Apoorva Mehta, Dharma’s CEO talks to us about Dharma 2.0, its ad-film making vertical, about the “progressive” new Center Fresh ad, and why it doesn’t make many ads like other agencies.
India loves a good story. Be it the king who preached non-violence after winning the bloodiest war in his life or the boy from Delhi who came to Mumbai with dreams in his eyes and ended up becoming the Badshah of the nation, face it, we’re suckers for such tales.
Storytelling is a revered art and one that does not come easy. The ones who’ve aced it not only win the hearts of countless millions but capture a gigantic chunk of the theatre box office. One such storyteller is Dharma Productions.
“Pyar dosti hai, agar woh meri sab se achchi dost nahin ban sakti, to main usse kabhi pyar kar hi nahi sakta, kyunki dosti bina toh pyar hota hi nahin, simple, pyar dosti hai, love is friendship…” Remember how many of us were floored after we heard Shah Rukh Khan explain the meaning of love in Miss Braganza’s class in 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai'? The movie is one of Dharma’s most iconic romantic works.
While we are used to see the Dharma magic on the 70mm screen, were we caught surprised by a Center Fresh commercial possessed with the energy of young love, and that Dharma 2.0 was behind it along with Wavemaker India, with support on the creative front from Ogilvy India.
It was not the Dharma of the movies, this was a new vertical from the brand launched in 2016 to make ad films. “Led by the very proficient Punit Malhotra, the talented Dharma 2.0 team not only produces television ad films but also executes creative digital media projects,” reads the brand’s Facebook page. Malhotra has movies like ‘I Hate Luv Storys’ and ‘Student of the Year 2.0’ to his credits.
“The idea was to show the girl following the boy and not the other way round. It is positive, it is young, it is progressive… to show the boundaries are changing…” says Apoorva Mehta, CEO, Dharma Productions, about the ad.
He tells us the folks at Dharma “consider it a boutique company and not a production house” and while there are several commercial production houses, “the idea for us is to match our ethos, our style, our aesthetic quality with the messaging of the brand... That's why we are selective in what we do.”
That Dharma 2.0 is selective in what it does is evident from its work record. Launched in 2016, it has but worked with a handful of brands such as Johnnie Walker, D’Decor, Netmeds, Colgate. You will not see it churn ads regularly like an Ogilvy or a Wunderman Thompson.
“It is important for us to retain a certain amount of aesthetic appeal and quality for what we put out,” says the CEO and adds that different companies have different requirements. “We're aiming to work with those brands where we are essentially able to bring our ethos, bring the value the company stands for to the table. It's not possible for every brand and every brand doesn't require us. It works both ways.”
Does that mean Dharma 2.0 waits for brands to approach them than pitch its services to them like other agencies? Says Mehta, “No, it's not that way. Some brands come to us and there are pitches we make… Very often we're recommended by actors and brands themselves. It's a mix of both.”
We also wondered if in its quest to offer the best from the house of Dharma, does this boutique company cast talent from Dharma Cornerstone Agency, its talent management arm, in ads? “No we don’t do that,” remarks the CEO and explains to us that it might work for one or two small characters in the commercial but by and large, the agencies kind of decide what works for them, they have a better understanding of it so we don't get into that.
He adds that an ad is meant to appeal and act as a messenger for the brand across demographics, caste, cultures, there's a certain kind of understanding that has been done by the brand, by the agency. “It's not something that is randomly decided, there are certain values the brand represents and the brand ambassador has to represent the values. It doesn't happen just like that,” asserts Mehta.
And his voice lights up when asked if it is storytelling that sets them apart from others. “I think so because we're very fortunate that Karan Johar has launched so many bright creative directors. There's a certain understanding in our directors in terms of storytelling.”
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