It was a momentous occasion when India was declared polio free in 2014. Ad agency Ogilvy has now been tasked with raising awareness about Filaria or Haathipaon (elephant foot), as it is known in the north.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) wants to eliminate lymphatic Filariasis in India within the next two years. However, it was noticed that though the disease is prevalent, people were either not aware of it or felt that it could not happen to them. The fact that the disease could take 8 to 10 years to manifest itself also posed a challenge to show the seriousness of the issue.
MOHFW's National Vector-Borne Disease Control Program, along with the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, an initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute led a campaign initiative to make people more aware of the disease with a pledge to make India Filaria-free in the next few years.
The film shows children playing in a village playground when one of them chances upon a pair of giant footprints. The children, and soon the whole village, trace these footprints to discover a man who suffers from Filaria. The patient, standing with his wife, explains how the disease can affect anyone but can be prevented. "One of the things we agreed upon was to not show any regionalism in the film. This was done to ensure that the film had the same impact in any village of India. Therefore, even though we shot in Apti village of Maharashtra, there was nothing that can say it is not from North or even from South," points out director Bauddhayan Mukherji from Little Lamb Films.
Keeping that in mind, the background score by Sameer Uddin - in Sanskrit - has lyrics that translate as "There are signs along the way that lead us to the ultimate truth," a great pairing to the visual treatment in the films. The original film in Hindi will also be dubbed in nine different regional languages to increase acceptance.
Little Lamb Films also made sure that the freshness of the video would be intact and asked the villagers to appear in the film. More than 90 per cent of the actors in the film are actual villagers who were given briefs and pointers to appear in the film. At the same time, Mukherji had to make sure that while creating awareness the film should not scare viewers, making them switch off the message being given out. Getting that fine balance was a challenge.
"The protagonist here stands out because you see him championing the cause of treatment, and not someone who sulks. By showing his interaction with his wife, we have made him more human so that people know it can happen to anyone," adds Mukherji.
Chattopadhyay explains that most PSAs though well meaning, often fail to break through the clutter and make an impact. For the three films the group took exactly three days to shoot, often taking 40 shots a day. The director also had to improvise a lot, and be alert of any spontaneous shots that could be taken while the villagers were busy in their own work.
One cannot help but think of Lifebuoy's Gondappa film. In the film, Gondappa had taken an oath to walk upside down to a temple if his child reached five years of age. When he undertook the task, the village elders started following him - not just to see where he was going but also to support and seek blessings. While the Lifebuoy film became extremely popular and even won awards internationally, will the current ad spread awareness in the same level?
However, director Raaj A Chakravarti was not much impressed. Though he loved the cinematography and the way in which the film has been shot, he has reservations about the creative execution. "It is a confusing story. Is the patient an unknown man? Towards the end it is revealed that he is indeed someone from the village. Then why was everyone surprised to see him and his big feet? Again, why did so many people start following the kids? There is no motivation behind that act. There was too much strangeness of action in the film," he adds.