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The Asian Age: A reflection of reality

By , agencyfaqs! | In | April 23, 2002
Through the use of 'dramatized' reality, the latest television commercial for The Asian Age attempts to communicate the newspaper's rich content


Call it a contradiction, but the feeling that stays after watching the new 90-second television commercial for newspaper brand The Asian Age is a strange admixture of lingering despair and indomitable hope.

Despair because there is a certain pain, a certain melancholy in the mood of the commercial… a kind of visual déjà vu that percolates through the senses and settles unsettlingly on the mind. A haunting, 'real life' kind of pain, far removed from the 'feel good-ness' one has come to associate with ad films.

And hope because despite the pain, despite the perceptible hopelessness of some of the situations that the different characters in the film seem to find themselves in, the human spirit seems to soar, undying and perennially optimistic. But again, in a very matter-of-fact, 'non-ad' sort of way.

The commercial itself is a montage of… well, it's like this. There's this shot of what looks to be a volatile political demonstration. One of the demonstrators is in flames, the result of a self-immolation bid. Cut to a close-up of the burning man, who looks into the camera and says, 'I want to meet justice.' Cut to the shot of a roadside butcher's shop. The butcher stares at the camera and says, 'I want to meet Jennifer Lopez.' Shot of a seedy side street in a red light district. Garishly dressed women lazily await clients. Cut to one of the prostitutes who gives a shy smile and says, 'I want to meet Tom Cruise.'

A streaker runs on to the pitch in the middle of a cricket match. As the guards pin him and lead him away, he shouts, 'I want to meet Sachin Tendulkar.' A battle-weary Mujahideen who wants to meet Mother Teresa; a scion of a royal family - seated in a cavernous but crumbling palace, amidst tiger skins and other trappings of erstwhile glory - who wants meet 'his past'; a withered octogenarian who wants to meet 'her future'… A mother, whose son has just been shot dead, who wants to meet God; an old rag picker who wants to meet 'a sharebroker'; and a child suffering from cancer, who wants to meet Donald Duck.

'Who do you want to meet?' reads the super. The film ends with another super: 'The Asian Age. Meet your world.' The idea, quite clearly, is to position The Asian Age as a content-rich newspaper, with something in it for everyone.

"One of the problems with the paper is that it has a bit of a 'tabloid' image," explains Ravi Deshpande, head of Lemon Communications. "There is this perception that the paper does not have enough in-depth coverage. And that local news is not covered because of a strong international skew. People are not really aware of how rich the paper is, content-wise. Add to this the fact that the brand has kept a low profile, in terms of communication. The task on hand was to set these perceptions right and make the brand top-of-mind."

Towards this end, the brief from the client was simple: The Asian Age has everything, from politics to current affairs to sports to entertainment. A 'complete newspaper'.

"Having got this brief, we also struck upon this interesting consumer insight when it comes to newspaper reading," says Deshpande. "Readers have clear preferences. Some read the business pages first, even before reading the main news. Some start with the sporting news. Others just have to read the cartoons before anything. What this told us is that different people are interested in different sections of a newspaper." The logical interpretation to this at Lemon was, you'll meet your world in this paper. "The creative idea here is a perfect marriage of this insight and what the brand offers."

Of course, the creative idea too evolved. "In the initial stages, we had very normal people talking about who they want to meet," reveals Deshpande. "So there was a priest who wants to meet God and an old, retired gent who wants to meet his sharebroker. But we were not happy, as the 'leap' was not happening. Then, from pure instinct, we decided to have some very unlikely people in the ad. People who would not be expected to want these things, but who just might want them. So a prostitute who wants to meet Tom Cruise, a butcher who wants to meet Jennifer Lopez. This dramatized the ad considerably."

In fact, the sheer impossibility - even absurdity - of some of these 'wants' grabs attention. For instance, the impoverished rag picker wanting to meet a sharebroker. Or the maharaja wanting to meet his past. "The irony of the fact that these meetings can never actually happen is a revelation of human aspirations," says Deshpande.

Giving the ad a 'non-ad' feel was deliberate. "The product being advertised is a newspaper, so the treatment too had to be truthful and honest like a newspaper, not gimmicky," says Deshpande. "Plus, we felt that by being 'real' the ad would be more distinctive."

That's why Ram Madhvani, director, Equinox Films, was asked to give the ad a 'photojournalistic' feel. In fact, the storyboard for the commercial used actual photographs (culled from magazines), instead of sketches. "We went through a whole lot of photojournalism for this," Madhvani reveals. "And the storyboard was not to replicate the picture, but the soul."

Madhvani admits that the big challenge was to simulate reality. "Photojournalism captures the feeling of the viewer 'being there' - the emotional truth. When you go to Kamatipura (Mumbai's red light district), you get a feeling… now how do you recreate that? You cannot suggest that anything has been 'placed'. I think we have been able to pull it off, as none of the characters in the film seem to have a life outside the frame. That's as close to reality as you can get."

Madhvani believes that his feature film experience helped. And he agrees that the casting too was critical - "though it wasn't difficult, as a lot of the casting came from the soul of the storyboard". He also gives credit to Deshpande ("for his ideas and great visual sense") and cameraman Vijay Khambatti. "The critical thing for us was not what we wanted to say, but what we wanted the viewer to feel."

And what one feels is despair mixed with hope. "Yes, there's a bit sadness and some hope," Deshpande agrees. "That's the way newspapers are these days when you open them in the morning - sadness and a glimmer of hope. This is a reflection of our society and the world around us. A reflection of truth." © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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