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Guest Article: Parag Tembulkar: Think Small, Epic Will Happen

By Parag Tembulkar , Independent, New York | In Advertising | December 11, 2013
An epic is not born; it happens as it goes along.

Remember "Think Small"? - No, do you really remember "Think Small"?

Parag Tembulkar

I ask this because I know almost all of us 'seniors' wax eloquent about that Bernbachian epic even today. We'll go on about how it wasn't just an ad but a philosophy. How it changed a nation's thinking and challenged it. Etcetera. But what I do not understand is, while we regurgitate the celebrated - and rightly so - why do we as creative directors fail to realise that we can even apply it in our creative process these days?

In my previous article I argued that the idea of the big idea is dead (http://www.afaqs.com/news/story/38783_Guest-Article:-Parag-Tembulkar:-The-Idea-of-the-Big-Idea-is-Dead). I argued in the context of the social and user generated content era we're in now.

But, whichever way you understand it, I am occupied with the pursuit of the small thing, the simple truth. Not the 'motee baat' - the big, fat, cigar-smoking, champagne-sipping idea…waiting to be ushered into the limelight.

Well, just like you don't start with "let's do a viral" spot, I get a bit uncomfortable these days with "let's crack the big idea". Viral is what happens if the spot is cool. It is not in our hands to make it happen. Similarly, big happens if the basic thought comes from a small, simple, pure place that has this great organising quality around it; so crucial in today's social and content world where every medium has a mind and a user of its own; and everyone is a creative stakeholder.

A small idea has wagons circling around it because there is something about it that draws more and more wagons around it. That's when big happens. That's when epic happens. Or not. If not, then you move on and keep going. If yes, be careful - you're going to be toppled off the mountain only to start all over again.

(It's a lot of hard work these days, this advertising thingy).

Anyhow, let's do this. Think of the things you dig. I'd bet most of them came from a small, beautiful place and none of those who created them thought "Hey man, I'm gonna do epic!"

Here's my list:

I'm not sure Psy thought "let's make this music video called Gangnam Style and get the most hits on YouTube". Neither do I think Dhanush thought the same of 'Kolaveri D'. It could've been more like "let's have some fun, guys". Big happened because people thought it was fun. And cool.

I know writers who started with something small but landed on something big by the time they finished. Because somewhere in their sub conscience was something that excited them but they didn't know where they were going when they started. It just turned out big. Samuel T Coleridge (no, I didn't know him) woke up one morning and started writing Kublai Khan. He didn't start with "todh fodh dalengey yaar". But he eventually did, as it turned out (go on, read it if you haven't already).

Tony Gilroy, one of Hollywood's most sought-after screenwriters (The Devil's Advocate, Armageddon, Bourne films) urges budding writers to "start small". Big ideas don't work. Start with a very small idea that you can build on. He says "With Bourne I never read any of the books; we started again. The very smallest thing with (Jason) Bourne was, "If I don't know who I am and I don't know where I'm from, perhaps I can identify who I am by what I know how to do." We built a whole new world around that small idea. You just start small, you build out and you move one step after the next and that's how you write a Hollywood movie.

The idea of the movie "Deep Throat" came from a small observation of the director (Gerard Damiano) when he was directing Linda Lovelace in a small-time porn film (watch the documentary 'Inside Deep Throat'). He wrote an entire film around that single action. It's legendary…at least in The Valley.

Google started with "let's search". From searching for things, people and places, it's now moving on to searching for the power to extend life. No kidding. Google it!

Amol Palekar wouldn't have imagined he'd be such a household name. It all started with, erm, Chhoti Si Baat.

On how Gangs of Wasseypur's Faizal Khan became a bigger name than Nawazuddin Siddiqui, he says, "I got noticed for the small roles I did. You never know who's watching you".

Bachchan wouldn't be The Big B if it weren't for a small thought the storywriters had: "how about an angry hero?"

Have you heard Kishori Amonkar sing Raag Hansadhvani? All it has is a line or two about Lord Ganesha and she sings them for about 90-odd minutes (That could be the abridged version, though.) 'Dhyan' on a small, focused thing. Have a listen.

Poets know it. Gulzar does…Dylan did. Still does. He picks up small things, writes about them, simply. Even at his age he still goes top of the pops every time he releases an album.

Highly successful restaurant owners will tell you success is in the small details, not just the food. Ask Mainland China's Anjan Chatterjee or Gajalee's Madhukar Shetty. I've heard them when I knew them- when they weren't as big as they are now.

Martin Crowe urged batsmen to think in ten's and not get blinded by going for the ton straightaway when they walked in to bat.

And here's something I just saw and am sharing with you in real time. Jung Von Matt Berlin just did a commercial for Mercedes Benz based on the tiniest of observations: When you move a chicken, it doesn't move its head - just like humans. Hence MB's new model features a suspension system that moves to the road but keeps the people in it stable. Beautifully executed, too (and way better than my description). Any of you gong-hearted blokes wanna bet it won't win at Cannes next year?

Anyway, you get the drift. Albeit, there would undoubtedly be counter examples to what I am saying. And that's cool. Mine is a point of view but more importantly, a conversation you guys should have. Besides, I am not sure anyone in the communications world these days would dare to say "this is it!" anymore.

As creative directors, we got to unlearn what we have learnt…and very quickly in the new world. We don't need to go rah-rah pushing our teams to kill for or madly go hunting for the big idea as we knew it. Getting to a cool idea is not exactly like going to war. It's really not about beating chests, drums and egos to herald an epic.

Because an epic is not born. It happens as it goes along; coming from a very small idea that comes from a very small place called the heart. It has a voice that, if heard, will echo in other hearts, too - by the hundreds, thousands and millions and millions.

Parag Tembulkar is a NYC-based creative consultant and has a small website called paragtembulkar.com

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