Shreyas Kulkarni

"The writing was finished in one night": Arjun Mukherjee, Wunderman Thompson

The VP and ECD at Wunderman Thompson, Kolkata on the agency's tribute film to the city it calls home, writing the script, and how it was made from home.

If you could do only one thing in the city of joy, then you must attend the Kolkata Derby – the football match between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. A rivalry which goes back nearly 100 years, it is also one of the best events you can see in the city.

The football match and the passion among the club supporters mirror the soul of Kolkata. Nothing brings the city alive like sports, culture, and arts.

Arjun Mukherjee, vice president and executive creative director, Wunderman Thompson, Kolkata, says, "This is still the capital of culture, where prose and poetry are still respected more than riches and fame."

Kolkata is, undoubtedly, India's intellectual and artistic capital.

Recently, Wunderman Thompson India's Kolkata team decided to pay tribute to the city it calls home in a short, black and white film called 'Kolkata Rising'.

"If nostalgia has a colour then it would be black and white," says Mukherjee of the three-minute-long film.

The script in the background by voice-over artist Karishma Siddique Roy talks about everything the city is known for – famine, war, riots, political slogans, football, trams, flower market and, of course, its people.

The latter part of the ad is about the present, when the city has closed itself because of the Coronavirus. It reminds one of the city's unbreakable spirit, and how it will overcome and rise through respect, love and compassion.

The film looks and feels quite personal, as if it was created and written for someone special.

Arjun Mukherjee
Arjun Mukherjee

Mukherjee, who wrote the script and directed the film, agrees, "I grew up in North Kolkata, where houses and lanes are as old as the oldest structures of this over 300-year-old city. Every time one takes a walk through those historic parts, it’s as if you are going back into the comfortable arms of an old friend, or flame."

"And, the most beautiful way one can express feelings to a lover is through poetry, a personal ode that resonates of good times and bad, and never-ending love for each other that’s timeless," he adds.

Mukherjee says that he finished writing the script in one night because "... I tried to bring out all the emotion and innermost feelings that one can express at one go."

Was the film made because of the virus, or was it a planned idea? Mukherjee says it wasn't a planned tribute, but a sudden urge to pay a rousing homage to the city that has embraced everybody, including him, time and again.

He says, "Kolkata is a metaphor of happiness. Every lane and street celebrates life. Until now... when gloom and silence have spread over the city because of the pandemic. This film is a humble reminder that this abode of ours has seen many downs in the past, but has shrugged them off to rise again. The idea was to lift the gloom that has fallen over the city with stunning images that will speak of resurrection, hope and good times ahead."

On the black and white treatment in this day and age, Mukherjee says, "Black and white, that is the play of light and shadow, can sometimes express a visual sensation much better than colours ever do."

He continued, "Most importantly, the black and white treatment was an elaborate setup to unleash some breathtaking colours at the very end that inject positivity and talk of better days to come. In fact, a lot of people loved the sudden visual transformation to colour and said that it lifted their spirits and made them happy. Also, I wanted to do justice to the stunning pictures. We chose a few from amongst almost 500 pictures. I wanted the experience to be like a visit to an art gallery, slow and unhurried, where one gets enough time to feel the vibe and intensity of each picture."

So, how was everything, from collecting the photographs to the shots to the voice-over to the editing, executed from home?

"The starting point was Wunderman Thompson, Kolkata. In fact, the idea to do something creatively for Kolkata came from the branch head Vijay Jacob, who is not from the city, but loves its vibe...," Mukherjee replied.

"As we started curating the first set of pictures, we spread the word. Professional photographers, friends from other agencies and visual artists agreed to join in. After a day, we called a group, Instagrammers of Calcutta, and they jumped in wholeheartedly. All this was done over phone/video calls, and screen sharing."

Mukherjee continued, "It wasn’t easy to check edits after edits from home, or discuss the mood with the voice-over artist over the phone and make her re-record multiple times. At the end of the day, when the cause is good, for a city that has been generous to all, the stumbling blocks don’t matter and everything worked beautifully."