afaqs!

Defining Moments: Shantanu Bagchi: Planning is important

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | September 26, 2011
In conversation with afaqs!, the ad filmmaker discusses the learnings that helped shape his thinking, and some key inspirational moments of his career that he holds dear.

Shantanu Bagchi, the man who made Sachin Tendulkar and Brett Lee play football in the 'Boost' commercials, and the filmmaker behind the animated mosquito in Mortein ads, talks about moments that shaped his career graph.

My first defining moment was my first break, around 1991. My course at NID was over, and I was awaiting my diploma, when I got a call from Mudra asking me if I wanted to do a film project, but at the same time was told that 'there is no money in it'. It was for Rasna's instant orange drink. There was no storyboard. I said that I'll do it.

I had this idea around animation, of a conversation between the peels of an orange. The client had just Rs 1 lakh to spare (we lost money from our own pockets making that film). The client made a wonderful gesture when he actually came and gave us more money -- it did not cover the entire cost, but quite a substantial chunk. He was rather pleased with the final product.

Hard truths

My second defining moment was a Cannes nomination for the 'Girl Child' campaign made by Leo Burnett. It had intense animation and ran free of cost. Another film I hold dear to me is a film against child prostitution, which fetched two awards at the New York Festivals, and got nominated at Cannes, as well, along with a mention in The Work. This was for the NGO, Prerana.

We studied what typical brothels look like, and created a set. We had to portray how an environment like that scars you for life. I had to be careful about the lighting and background.

The learning was about interpreting a written concept and transferring it with the right feel onto film media. Filmmaking can either embellish an idea, or make you lose the idea completely. I worked on that film with Piyush Pandey.

I also can't forget what he once told me: "You must disappear as a director from this project." Every artiste has an urge to prove himself, an urge for showmanship. A great performance comes through not as an actor, but when he is the character.

That is when we say the actor has 'disappeared' and only his performance lives on. I learnt from him that it is vital to let your content do the talking.

Swimming in difficulty

My fourth defining moment came when I worked with the TapRoot team on the Nirma 'Underwater Ballet' film. That project taught me to always try something you think you cannot do. The dancers had to dance and come into the right position under water. It was a virtual nightmare and almost didn't work.

Just figuring out the cast took one month, another went by in finalising other aspects. Twenty-odd days passed in the rehearsal and shoot -- in an acrylic set created underwater. And, we had to keep cleaning the water each time. The film got 8,000+ hits on the internet, and generated long debates.

Satyajit Ray and more

I have had the good fortune of working in Sonar Kella, a Satyajit Ray classic film, as a child artiste. I was around nine-year-old then. Ray had this rule of sorts that everyone on the set should return with something that they learnt that day. He told all of us to write down what we learnt each day at the shoot and show it to him.

Ray always pre-visualised his films. He worked very hard on them and had great respect for the written script and storyboard. He would 'shot divide' everything. As a result of this methodical approach, he hardly re-shot sequences. I learnt planning from him. It is rarely the equipment or the technology which makes a film; it is the mind that works behind it.

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