We speak to the ad’s director Vijay Sawant and the production house Hungry Films’ Dharam Valia on what went into the making of this ad.
Advertisements do all the talking. Unacademy’s ‘Lesson No.7’ ad starring cricketer MS Dhoni was no different. It is little more than two months since its release in January 2022 and it has already chalked up over one hundred million views on YouTube.
The ed-tech giant and creative agency Lowe Lintas had the cricketer run on a railway track and through walls placed on it with a singular aim of catching a streaking red asteroidesque ball. A train engine is seen steaming towards Dhoni while he attempts the catch and there is a voice-over, from Viraj Adhav, that speaks of overcoming obstacles as you persevere towards your goal in this 85-second ad.
Karan Shroff, partner and chief marketing officer, Unacademy shared the making of the ad a few days ago on LinkedIn and like its finished avatar, the BTS of Unacademy’s ad drowned in social media likes and shares. Why you ask? Because the ad made extensive use of VFX that was till now rare or unheard of in Indian advertising.
Shroff’s words on LinkedIn about the ad only helped spread the viral video.
“What we see in a span of 60-90 seconds takes months of ideation, execution and post-production. Lesson No 7 by Unacademy is one such brand film that we worked on:
- 8-9 months of total project duration
- 3 months of VFX
- 200+ crew members on live action shoot
- 40+ artists for post production across 4 countries
- 7 days of set and stunt prep
- 5 days of shoot
The making of Lesson No 7 has been an incredible journey and an enormous effort for the entire team involved.”
“It is a humungous film of eight to nine months and a fantastic example of teamwork,” remarks Vijay Sawant, the director of the ad.
He tells us the ad was written for MS Dhoni and the question the makers asked among themselves was on the approach to the ad.
“Do you want to do it in a realistic manner? Do you want to make it surrealistic? Want to pick fantasy? When you are doing a film on Dhoni, referencing his entire life, and have to show it in 60-odd seconds, what should be the method for it?” remarks the director and adds, “we went for the metaphoric method.”
The train engine in the ad represents Dhoni’s life in the Indian Railways as a ticket collector. The whites he’s wearing is symbolic of the Indian domestic cricket world and when he breaks the walls and is drowned in blue, it marks his days playing for the Indian national cricket team.
Sawant believes this ad is poetry, where everyone can interpret different meanings, unlike text which feels like words written in a history book. “It is not just an abstract film, everybody can relate to it and they will take their own meaning from it.”
MS Dhoni is the protagonist of this ad, the VFX aspect of it is surely giving him a run for the role. Dharam Valia, founder and executive producer, Hungry Films, the production agency behind the ad, tells us “this kind of VFX is not seen in advertisements but in movies. In ads, you, at best, see VFX being used to create a product towards the end.”
Valia says ideally they’d have to chosen an open desert-like place, constructed the set, and shot the ad but considering the time constraints and the celebrity, they choose another method i.e. VFX which, by the way, “is like a big world and within it, there are several different techniques used to execute commercials and movies,” remarks the executive producer.
It all starts with the previsualization (previs) where, as Valia explains, “the entire film you see is first done in animation… All the actions, all the walls the person has broken, the camera angle, everything is first planned in the previs… the maximum amount of time a director takes is working on a previs.”
Dhoni too saw the previs because, as per Valia, “he has to understand it’s not a conventional ad, there is a lot of action he has to do.” There were stunt doubles, the cricketer choose to do most of the action scenes himself.
A tougher job than the previs, as per the executive producer, is translating it during the physical shoot. “We built lots of walls and did lots of tests with stunt doubles to run through and break the walls to see how it looks and feels, it also works as a reference for CGI companies. In real life, walls break like this so even in CGI, it should break like this. They have a reference when they animate it at the end of the day and are not doing it from imagination,” reveals Valia.
The entire ad took more than half a year, was there ever a worry of shooting over the budget? Responds Valia, “Once you (production house) get the approved script from the agency, you have to estimate the production cost and lock it with the client, after that, you never bring up the topic of money. It is the production house’s responsibility that whatever the execution-style and approach are, finish it in that number.”