The ad filmmaker calls himself intuitive and doesn’t like overthinking the creative process. So, how did he arrive at these two vastly different ad films then?
Earlier this year, Sonal Dabral quit Ogilvy to find his footing in the world of Indian advertising as an independent creative professional. The latest attempt in this pursuit is an independent podcast titled ‘Streaming With Sonal Dabral’. The first episode features a chat with ad filmmaker Prasoon Pandey. In the episode, Pandey talks about his experience of working on two films that were popular, but poles apart – ‘Family’ and Fevicol’s ‘Sofa’ (to commemorate 60 years of the brand).
Dabral begins by asking Pandey about the lockdown-themed film ‘Family’ – which part of the process did he (Pandey) enjoy the most? Pandey says that he had coined a term for this type of at-home production – calling it ‘backyard productions’.
“In the case of this film, the stars would have to shoot themselves, and these are huge stars, they know everything about filmmaking, but their craft mainly comes out in front of the camera. On a real set, there are assistants, DOPs, etc., who help with those behind-the-camera details. We had to simplify it while explaining it to the stars – to the extent that they can do what they’re best at, without missing the help of the 60-odd people who are around if we were shooting on a regular day.”
Pandey claims this was the most enjoyable part of the shoot for him – making a rough film that was shot and edited by his son Ayushman, with him (Pandey) in the frame as a stand-in actor.
On being asked about what gave him the idea to create ‘Family’ in the first place, Pandey goes back to the time when the lockdown was first announced, around March 25. He confesses that he was having a drink while wondering if it was possible to create a piece of drama, while staying at home (because of the lockdown). “Not just a montage of shots, what if I wrote a full-length story, involving all these artistes, to communicate the message that one can think positively, despite the lockdown, while (also) delivering the message to stay at home,” he says.
Pandey adds that a discussion with Bollywood stars Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt led to the idea of making it a pan-India project, and not just limiting it to the Mumbai film industry. Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan then volunteered to speak to popular actors across industries and bring them on board to act in the film.
Pandey added that the project was great fun to work on. “I had a chat with the stars on April 2, and we shot the footage on April 3. I wanted the film to be ready by April 4. I was aware that I’m not going to be present while the footage is being shot, and on a real set, there are a zillion decisions that need to be taken, relating to the size of the frame, camera angles, etc. In such a scenario, while shooting from home, it was impossible for me to help the stars with aspects of shooting on, say, a Skype call to ensure that the footage comes out right. All 12 stars in the film shot on April 3 at the same time, and in Priyanka’s (Chopra) case, she was in LA (Los Angeles) at the time. These are huge stars, I can’t put one on hold while the other calls me,” he explains.
“We spend so much of our professional life just trying to get the continuity right. Here, I decided that we will not try too hard to make all the shots look ‘in sync’. Even the rough film that I made was deliberately shot in two parts of my house. If one shot for one actor was in a dining table, the next shot for the next actor was deliberately set in a different part of my house, which had, say, different cups on the table. I did that so the actors knew they don’t have to match the shots and continuity,”Prasoon Pandey
“The fun of it is, as the shades start from Alia and reach Diljit Dosanjh – what she gives and what he receives is different, and what ultimately reaches Mr. Bachchan is completely different – and that’s the joy of it! That’s where you break the rules and have fun with it. With this project, there was the thrill of experimenting and doing something for the first time,” he smiles. Pandey adds that it takes a lot of effort for him to achieve perfection on a regular shoot, but with this one, he went out of his way to achieve imperfection.
On one hand, Pandey has directed Fevicol’s now famous ‘Sofa’ film, which was made with so much effort, resources, etc., and on the other, there is ‘Family’ – shot, edited and produced during the lockdown, remotely.
“With ‘Family’, the whole process was intuitive, which is how I am as a person. I don’t like overcooking the thinking process. But ‘Sofa’ is on the opposite end of the spectrum – it was very detailed and each character was carefully thought out. ‘Sofa’ also has its intuitive moments, though. When I wrote the script for it, the whole process was intuitive, it came in a flow and I did it in a day,” he explains.
"I don’t like overcooking the thinking process."Prasoon Pandey
He adds that he was acutely aware of the cost of running a television commercial and when Pidilite wanted a commercial to commemorate 60 years of Fevicol, that’s when he suggested the ‘Sofa’ film as a digital piece, which the clients loved at the first recital of the concept. “There was never a written script for this film – that’s the most amazing part. All we had was a shoot board that I put together for my team so that they know how to schedule the shots. We got approval for the idea for the way I narrated the script,” says Pandey.
He emphasised that the ad film was detailed because that was the need. “We were trying to capture the things that the sofa has seen, in the last 60 years. Beyond obvious physical changes like the prints and the form, even the medium being viewed has changed – from radios to transistors. When I was writing, I deliberately included elements that would be symbolic of the time. For example, the 1980s had a different TV viewing experience than we do – the neighbours’ kids would come over to watch TV since every house did not have a television set.”
He also stresses that marital relationships have changed and that has transformed our way of life – and the intention was to capture this change in the ad film. “In the beginning, the sofa comes as a dowry, but when the new bride reaches that house, it’s her father-in-law who ends up using it, and you see the husband sitting by his feet, pressing them like a devoted son, while the wife is sitting a little away, doing the grinding and housework. Towards the end, the wife ruffles her husband’s hair and we see him making tea for her, signifying that the balance is a little more. We also had to make sure that visually, haircuts and styles are different to show each era.”
Listen to the full first episode of Dabral’s podcast below: