Home / Industry / Heirs to the throne: ad film-makers who buck the trend

They are not young upstarts or rising stars. They are established, successful ad film-makers who are seen as the next superstars.They are considered to be heirs to a legacy, built and nurtured by the big daddies of ad film-making in India—Prahlad Kakkar, Prasoon Pandey, and Mahesh Mathai.

This generation of ad film-makers is not afraid to take risks. The five film-makers featured here are rewriting the rules of ad film-making with their unconventional approach.

While Sainath Choudhury of Corcoise Films is a master of detail, Bardroy Barretto of Brown Skins prefers the classic style. Shashanka Chaturvedi of Good Morning believes in a strong narrative supported by equally eloquent visuals, even as Rajesh Krishnan of Soda Films likes to play on the comic theme. Vinod P. Vijay of Red Ice Films is known for his use of special effects to get the message across.

Whatever their approach, all five have been able to break out of the mould, experiment with novel scripts and explore uncharted creatives. In the process, they have managed to break through the media clutter.

“We want to break the rules, we believe we can match up and exceed"

Sainath Choudhury, 31

Production House: Corcoise Films Pvt. Ltd

Brands/Ads: Tanishq tiaras; Raga Watches for Titan Industries Ltd; Tata AIG General Insurance Co. Ltd; Reliance Communications Ltd; ‘Mint’ launch ad; Motorola slim phones for Motorola India Pvt. LtdSainath9dc3166e-7a76-11dc-913a-000b5dabf636.flv

Remember the Tata AIG ad, where an adorable boy lifts parcels for an old ‘auntie’ and then bullies an old ‘uncle’ to take him to his father’s office, so that he can hand over his first salary—all of one rupee? That boy could well have been director Sainath Choudhury, who made exactly that (Re1) in his first stint with film-making.

Choudhury has, over the last year, experimented with every genre, camera technique and script possible. “The last thing you should do is force a script to fit your style." What is consistent is his need to defy convention. So the pretty, perfect pictures make way for high-contrast images, and over the top execution and performances make way for more subtle ones. And slapstick, in your face comedy gets toned down a bit. “Subtle messages are likely to be much stronger," he says.

Having spent close to six years in client servicing at Contract Advertising India Pvt. Ltd and then Ogilvy & Mather India, and then with the Dubai office for DDB Worldwide Communications Group Inc., Choudhury almost packed his bags and moved to Canada. He had a list of options that would keep him in India, and film-making featured last on it. So, when the chance did come—his friend Sonal Dabral, then creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, Singapore, was shooting a Cadbury Perk ad with Preity Zinta—he jumped at it. And hasn’t looked back since. “One rupee was all he gave me for being the third assistant director. But the experience was amazing," he says. Choudhury (who also made the launch ad for Mint) says that “you have to be audacious to be a film-maker" He adds that his generation of film-makers knows no fear. “The only thing that goes for us today is that we want to break the rules; we believe we can match up and exceed."

Choudhury was also chosen to be a part of the Berlin Talent Campus, a platform for young film-makers, and even made a short, eight-minute film called Cataract which was voted among the best by the audience.

“The mindset is not to work, so by default we tend to be choosy"

Bardroy Barretto, 38

Production House: Brown Skins—A Film Production House

Brands/Ads: Wrigley’s chewing gum for Wrigley’s India Pvt. Ltd; Axe deodorants for Hindustan Unilever Ltd; Hutch Bond Ads for Hutchison Essar Ltd (now Vodafone Essar in India)Bardroyd23c1b1e-7a73-11dc-913a-000b5dabf636.flv

Having spent close to two decades editing and touching up other people’s work as an editor, first at Crest Communications and later at United Studios, Bardroy Barretto places a lot of emphasis on ensuring that his work is as natural as possible.

A purist known for his classic style, Roy (as he likes to be called) ensures that his films see as little post-product work or touch ups as possible. “I have a tendency to let things be as natural as possible," he says.

In order to achieve that, a lot of effort is put into choosing the right colour palette, costumes, setting and even the casting.

“The Bond film we shot for Hutch was supposed to have an Indian setting, so we chose Banaras (Varanasi), a colourful, vibrant city that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. Everything from the costumes to the people in the film (who weren’t even actors) was sourced locally," Roy explains.

Much of this approach to film-making comes from his belief that a story should unfold naturally and effortlessly. So, along with natural colour palettes, his films are casual and reflect what Roy calls “a slice of life".

The script for the commercial for Axe deodorant, for example, draws on everyday events. What sets the ad apart is the execution of the idea.

The editing also stays true to the film-maker’s nature, as he makes an effort to tell the story in few shots and even fewer cuts. “Just to ensure that the story can breathe and unfold," he says. “So much has to be said in 30 seconds—the communication has to be clear. Without having any one aspect of the film overwhelming another."

Which is also why he and producer Anjan Prakash try to work only on one project at a time and that, too, one that appeals to their sensibilities. “The mindset is not to work, so by default we tend to be choosy," he says.

“A narrative allows you to experiment with the visuals"

Shashanka Chaturvedi, 30

Production House: Good Morning

Brands/Ads: Principal Mutual Funds; Videocon Appliances, Videocon Group (corporate ad); Raga Watches forTitan Industries Ltd; Maharashtra Tourism, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation; BlackBerry Phones for Research In Motion Ltd; Hutch recharge for Hutchison Essar Ltd (now Vodafone Essar in India)Shashankad3f090b6-7a73-11dc-913a-000b5dabf636.flv

Bob, as Shashanka Chaturvedi is known to his peers, wanted to be a pilot for as long as he can remember but when he failed to clear the height requirements, he decided to just go with the flow. He ended up establishing a production house, Good Morning, with friend Vikram Kalra in 2004.

This ad film-maker’s work places great emphasis on visuals, which are often graphic and reflect his fascination with the darker side of things.

The colour palettes, editing and treatment of his spots all have several layers and tones. His Principal Mutal Funds’ spot unfolds with quick shots of numbers—on a wall, at a pool table, a road sign, etc., leading to the message: We help you interpret numbers better.

Bob’s work, often represented by a montage of contrasting images and colour tones, is almost always set against a narrative as “it lets you experiment with the visuals and allows you to push the creative idea to the next level".

Bob is also known for building the editing pattern into storyboards, so as to avoid wastage while shooting. He was introduced to ad film-making during his first job as a “production runner" with Channel [V]. “It was accidental. I got kicked out of college. Shortly after that, I landed this job through a friend," he recalls.That was 12 years ago. Since then, he has worked with companies such as Ambience Publicis Advertising Pvt. Ltd and AdFilm Valas, before setting up Good Morning.

Bob is inspired by the works of film-makers such as Jean Luc Godard, Federico Fellini and Andrei Tarskovsky. However, Stanley Kubrick’s works fascinate him the most. “2001-A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, each film a different genre. And yet all carry distinct dark tones that are characteristic of Kubrick’s work. I hope I can do the same with my work—the darker the better!" he says.

“The only way the viewer is going to forgive you is if you make him laugh!"

Rajesh Krishnan, 36

Production House: Soda Films

Brands/Ads: Bingo! Chips; Minto-Fresh for ITC Foods Ltd; Kaun Banega Crorepati for Star Group Ltd; Mentos for Perfetti Van Melle India Pvt. Ltd; Indica V2 for Tata Motors Ltd;; Xhale for Parle Products Pvt. LtdRajesh Krishnand30ef430-7a73-11dc-913a-000b5dabf636.flv

Rajesh Krishnan is known for his specialization in comedy. Who can forget the hilarious Hari Sadu advertisement (H for Hitler…) for or the zany mad angles spots for Bingo? Well before he scored a hit with Hari Sadu, Krishnan was known for his minty stint: he had done enormous amount of work for brands such as Minto Fresh, Xhale and Mentos.

A self-confessed “oddball" with no professional training in film-making, this business management graduate worked in advertising before setting up Soda Films in May 2007.

He says he relies primarily on his strengths as a good project manager and a strong scriptwriter who has the ability to bring out good performances from his actors. “On my own, I’m useless!" he declares, and believes that “you’re being alittle 1980s about it if you think you made allthe difference."

Krishnan is known for his ability to tweak scripts, without changing the core idea. “You are the last part in the assembly line—the company has paid good money to arrive at a piece of communication, you can’t waltz in and say, ‘I want to change the script’. You get physically thrown out of rooms for that!" he says.

While his contemporaries work hard to avoid being slotted, Krishnan is perfectly happy doing just comedy. “It’s almost Zen like," he says. His mantra in life is that you know you’re doing okay if the world laughs at your work. “If you are going to be annoying enough to present yourself (the advertisement) right before the last ball of the last over on TV, then the only way the viewer is going to forgive you is if you make him laugh!"

Krishnan started out as a copywriter with Contract Advertising India Pvt. Ltd, and worked with Ogilvy & Mather India, Enterprise Nexus Communications Pvt. Ltd, Channel [V] and B4U, before setting up Soda Films.

“Making special effects look good is a hygiene factor today"

Vinod P. Vijay, 28

Production House: Red Ice Films Ltd

Brands/Ads: Sony Vaio laptops/Sony Bravia television for Sony India Pvt. Ltd; Kellogg India Pvt. Ltd; Sonic car battery for Exide Industries LtdVinodd0cca140-7a73-11dc-913a-000b5dabf636.flv

Imagine having someone’s eyeballs pop out of their head and adoringly trail behind someone carrying a flashy new Sony Vaio laptop. Outrageous, isn’t it? But, judging by the positive response the ad has received, the young film-maker who produced it is on a roll.

“Well, yes, am really glad that the ad has been appreciated. However, the ad looks like it wasn’t done here in India, so that doesn’t help very much. Am back to square one; I might even have to go back to selling vegetables or something, if things don’t improve," says Vinod Vijay.

Currently a director at Red Ice, Vijay has also worked with companies such as Famous House of Animation, Century Communication Ltd, which operates under the brand name of Pixion, AdFilm Valas, UTV Software Communications Ltd and Footcandles Film Pvt. Ltd.

Vijay’s specialization and interest lie primarily in the area of animation and special effects, and it helps that both fields are witnessing a boom right now. “Making special effects and animation work look good is a hygiene factor today. Beyond that, what you bring to the table in terms of new technology, technique, is what will help you stand out," he says.

Apart from new techniques, what Vijay brings to the table is a distinct style, inspired by fantasy fiction from authors such as Steven Erikson, non-fiction history, conspiracy theories, and mysticism. “You can see some bit of surrealism and edginess in my work," he says. His choice of music, mostly electronica, also lends itself well to such imagery.

What sets Vijay apart is the amount of effort and research that goes into his projects. His ad for SF Super Sonic car batteries, featuring an alien in a car dump in the middle of a desert, with beautiful mountains in the backdrop, had to be created entirely in the studio because few places actually have all these in one place.

“Though it would sound really cool to say, ‘I’m doing two films at the same time’, the fact is that so much research and effort goes into each project that I rarely have the mind space to do more than one at a time!"

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