Prajjal Saha
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India at Cannes: How Shekhar Kapur & Balki took India to the centre stage

Noted film director Shekhar Kapur and adman R Balakrishnan, better known as Balki, were in Cannes to advocate on behalf of India. They played the innings quite well.

It's not every day that IPG chairman Michael Roth takes to the stage only to introduce the speakers. Yes, Roth did it this time, to introduce Shekhar Kapur, the noted Indian film director and Balki (R Balakrishnan), chairman and creative head of Roth's own agency, Lowe Lintas India. The occasion was special because India was in focus at Cannes - for the first time in 58 years since the festival began in 1954.

India at Cannes: How Shekhar Kapur & Balki took India to the centre stage
Roth started with the statement that the session at Cannes was an indication of the importance of India in the global economy.

He added that his own group, IPG, was committed to India in a big way, and is now the owner of the first creative agency of India, Lowe Lintas. The agency, which was launched in 1939, today handles about 250 clients -- much more than what the agency's New York office handles in terms of sheer numbers.

Roth even went ahead to say how he laid the Indian example in front of his New York office on the capacity to handle such a large base of clients.

When the session moderator, David Rowan, editor, Wired asked Balki why the focus has shifted on India now, Balki quipped, "Because there is money in India."

Balki further made a very interesting comment, which drew a huge applause from the audience. "What has changed over the years is that earlier, India was judged globally. Today, India is the jury, be it the global products or ideas."

When asked about India's creative on a global platform, Balki said, "There are so many things that don't make any difference to the rest the world. On the other hand, brands have messed up in India, when they have tried to implement their global theory."

According to Balki, "Any global thought has to be highly 'Indianised' to be implemented in India. And, it's a difficult job."

He cited the example of a global thought - Dirt is Good - which was also adopted in India. Balki said, "You have to give a damn good reason to state why dirt is good."

According to Balki, globalisation in India stands for malls, good roads and great cars - and the 'idea' has to be Indian.

Balki observed that a global brand has to be truly Indian to find place in India. Citing the example of Pepsi, he said "They have to be so Indian that after some time people forget whether it's a global brand or a local one."

When Rowan stated that India was a cultural translator, Balki corrected him, "No, it is a cultural originator."

Next Kapur commented that India was a land of imagination, which was not bound by a three act structure.

He said, "India is a land of storytelling and nothing influences more than story telling."

Further talking about Indian creativity, Balki said, "India gives the world a point of difference and normally, we appreciate difference a little too late. And this difference will last the world."

Kapur then took to the microphone to say that India has to adapt, change and absorb the wounds of history. He, too, advocated that any idea to work in India has to be magically 'Indianised'.

When asked about the impact of social media, Kapur was of the opinion that it will change the way we live but not advertising.

However, he sees an opportunity for India in this front as well. He said, "Fifteen per cent of the world's teenage population will live in India. So there will be a large number of consumers on social media. This will make us an influencing economy, if not a dominant economy."

Balki and Kapur differed on a point. Balki said that social media currently in India is a one-sided communication, where we are expressing ourselves but not accepting messages. Kapur, on the other hand, said that social media will have opinions that will influence each other.

Further talking about the Indian economy, Kapur opined that we need to move from being job makers to job creators. According to him, the rich and middle class are afraid to drift away from the usual and experiment.

When asked for tips for global brand planning to enter India, Balki again got the audience to applaud when he said, "Stop looking at India as a market and you will succeed. And, let the Indians do the things in India."

Ending on a wishful note, Kapur said, "Probably when the Spiderman removes his mask in Spiderman 6, a few years later, the face will be that of an Indian or a Chinese."