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"It's always crucial to get the right cast": Prakash Varma on shooting with the Dhananjayans

By Suraj Ramnath , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | May 16, 2017
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23,000 Shares... and counting! As our story on the Vodafone couple continues to create waves, we bring you a quick chat with Prakash Varma of Nirvana Films, the production house that shot this campaign.

Last week, when we decided to interview Shanta and V.P. Dhananjayan - the lead pair in Vodafone's latest campaign - they were 'that cute couple'. But now, just a few days after our story was published, they've transformed into 'Dhananjayans, the actors', buzziest faces of Indian ad-land, who've been interviewed across most leading papers of the country. Our interview with Vodafone's 'Asha' and 'Bala' has fetched around 23,000 shares in less than five days and continues to gather digital moss.

V.P. Dhananjayan told us that they were approached to act in this campaign by Nirvana Films, a production house founded by Prakash Varma and Sneha Iype in 2001. So we decided to talk to Prakash about this now famous campaign, created by the ad agency Ogilvy India.

From L-R - Shanta Dhananjayan, Prakash Varma & V.P.Dhananjayan

"The decision to cast senior citizens was part of the initial idea," he tells afaqs!, "It wasn't important for them to be dancers at all. But yes, I was looking for a real life couple and for a couple that is relatable and sporting enough to travel and do new things. The Dhananjayans fit this requirement perfectly." Recall that the two are award-winning Bharatnatyam dancers and have even won the coveted Padma Bhushan (Arts).

About the casting process, Nirvana's Prakash tells us, "Normally we cast extensively. My team at the office does a thorough search to find characters that fit the brief. Either through casting agents or through friends or friends of friends, we end up shortlisting many people. In this case, we were lucky to find the apt cast. They were relatable characters. When I saw the test I instantaneously felt they would be a great pair for this set of films."

When Prakash and team started the process, what were they most apprehensive about? "It is always crucial to get the right cast sorted for the film as that adds immense value to the outcome," Prakash answers, adding, "As viewers, we like or dislike most films because the characters may or may not fit the role. So that was the only worry, but fortunately we were sorted with this find."

Last week, Dhananjayan told afaqs!, "It all happened suddenly in two days when we landed in Goa. Once we landed, the next day onwards, we were on the go..." For Prakash, how hectic was the Goa shoot? "The Dhanajayans were a great team - patient, energetic, adventurous, malleable and happy to experiment. What more can a director want? It helped greatly that they are both creative people and know the importance of achieving a close-to-perfect result. Hence, they were able to adapt to every situation. I have immense respect for them as they were extremely wonderful people to collaborate with."

Shanta is 73 and Dhananjayan is 78. "Age," says Prakash, "is only a number. My team took care to ensure that they were comfortable but both of them were not fussy in any way. They were very hands-on and involved in the whole process."

From L-R - Prakash Varma with Shanta Dhananjayan

He goes on, "Despite the heat, they would hang out with the crew and be part of all the setting up and so on. They were game to do as many costume trials as needed, travel on a bike, dance uninhibited, get a tattoo or even paraglide... so clearly, age is a notional thing. The Dhananjayans had the right attitude and that was all that mattered."

From L-R - Prakash Varma with V.P.Dhananjayan

What has the success of this campaign done for Prakash? What's his biggest take-away from the experience? "I am glad that the campaign is well received. It's always a joy when the public at large accepts and likes what has been done. Film-making involves a lot of hard work and effort contributed by a big group of people so it's rewarding for all of us... For me, it once again reiterates that I must trust my instinct. That 'gut' feeling is what really matters... I hope I can continue to rely on it for as long as I can."

This campaign broke during the IPL (ongoing season 10) and is also visible on other channels. By the way, rumour has it, the Dhanajayans will watch the IPL finals at Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Hyderabad.

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