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New ad filmmakers on the centre stage

While the icons of ad filmmaking are still shining, a few new generation directors are rewriting the scripts of filmmaking.

Waves

Over the last few years, the Bollywood film industry has seen a sea change in terms of storytelling, scripting, direction, casting and many more things. The change can be seen closer to our home in the advertising industry as well. A new bunch of filmmakers is gradually rewriting the scripts of ad filmmaking, while churning out some outstanding pieces of work.

While names like Prahlad Kakkar, Prasoon Pandey, Ram Madhvani, Abhinay Deo, E Suresh and Prakash Verma continue to hold iconic status, the new set of filmmakers like Ayappa KM, Razneesh Ghai, Vivek Kakkad, Nikhil Rao, Piyush Raghani, Shirsha Guha Thakurta and Ram Subramanian, to name a few, are finding their own place in the industry.

Just think of a few popular television commercials in recent times and chances are the younger breed has worked on them - Pepsi - Change the Game to Football, Tata Sky - Poochhne Mein Kya Jata Hain, Kotak - Subbu Sab Janta Hai, Airtel - Bhukkad Friends and many such films have been directed by this new set of ad film directors.

afaqs! Reporter discovers the untold story of the new generation filmmakers and the changes that they have brought into the industry.

Generalisation to Specialisation

From the early days of Doordarshan, when the country was first introduced to television commercials, to a few years ago, a good filmmaker's proficiency was in his versatility, as he was keen and open to take up a variety of work and all genres of films. But today, the trend is towards specialisation. There are directors known only for comedy, some are known for their great sense of visual and musical language, while some have forged a reputation for the use of technology.

Ayappa KM, Footcandles

The Beginning: Orchard Advertising, MTV

Ad filmmaker since: 2005

Known for: Comic timing

Memorable films: Flipkart, Bingo - Balcony, IPL 2, The Times of India - Chennai Wake-Up, Airtel - Friends (short films)

Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, national creative director, Bates India, says, "Earlier, we would get show-reels from different production houses, where there was a director who had worked on all kinds of films. But now we get five to six different show-reels from each production house depicting the specialisation of each, saying one director is good at comedy, the other with automotive advertising, the third could be perfect at fashion films, while another an ace at visual storytelling."

Ayappa KM, a director who has worked on witty commercials for brands such as Flipkart, Virgin Mobiles and Bingo, is known for his comic timing. Most creative heads agree that for any film with funny scripts, Ayappa is the first choice.

Similarly, Vivek Kakkad, the director of TVCs such as Tata Sky, IDBI Federal Retiresurance and Childsurance, and Fastrack (Virat Kohli and Genelia D'Souza), is the man for great storytelling. Nitesh Tiwari, executive creative director, Leo Burnett describes him, "Kakkad gets the subtlety in a performance beautifully out of a script. He can take a simple script and turn it into a memorable film."

Razneesh Ghai, Asylum Films

Background: TV Production (Movers & Shakers, White Light Moving Pictures, MTV)

Ad filmmaker since: 2005

Known for: International touch

Memorable films: Cadbury Éclairs - Rich Brownie, Mountain Dew - Darr Ko Maro Dew (Vijender Singh & Sushil Kumar), Myntra

While agencies prefer categorising ad filmmakers, many of these directors do not like to be slotted. Ayappa feels strongly against the idea of stereotyping a film director into a category. "It is wrong to judge somebody because they have worked on certain types of scripts. It is important that you get out of your comfort zone, so that you learn so much more and do great work."

Razneesh Ghai, founder, Asylum, says that agencies tend to categorise the directors to convince the client, "The agency people do not go with the conviction that a certain director is capable of making a different kind of film as well."

However, Ashish Khazanchi, national creative director, Publicis Ambience differs. He explains why categorisation is important for the filmmakers. "I have to quickly remember the top few directors in every genre. So, if you specialise in a particular genre, the individual recall will be high," he adds.

Specialisation can be a subject for debate but the industry seems unanimous that the new age filmmakers have ushered in big improvements in terms of craft and a global approach.

Santosh Padhi, co-chief creative officer and partner, Taproot India says that the Indian ad filmmakers are today at par with international directors, with the rise of young, fresh talent.

Vivek Kakkad, Curious Films

Background: Grey, JWT, Ogilvy India

Ad filmmaker since: 2008

Known for: Bringing out the subtlety in a script

Memorable films: Tata Sky - Poochane Main Kya Jaata Hai, IDBI Federal Retiresurance and Childsurance, Fastrack commercials with Virat Kohli and Genelia D'Souza

"These days the exposure to international work is more than before. The new directors blend Indian nitty-gritty with an international touch and it is amazing how they can bring the two worlds together. They know exactly how to make a film more contemporary and more international in all aspects, whether it is editing, cinematography or music."

Newer Partnerships

It seems that the new generation creative directors are more comfortable working with the budding filmmakers. And there are several reasons for that.

One big change is the disappearance of the aura around the �Big' directors. As Ashish Chakravarty, creative chief, McCann Erickson Delhi, says, "In the older days, there were two kinds of directors. Either they were too big for a script and could reject or accept a script, or they were too small to call the shots."

It's no longer just a passing of the baton. Rather, there are healthy discussions and bouncing off of ideas between the creative director and the filmmaker, which in turn improves the quality of the product as well.

"The big directors moulded a script to make it their way. But now any form of change happens through mutual consent," says Chakravarty.

Nikhil Rao, Jamic Films

Background: MX Advertising, Lowe Lintas

Ad filmmaker since: 2009

Known for: Visual storytelling

Memorable films: Airtel - My Airtel, My Offer, Limca - Pyaas Badhao, Birla White Wall Care Putty - Dandruff Parrot, ET Now - Always Thinking Markets

In the early days of television, there were few film directors and the existing creative directors had just graduated from print. Since, the filmmakers were more experienced, they had an upper hand on this front.

The creative director and the filmmaker now work as a team. Some equate it to the art-copy partnership as well. For instance, Abhijit Avasthi, national creative director, Ogilvy India prefers to work with Vivek Kakkad of Curious Films, just like Arun Iyer, national creative director, Lowe Lintas is a great partner with Nikhil Rao of Jamic Films. Both Iyer and Rao have worked together at Lowe in the past.

"Because he has been a creative director himself, he gets a sense of the script pretty quickly. In fact, after he moved on to join Chrome Pictures, a few of the initial films that he got were from Lowe Lintas," admits Iyer, while talking about Rao.

Background is Important

The fact that many new generation ad filmmakers were writers turns out to be an added advantage.

Piyush Raghani, Old School Films

Background: JAM, Channel V, Ten Sports, STAR News, Disney, MTV

Ad filmmaker since: 2009

Known for: Effective interplay of emotions

Memorable films: Ebay.in, Bubbaloo - Face Gym, Tata Sky - Aamir Khan, Tide - Rumaal

For instance, Piyush Raghani of Tide - Rumaal and Tata Sky - Mobile Access fame started his career as a journalist with a youth magazine called JAM and later moved to Channel V as writer/production assistant. Similarly, Nikhil Rao, who has worked on Limca - Pyaas Badhao, was a copy writer for nine years at Lowe. In order to support his theatre acting career in Delhi, Gajraj Rao of Code Red Films wrote scripts for plays.

"Understanding and adapting a script is far easier if the ad filmmaker is a writer," Bobby Pawar, chief creative officer and managing partner, JWT India opines.

Citing the example of Ram (Subramanian), he says, "Ram being a good writer himself understands the script and the idea well. Besides, the agency background helps him in understanding the brand side of the story better." But it's not just the writers. Many filmmakers have come on board even from TV or film production.

The art of ad filmmaking is to marry storytelling with the brand message. If filmmakers with an agency background are adept when it comes to laying emphasis on a brand, those with TV experience also have an edge.

Abhijit Avasthi, national creative director, Ogilvy India, says, "TV operates on low budgets and quick turnaround time. Those coming from TV to ad-filmmaking direct excellent films even if there are time and monetary constraints."

Citing the example of the Tata Sky - Aamir Khan TVC, Avasthi explains how Raghani did a brilliant job, despite Khan's tight schedule. "TV guys such as Raghani are jugaadu and work smart, in spite of the limitations," he adds.

Shirsha Guha Thakurta, director, Native, who moved in from feature films, initially had a problem adapting to the nuances of ad filmmaking.

She says, "Feature films are more real and smiling mothers in ad films annoyed me. Later I realised that in an ad film, there are so many things that you subconsciously try to drive into the audiences' mind. If you trying to cue in �happy', everything that you show has to be �happy' � from the lights to the colour of the set and costumes."

Cost Effective

As any other sector, the economy of scale has played its role in this sector as well. Many find the new age filmmakers to be cost effective. A veteran ad film maker would charge around Rs. 10-15 lakh for a day's shoot, while the new generation directors are available at one-fifth of the cost at only Rs. 2-3 lakh for a day.

Ram Subramanian, Native

Background: Akshar, Grey, Contract and Ogilvy

Ad filmmaker since: 2008

Known for: Performance-driven films

Memorable films: Levis Curve Id, ING Spy & Chor Chase ad, The Economic Times - Power of Ideas

For instance, Airtel's main film � Har Friend Zaroori Hai � was directed by the veteran Ram Madhvani, but when Airtel decided to take the same proposition through several short films, the new age directors were found to be cost effective. With a senior director, the budget would surely have hit the roof.

Satbir Singh, managing partner and chief creative officer, Euro RSCG India, says, "The top-of-the-line people have become very expensive and are very busy. Hence, they can be used only for big budget films. But, with the coming in of new directors, even small budget films have started looking good," he adds.

A senior creative head says, "Television commercials like Flipkart, which are high on popularity today, wouldn't have been possible without the new age directors."

Ram Subramanian,director and partner, Native, shares his experience while he was working with Ogilvy and Neo Sports was his client.

"We were to make a series of films on Neo Sports, for which we approached a few senior ad film makers. I wanted the really funny guys with the funny scripts to do the films for Neo Sports. But, the amount of money that they were demanding was insane. The client did not have that kind of budget and he encouraged me to direct this film. I teamed up with this person named Mehul, who was starting his own production house." In fact, that is how Subramanian turned from an agency guy to an ad film maker.

On the flip side

There has been a steep increase in the number of production houses over the past few years. Those working with known production houses and agencies have started their own outfits.

Shirsha Guha Thakurta, Native

Background: Q.E.D Films, Assistant to Ram Gopal Varma

Ad filmmaker since: 2009

Known for: Performance driven films

Memorable films: Cadbury - Shubh Arambh, Swimming and Litter, Horlicks - Cool shot, Mia - By Tanishq

"It has its upside and downside as well. Mushrooming production houses have increased the options for agencies, which has increased the level of negotiation. But, competition also brings out good work. Whenever a director makes a good film, I get inspired. It is interesting, there is a drive inside," says Ghai of Asylum.

But, with an increase in the competition comes a lot of insecurity as well. Naren Multani, the ex-head of films at McCann and now a director with Equinox Films, says, "You have months when there is no work. On the other hand, there are months when you have so much on the platter. You learn to grow with your insecurities and you grow more as a human being over here."

Piyush Raghani, director, Old School Films, too, feels that it is a very tough, insecurity-led business for directors. "Many of us get very jittery during a shoot. I am not sure if many will admit it. There are 200 people on the set, around 40 of them behind the scenes. We are spending someone else's money. And then, you have to pretend to know what you are doing," he concludes.

Earlier, the film production house was a one-man show. From there it has moved to having multiple heroes. As the business expanded, film production companies needed fresh talents, while budding filmmakers found the comfort of working under a known brand.

Additional interviews with Senthil Kumar, Shashanka Chaturvedi, Raghu Bhat, Manoj Shetty, Sonal Dabral, Josy Paul, Hozefa Alibhai and Ramanuj Shastry

To download the PDF version of the article, click here.

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