Final Frontier to War Front

By Shibani Gharat , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising
Last updated : May 16, 2012
In its new TVC, Times of India attempts to conquer the readers of its final frontier with a film on the competitive spirit of the modern Malayalee.

Kerala's radical political tradition has a new metaphor. Times of India's launch television commercial captures the Left Front and Right Wing conflict in the state, through an on-water traffic jam.

Created by JWT India, the TVC is a satire that demonstrates the competitive spirit of a modern Malayalee. It is packaged as a commentary on the clash between communism and capitalism, in the state of Kerala.

The narrative is about a typical day in the life of the people of Kerala, which begins with a political stand-off between the two parties on two boats that crash into each other. Very soon, the river is blocked from left bank to right bank, creating a bottleneck in the backwaters. And, hundreds of boats lie moored in a crazy traffic jam.

The symbolic conflict between left bank and right bank, white rice and brown rice, fish curry and fried crabs, man's own Pulikali (competitive culture) and God's own Kathakali (narrative culture) add to the statement and compound the chaos.

However, the locals find a way as they use the stranded chain of boats like a bridge over the backwaters - a solution amidst the chaos.

The writer and creative director of the TVC is Senthil Kumar. The director and editor is Shashanka Chaturvedi (Bob). The production house is Good Morning Films.

The same pair of Senthil Kumar and Bob had created the TOI-Chennai launch campaign. In fact, Bob is the first and only Indian director to have won a Gold Lion at the Cannes Lions in the Film Lions and Film Craft Lions for the Times of India Chennai launch film, Naaka Mukka - A Day in the Life of Chennai.

Senthil Kumar

Speaking about TOI-A Day in the Life of Kerala, Kumar, national creative director, JWT India, says, "Over the last 50 years and more, politics in Kerala has always been left wing versus right wing. The common man is affected by the daily duel between the two sides and is often forced to choose between the left vote bank and the right vote bank. Seemed like a news story rooted in local politics that was waiting to be told, with fresh symbolism and metaphors that celebrated the competition."

Speaking about boats stuck in a jam, and not the road vehicles, Kumar says, "In every other place like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata or even Bengaluru, the daily traffic jam happens on the roads because of two people or two vehicles competing and causing a bottleneck on the road. Only in Kerala will you bump into a hundred boats stuck in a crazy jam. And, usually this happens because two competing parties (boats) clash at a T-junction and don't want to give way to each other, causing a bottleneck in the backwaters."

Such a jam is representative of Kerala, with boats used as a mode of transport. "Just like any good newspaper should, we ended up capturing this unique news story into a news headlines kind of film," he adds.

Apparently, Kumar himself had bumped into a real jam in the backwaters some months ago. He decided to dig deeper and had several conversations with local boatmen, before he wrote the film based on this unique everyday incident in Kerala, for The Times of India.

For this TVC, the challenge was to recreate a real news story on the backwaters and ensure that it was an authentic and true story for the local viewer, while engaging and drawing attention to local nuances in every frame of the film. "Since budgets were low, we had to pull the shoot off in less than two days. But when you and the team give your best, everything falls in place and the penny dropped deep into the backwaters," adds Kumar.

Musically, it was a bigger challenge and several tracks were tried. However, it was God's Own folk music that finally struck the right chord. The soundtrack is satirical poetry, narrated in the local folk musical form by Kalabhavan Mani, in this revival of the ancient 'Naadan Paatu' folk news narrative tradition of Kerala.

The local launch

Interestingly, the Times of India was launched in Kerala with a print campaign accompanied by an activation.

In order to reach out to every nook and corner of the state, the newspaper appointed different kinds of local delivery boys to meet the unique challenge of reaching out to every home in Kerala. The launch campaign aimed to pull in new readers in Kerala. It was spread across outdoor, print and live events that brought alive the concept of God's Own delivery boys across 10 different cities where the TOI Kerala edition is printed.

The idea was executed across the state with home delivery of The Times of India by more than 100 elephants, backwater boatmen, Kalari warriors, and the traditional fish monger, Meenkaran. A Floating Tea Shop was also taken to the doorsteps, since Malayalees usually read the news at tea shops. The newspapers were delivered to more than 1,00,000 homes on the launch day itself. The delivery activity was extended to radio with a full-length folk rock song, Suprabhathakali by the Malayalam rock band, Avial.

Avial, along with several local musicians, bands and dancers, also performed at the week-long Times Kerala festival.

Right now, only one TVC captures 'A Real Day in the Life of Kerala'. However, going forward, there could be others that bring alive a completely different perspective on the state. The current TVC will be aired on local news channels, as well as online and in cinema halls.

Made your day?

The industry feels that the advertising itself is in line with what TOI has been doing. Prathap Suthan, managing partner and chief creative officer, Bang in The Middle looks at this campaign from two perspectives. One, from a broader advertising perspective and the other, from a Malayalee's point of view. Suthan says, "The campaign keeps the local ethos and flavour of the specific market. It also captures the generic tourism quotient of Kerala - boats, backwaters and an overpowering fire of machine-gun speak - all ingredients that work to keep and build the mother brand. Of course, the film has a chaotic yet well made look to it, the greens finally are emerald and correct, and the music has a rhythm that will get to you."

Prathap Suthan

Nilesh Vaidya

Suthan adds that Naaka Mukka had a clearer and more decipherable story line. It was more focused. "The rise of the leader by dawn and the fall of the leader by dusk was the poignant story of Tamil politics and the film kept that singular thread running through. The Kerala film on the other hand is a montage of many layers," he explains.

Suthan adds that the average Bengali creative director may not be able to unravel it. But then, he doesn't have to, since he isn't the target audience. "The Kerala film is again interestingly dedicated to 'A Day in the Life of Kerala' - the state, and not just like 'A Day in the Life of Chennai' - the city.

He likes the way in which the film has been shot, with not too much of post production, keeping the naturalness intact.

As a Malayalee, the film gets him closer to the brand at one go. "TOI isn't a Malayalee brand. But, I don't think even a Malayalee paper would have been able to do this so efficiently and effectively." He commends Kumar and his team for getting under the skin.

"I love the cauldron of images in this film, the references to politics, daily life, boats, Alapuzha, toddy, swaying drunkenness, Dubai suitcase, Gulf TV set, children going to school, drunken men jumping into the water, Kathakali without the headgear, peeping tourists, Chenda, rooster fights (illegal?), traffic jam in the kayal, and Kalabhavan Mani's distinct voice and the musical genre. The good thing is that everything gets picked up, and everything is so in your face. And, that's the way we like it back there," adds Suthan.

Nilesh Vaidya, executive creative director, Rediffusion-Y&R gives full marks to the ad film for the execution. He finds the track extremely lovely (thanks for the subtitles) and very slick editing. "It does shake one's notion of Kerala as this beautiful tranquil place that's full of tourists, while all the locals live in Mumbai and the 'Gelf'." But he feels that when it comes to the actual message, it was quite a disconnect. "Is there really so much of a conflict?" he questions.

First Published : May 16, 2012
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