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Defining Moments: Mahesh Mathai: "Films were my sweet spot"

Veteran ad film maker Mahesh Mathai takes afaqs! through his journey of television commercials, music video and feature films.

While in college, I worked for Prahlad Kakkar. Soon, I decided to start something of my own. I got my first break to make a film for Chancellor cigarettes around 1983. It was my first ad film and my first defining moment.

Mahesh-Mathai

A few years later (in 1987), I founded Highlight Films. After Chancellor, I had started getting more work and recognition. One that really made a difference though, was the work for Garden Vareli with Persis Khambatta. The film not only won a lot of awards, it also made a lot of news and caught people's attention. Here was work that I not only enjoyed but I found myself to be good at. I'd found my sweet spot. Another big landmark was the relaunch of Eveready batteries (Give Me Red).

Music and videos

There weren't as many channels back then, in the '80s. Doordarshan asked me to do a 30-minute programme with different songs by different musicians. I shot a video with Louis Banks and others. It was not really a 'music video' but something like one.

Probably the first 'music video' that I did was for a band called Rock Machine (later Indus Creed) for their song, Rock n' Roll Renegades. It was probably the country's first music video. Music videos then did not really pay well.

The big era of the music videos came a few years down the line. Lucky Ali came up with his first album Sunoh, approached every possible label without much success. He asked if I could help him. He had then already approached a label called BMG Crescendo and was offered a deal, only if he could come back with a music video.

I heard the songs, thought 'not bad' and decided to go ahead with it. However, that was not all. I was not only required to make the video for one of the songs, O Sanam but also pay for it. The video turned out to be one of the biggest defining moments of my career. With O Sanam, I got noticed because back then, the director's name was also mentioned in the music video.

Another big break arrived when I heard of this guy in Stockholm who was re-recording Hindi film songs with his own touch. I went to Sony Music - by then Lucky and I had moved to Sony - and they found the concept interesting and agreed to go ahead. Thus was launched Bombay Vikings and Neeraj Sridhar with the song Kya Soorat Hai.

Films - next obvious stop

In the late '90s, I met Deepak Nayar (he was to be the producer) and decided to make a film on Bhopal - a subject that would have international relevance.

I approached Piyush and Prasoon Pandey to write a story on Bhopal. That was the origin of Bhopal Express. Ehsaan (Noorani) and Loy (Mendonsa) worked on the music, Shankar Mahadevan contributed with his vocals. That was also the beginning of the Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy trio. It did not do well in India but the movie opened the Panorama section to the prestigious Berlin Film Festival and won seven international awards.

Blue Frog

I had worked extensively with young composers, Ashu and Dhruv (Ashutosh Pathak and Dhruv Ghanekar). We were talking about how, despite Mumbai being the entertainment capital, we were all held up at one place like Not Just Jazz By The Bay. That is how Blue Frog was born as a venue for music that we like and it took off. Starting Blue Frog definitely was the next big thing for me.

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