Shreyas Kulkarni

R. Balki on the Thookichand ad featuring Akshay Kumar

It's an ad against spitting which is not only unhygienic but increases the risk of Coronavirus infection's spread too for the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

People look towards their governments more than ever during a crisis and we're amid one of the worst health crisis the globe has ever faced. To ensure people don't panic and follow said guidelines, governments depend on public service announcements and campaigns to communicate important news and proposed safety guidelines effectively.

On August 21, 2020, the government released an ad on social media through its PIB accounts. The caption for the ad read, "Stop being a Thookichand!".

It features a scene outside a grocery store with people wearing masks and standing socially distanced while it rains. Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar is one of the people in the line and he sees a guy pull down his mask and spit... Kumar shames the guy for spitting because it helps spread Coronavirus and labels him thookichand. Seeing what happened, others in the line begin to call the guy with this name... "Don't be a thookichand...," says Kumar at the end of the ad.

R Balki
R Balki

"We wanted to be very specific and say it is about spitting because it is a rampant issue in our country," said R. Balakrishnan, popularly known as R. Balki, an adman-turned-filmmaker who directed this ad.

Speaking about the ad, he said many people stand in queues and sometimes for hours because they want to follow the process and there are some irresponsible people who do these kinds of things (spitting) without thinking. It is just to make an example and in this country, it's not always about saying "It's bad, it's bad" but giving titles for bad habits is important because people don't want to be called bad."That's why we should call them something, give them a name so that they're shy of doing those kinds of things," stated the filmmaker.

This isn't the first ad for the government which Balki made with Kumar. In June, when the country had begun to open for the first time after the lockdown, the filmmaker in tandem with Kumar released aimed at telling us that we need to learn to live with the virus and safely return to work. The ad was shot with a trimmed crew and all safety protocols were followed.

Regarding the shooting of the second ad, Bali said, "Everybody has been following the rules and we're kind of following more than the rules, we're being absolutely strict; very few people on the set, all kind of precaution which you are to take..."

On Sunday (23 August 2020), Prakash Javadekar, the Information & Broadcasting minister (he also handles Environment, Forest & Climate Change and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises portfolios) tweeted detailed SOP for resuming work in the media production industry. In his tweet, Javadekar said, "The general principles behind the SOP will help create a safe working environment for cast and crew in the industry."

We (afaqs!) spoke to 'Pops' KV Sridhar, global chief creative officer, Nihilent Hypercollective (He was CCO at Leo Burnett and SapientNitro too) about the thookichand ad. Here's what pops had to say:

'Pops' KV Sridhar
'Pops' KV Sridhar

I think the ad is very powerful and in the face because the gentle reminders from the government haven't worked at all. It talks about spitting, social distancing, keeping safety. There are no subtleties when Balki does anything.

When good words are not taken, then you need the cane and this (ad) is almost like a cane. In India, it (spitting) is rampant, they eat paan and spit wherever they want... You take off the mask, spit, and wear the mask again; what is the point of your mask? There reason why it's spreading because there are so many idiots out there in the world and they think nothing will happen to them. But, they don't realise they are killing 30 odd people because even if you're a passive carrier., you can infect 30 people. Each guy without a mask is equivalent to Kasab.

Usually, government advertising is all about a demonstration where a doctor will come and say, "For your safety, you must wear this... From public health department" People don't listen to all that. You need to be like Balbir Pasha and you need to make people feel bad about it.

Akshay, in the ad, represents the common people who're scared, do not want to harm anyone, and will obey what others say. The others are the idiots and they think nothing will happen to them. If there is no mask, they will wear a kerchief and there's a horrible story to it where people use one mask for the entire family.

They shot following all precautions and went to a lot of trouble in doing it. You don't know where to stand and it's the early days... You have to touch the cameras, somebody has to do your make up, pull the focus, the assistant should be there... You can do away with luxuries like a spot boy or the guy who holds the umbrella.

I like the ad and while it's a bit raw, Balki's style is always in the face. Of course, he does lots of subtle advertising, but his entire philosophy is, "If you have to say it, say it". It only takes Balki to do courageous work. I hope all the media and television channels will voluntarily air it as many times as possible so that people stop spitting.

Akshay and Balki are a good combination and have done a commendable job. They both have a tremendous power of influencing people with their work and if they're able to bring in positive behavioural change, even if 100 people are saved by this, Balki and Akshay's lives are fulfilled.

Have news to share? Write to us