played out amidst a sublime backdrop of sea, sand, sun coloured with an endless carnival of fun and fiesta. India has been enjoying a presence for over 50 years with the late, great Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali making huge waves in 1956, with other eminent directors also coming in for high praise across the decades. However, beyond the Bollywood dazzle it has been 14 years since an Indian film has been green lighted by the jury to enter the competition segment – a matter of both shock and shame from a country, which produces the largest volume of movies on earth!

By contrast, it was only in 1993 when India’s adbiz – represented by Piyush Pandey and Pradip Guha – for the first time touched down on the French Riviera to attend the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, commonly perceived (in the global adfrat) as the advertising Oscars. With time, India’s adbiz slowly but surely started finding its voice. In the last five years however, the Indian presence – in terms of jury members, awards, nominations, accolade, appreciation and acknowledgement – has indeed taken giant strides with this year’s edition lending it a new dazzle and glow. Scooping up a total of 23 metals – including the coveted Grand Prix & Integrated Lion and wins across all categories – India was indeed the toast of the Fest.

Why this sad and savage disparity? What’s the problem?

Shyam Benegal, the hugely respected film-maker who unleashed the new cinema movement of the early seventies with Ankur, Nishant and Manthan, leads the debate. “Advertising, culturally speaking, has become an integral part of the globalised world, while films are much more culture-specific. The result is that, in both technology and worldview, ad films are more West-friendly and therefore easier to crack than Indian cinema which, loved by our audiences and the diaspora, appears Greek to Cannes!”

He is not surprised at our poor performance. “Ray’s films, which swept every major international award, were original, real and rooted in a cinematic idiom that was universally understood. I think the likes of Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap and gang could do the trick. They have strong, individual voices …”. Like Benegal, Bharat Dabolkar believes that most of the stuff we produce connects well ‘only’ with the Indian community, completely bewildering the phirangs. “Advertising, conversely, powered by todays huge multinational and global presence, enjoys a naturally easier passage to the West. There is a strong compatibility.” The brilliant Prasoon Joshi (who straddles both these worlds with style) believes it’s really a matter of focus. “I can’t speak of earlier times but today, our adfrat has the ability and confidence to go eyeball-to-eyeball with the best and our recent outings at Cannes reflect this, dramatically. No wonder, in keeping with the global flavour of the day, we are targeting awards … and getting them! It may not always be a totally conscious move but somewhere, the desire to raise one’s hand and be counted on a global platform is there. In the movie area, thanks to the Bollywood-isation of the world, we seem less concerned with phirang awards and therefore less focused in that direction. We are happy with the way things are and don’t appear desperate for global recognition. Not a big deal!”

The flamboyant and straight-from-the-hip shootin’ Prahlad Kakkar wraps it up without mincing words, making mince meat of today’s Bollywood! “Look at the bozos who crowd Bollywood (pretentiously referred to as Indian cinema) and look at the guys who fill the adspace – they are continents apart! Most film industry creatures represent the lowest form of humans who walk on earth! They are extortionist, manipulative, have no sense of accountability, pride or responsibility, constantly engage in new and devious ways to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, drive the producers crazy with their demands and drive the writers nuts with their starry tantrums; an overpaid, under-talented, pampered lot, they are really bad news! So whatddya expect? Masterpieces?!” In contrast, Kakkar is proud of the adguys who are “smart, educated, alive, aware, upper crust, intelligent, dedicated and committed to value excellence. They have both, a pan-India and global perspective. No wonder they rock! One thought that Corporates would crack the whip and discipline the spoilt stars … but guess what? The stars flattened them out by intimidating them with their star-power!” The enfant terrible of the ad film world believes that films that are driven by passion, born out of vision and the creative impulse are those that fall under the Rs.5 crore budget. They are ‘not’ under pressure, have no silly stars and don’t need to compromise. “Its one from the heart. This kind of film could, one day, revive our (lost) glory at Cannes” … touché.


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