It is a fact almost universally acknowledged that the
advertisements that are flashed on our TV screens are
invariably more entertaining than the programmes that
follow. Entire families have been known to stare spellbound
at the small screen as a young girl emerges from her bath,
dusts Ponds Dreamflower Talc liberally on herself, and
sets off for that all-important job interview. Her confidence
at an all-time high, thanks to the sweet fragrance emanating
from her body, she makes a great impression on the panel
of interviews and, of course, walks away with the job.
But the attention of viewers doesn't flag even after
her happy visage has faded from the screen. For, in her
stead, there looms before their bemused eyes the image
of tall, strapping man clothed in leather, his head encased
in a helmet. Scarcely has the audience taken in the details
of his appearance when oh horror! A cheetah comes bounding
up the street towards him. But just as the beast comes
turn into a mobike. And no ordinary bike, mind you, but
the Kawasaki Bajaj on which the man rides off with much
squealing of tyres.
Images such as these tend to stick in people's minds.
And every one of us has heard children-whether in the
family or the neighbourhood-hum along with the jingles
popularizing products ranging from Carona shoes (remember
the ad that has several kids walking the walls and the
ceiling of a room in their magical shoes) to Bajaj scooters.
But while these advertisements have become part of our
collective consciousness, the men and women who are responsible
for their creation remain little,known figures outside
the advertising community. Names like Shyam Benegal, Mukul
Anand, Pankaj Parashar and Vinod Chopra may be recognizable
as film directors, but very few people are familiar with
their ad filmmaker avatars. And such others as Prahlad
Kakar of Genesis, Shyam Ramanna of Z Axis, Sumantro Ghosal
of Symmentics and Equinox, Subir Chatterji and Namita
Ghosh Roy of White light Movie Makers are rarely-if ever-acknowledged
by those who watch their ads with such avidity. Nonetheless,
between themselves they account for more than 90 percent
of all ad films produced.
According to conservative estimates, India produces
anything between 1,400 to 1,500 ad films every year. The
sheer volume of work ensures the existence of a huge multi-crore
industry behind the glossary advertisements that we see
on the screen. And surviving in this industry doesn't
just joke huge doses of creativity; hard work is just
Cut to R.K. Studios in Chembur, Bombay. It is 10 pm and
the streets outside are emptying rapidly. But inside the
studio, frenzied activity is in progress. It is the final
day of shooting for the new Lehar Pepsi ad, and the production
unit is engaged in a race against time.
Mukul Anand has replaced Vinod Chopra, who directed
the Lehar Pepsi launch advertisement featuring Remo Fernandes
and Juhi Chawla. In fact, only Remo survives from the
earlier team, with Chawla having been replaced by the
young singer Penny Vaz. And there's Shiamak Davar and
his troup of athletic dancers to help the duo final out
if we're still in the mood for magic.
Mukul clearly isn't. Just minutes earlier, a unit hand
had accidentally broken a small piece of the neon light
which depicts the logo of Lehar Pepsi in the ad film currently
being shot. Not a significant loss in itself, but crucial
in that it disturbs continuity. Understandably, Anand
and his partner, Sunil Manchanda, are livid, while the
unfortunate chap no broke the light cringes in one corner.
Now, shooting will have to wait until we requisite repairs
have been done. The delay will cost the producers a lot
of money, but quality cannot, it is made clear, be compromised.
It this attention to detail that makes Mukul Anand such
a successful ad film-maker. Though Anand himself insists
that the major part of his work is conducted off the sets.
"The major portion of time, money and energy in making
an advertising film is spent in the post-production stage,"
he says. "This is where the final film has to be
This makes sense when you consider that ad filmmakers
often shoot for days on end, exposing innumerable reels
just to get that perfect 10-second spot on TV. Take the
Prahlad Kakar advertisement film for the Bajaj KB RTZ
100, for instance. The clip, showing a young man waiting
for his mobike at a Rajasthan small-town's railway station,
lasted for about 20 seconds. But the time spent in its
making, perhaps, aged Kakar by about 20 years.
"We made the film in May 1989 at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan,"
he reminisces. "The temperature was about 48 degrees
centigrade. The streets were absolutely deserted and even
the street dogs lay in one corner panting away. The only
time when the place would come alive was when the train
would come once a day, otherwise the station was deserted.
But for three days we had to hang around constantly to
make the film in time. The advertising agency, Lintas,
which gave us the contract, wanted the finished film before
Kakar's wife was pregnant at that time, but schedules
dictated that he leave her alone in Bombay and go off
to Jaisalmer. "It was so hot that even a tiny movement
meant dehydration of water from the body," says Prahlad.
"And most of the time our food was covered with sand!
And then my wife gave birth to my son when I was away
shooting. I guess she will always remind me of it"!
After training under Shyam Benegal, Prahlad Kakar started
Genesis with Manjit Kakar and Ravi Uppor a few years ago.
The going was tough initially, though today, Genesis is
considered a top-grade advertisement filmmaking agency.
But part of the difficulty lay in the nature of the craft
itself. Admits Prahlad: "To talk about a product
in 20 seconds is as tough as writing a book review in
20 words. But since we are in the business, we have to
do it or we have no right to be in the field. Today, consumers
do not have much time. The ad film has to convey the best
qualities of the product in the shortest possible time."
Some filmmakers solve this problem by taking recourse
to special effects. The most memorable of such effects
is, of course, Shyam Ramanna's Bajaj Kawasaki ad-as distinct
from the one shot by Kakar-which had a cheetah turning
into a mobike and vice-versa.
But Kakar has had his inspired moments, too. And among
his more inspired ads is numbered the Carona Champ shoes
advertisement, which had children climbing the walls and
ceiling of a room. How did Kakar achieve that effect?
"A special made-to-order strong-room was constructed
of which on side was left open," explains Prahlad.
"The kids were allowed to walk as they liked. The
room was made in such a way that it could be revolved
yet remained firm and not cause any disturbance. It was
great fun doing that advertisement."
It doesn't look as if Namita Ghosh Roy and Subir Chatterji
are having much fun on location at the Bombay Port Trust
bungalow on Carmichael Road, at 6.30 am. An advertisement
film on the Telco Estate car is in the making, and unit
members are busy polishing the vehicle so that it looks
good on screen. Cameraman Kiran Devhans awaits instructions,
while model Firdausi Jusawalla gets ready to recite ten
qualities of the car in sequence.
The same shot had been canned a day earlier, but both
Namita and Subir are not happy with the results. So, the
entire sequence is being re-shot. Firdausi is clearly
trying his best to act naturally, but it is equally clear
that both the directors
Are not happy with the results. Retakes, then, are the
order of the day. And a sequence which will last for barely
five seconds on TV takes three hours to can.
The process of making an ad film is initiated when a
company gets in touch with an advertising agency, which
then, liaises between its client and independent producers.
On very rare occasions do advertising agencies make the
films themselves; they usually pass it on to the independent
Usually, the ad agencies give what is called a "story
board" to producers. This something like a comic
strip, which plains the entire shooting sequence frame
by frame. The music that is to be used in the film is
also pre-recorded and given to the producer. The producer
then tries to make the film according to the storyboard,
using the music that has been provided.
The leading agencies which make ad XXX; include Hindustan
Thompson Associates (HTA), Lintas, Mudra, Ogilvy and Mather
(O&M) etc. In the normal course, around 90 present
of the films are handle by these major agencies, while
the smaller fry make do with their leavings. The agencies
are in control at every stage; the client and the ad filmmaker
rarely meet each other.
The agencies, for instance, are totally involved in
the post-production work for an ad film. This is, in fact,
the most crucial of all stages for editing can either
make or mar a film. In fact, editing a 30-second ad film
can be much more difficult and time-consuming than editing
a full-length commercial film. At times, five hours or
more of food stage has to be pared down to 30-seconds:
a nerve-wracking task, at the best of times. Take Shyam
Ramanna's Kawasaki Bajaj ad, for instance. The initial
duration of the film was seven hours, which was cut down
to 45 seconds by Dilip Ahuja, editor at Z Axis.
Another problem that arises from producing ads for television
is the necessity of adhering to the various Doordarshan
regulations, with Mandi House often insisting on being
given the storyboard in advance. Also, ads for such products
as underwear, cigarettes and alcohol are strict no-no.
Such advertisements, then, have to be shown on video
cassettes and on cable TV. An association of advertisers
in Bombay has struck a deal with cable TV operators, according
to which they pay special charges so that their ads are
not fast-forwarded off people's screens.
Such wheeling and dealing becomes necessary when the
returns are so impressive. And if there's any truth to
the rumour that a top-grade ad filmmaker makes as much
per assignment as a white-collar worker in a multinational
does in a year, then the stakes are high enough to justify
an 18-hour working day.
And no, they are not apologetic about the megabucks
they earn in a country where 40 percent of the popular
lives below the poverty line. Says Ghosh Roy: "Let
us be Honest ourselves. What are we here for earn money,
not to do charity. What if we earn megabucks? The amount
of time and energy we Adds Sumantro Ghosal : "I think
deserve more and what we earn enough."
Perhaps, if their talent proven impressive as their appetites
ad filmmakers will get what they consider due, in time.
Ketan Narottam Tanna/ New Delhi