A Rocking Adscene. A High-end, Classy, Client roster. A Whopping Adspend… But ooops, Zilch in The Ad Film-maker and Production House Area!
When I moved from Kolkata to Delhi in 1978, it was pretty much – certainly in the ad space – a village trying like hell to ape a city! Hardly a single mainline ad agency thought it worthwhile to have a full-service branch in what they condescendingly dismissed as a “sarkari, PSU-centric city”. It was either a solitary representative or a small skeletal branch to establish a ‘presence’, with the taskforce flying in to take the brief, do the job, make the presentation before hot-footing back to Mumbai! One of my late bosses regularly threatened, warned, begged us to ensure that we booked his air passage “back to Mumbai, ASAP!” The fact is, back then, compared to Mumbai and even Kolkata – then hub of multinats – Delhi was boondocks terrain and just “a great place to get a letter from, son,” as mockingly described by a Mumbai hot-shot.
Asian Games & colour TVs in 1984 marked the turning point; and thereafter, the zoom North (pun intended!) was unstoppable! Today, with Gurgaon being the locale for an astonishing number of red-hot, globally-revered clients along with almost all, major multinational agencies (fully-staffed) totally equipped to deal with every segment of communication requirement, Delhi/Gurgaon takes on Mumbai anytime in the ad sweepstakes! Ironically, it is the Mumbai guys who now need to come here for client meetings – not the other way around! However, amazingly, the one area in this advantage-Delhi juggernaut that remains totally unaddressed is the ad film scene! The Delhi ad-universe reportedly commissions around 1,000 TVCs a year – mostly from the FMCG and auto sector – but how many are made in Delhi? Isn’t there, despite a booming top-of-the-line ad activity and environment, even one worthy, respected ad film-maker (like Prahlad Kakkar, Prasun Pandey, Abhinay Deo, Vinil Kumar, Amit Sharma, et al ) or production house who can respond professionally to a Pepsi, Coke, Airtel, Sony, P&G, Maruti, Mercedes or Toyota brief and deliver a TVC, made-in-Delhi, as good as the ones made in Mumbai?
“No! And the reason is historical.” This is Kolkata-based filmmaker Jeet Choudhury. He believes that unlike Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai – cities with a proven cinema-making culture – Delhi is without any similar background or DNA. Also, unlike the IT or BPO industry (quintessential Delhi landmarks), filmmaking is not something that you can acquire overnight and make a mark in, nor is this field simply about machines and hardware. As per him, it’s about individuals, drives, mindsets, a special brand of evolved creativity demanding a very special skill set, which does not lend itself to the character or nature of a city like Delhi, which remains a definitive political city, a trader’s city, a Doordarshan space! Respected and hot Mumbai-based ad filmmaker Abhijit Chaudhari, for his turn, sees no reason why ad film-makers should go out of their way “to re-invent the wheel”. In fact, he cites the example of the established, age-old Bollywood and ad-film scene existing in Mumbai for the last six decades (if not more), ready with every conceivable trick in the book in terms of service. “Why would any sane professional suddenly attempt to get adventurous and try some silly, risky, stuff? Besides, even if some guy with deep pockets and manic desire wishes to put Delhi on the TVC map, it’s going to take a long time to establish the credibility required to match Mumbai,’’ Chaudhari tells 4Ps B&M.
Sandeep Marwah blows the whistle loud and hard and rubbishes these claims. As the moving force behind Noida’s Marwah Studios, he reels off a list of ad films that have been shot in his studio. “That much for limited infrastructure and equipment! My staff and I also have frequently helped in locating the right professionals – like art directors etc. to do the job for them. The problem lies elsewhere… star- convenience and preference,” says Marwah. He adds that stars (film-stars or cricketers who seem to be doing most of the endorsements) are crazily busy people and therefore often request the ad-film guys to shoot at the location they are working in. For film stars, it’s Mumbai. For cricketers, it’s wherever… that’s the real reason!
Delhi-based film-maker Ishani Dutta adds to this pro-Delhi chant with passion and purpose as she tells 4Ps B&M, “Actually, it is a matter of perception and branding. While admittedly Mumbai has a definite history of B-town and ad-films, we continue to do excellent work in the docu and corporate film space; and given an opportunity – along with the right backing and encouragement – would definitely be able to produce the goods. Fact is, we live in an age of brands and Brand Mumbai totes up, values – real and imagined – that rate high in the glamour and professionalism quotient for the ad frat.” She is convinced that like the feature filmmakers homing-in on Delhi, the ad guys will follow too. “Great value at an economical price is our USP; and sooner or later, they will realise that Brand Delhi is a worthwhile brand too,” says Dutta definitively.
The last words however must be reserved for someone who actually ran a very successful ad-film unit (Apocalypso) with his partner Pradeep Sarkar in Delhi around a decade ago. Shovon Chowdhury, Strategic Planning Director of the Delhi-based ad agency Street-life is focused and lays it on the line. “Let’s face it. Most talented ad filmmakers invariably dream of making a feature film some day; and sooner or later, gravitate to Bollywood. Also, in terms of scope and scale even in the advertising space, Mumbai is matchless. For clients, be it easy access to infrastructure, skilled, trained technicians, professionalism, Mumbai remains streets ahead. Hence, why would any evolved, savvy or informed client/agency bother to look elsewhere?” says Chowdhury. He admits that their ad film production company did good work and rocked for a while “but soon, predictably, the exodus to Mumbai began and you can’t run a quality production house without quality people…” Case closed, decision sealed, Mumbai it is... for now!