Shreyas Kulkarni

"We used two iPhones; one to shoot and the second to record the audio": Gajraj Rao

The ad director-turned-actor ('Badhai Ho', 'Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan') talks about how he and his son shot an entire ad from their home in two days.

"First and foremost, the script has to be good," says Gajraj Rao. This statement isn't surprising, considering Rao has a theatre background. He utilised the skills he honed during his theatre days to direct over 1,000 ad films, and has also made his mark in movies and web series. Few can identify quality content better than him.

Rao's most recent performance is in a home-made ad film for Voltas AC. He's not only acted in it, but produced it, too, while his son Nikhil (an Ecole Intuit graduate, who now works with Umbrella Design) directed the film.

Rao has been appearing in Voltas AC ads since 2019. The USP of this campaign is the AC's ability to 'maha adjust', meaning depending on the requirement, you can change its tonnage, from one to two ton, or vice versa.

The brand's latest ad shows us Rao go through his daily routine– from making tea in the morning, to loading the washing machine, ironing the clothes, and even chopping vegetables. In other words, we should become 'maha adjustable' and help our family members during lockdown.

"I heard a few scripts, but when Ritu Sharda narrated this one, I found it to be very interesting," says Rao. Sharda is Ogilvy North India's chief creative officer and led the campaign for Voltas.

Ritu Sharda
Ritu Sharda

Sharda said, "We had conceptualised this to be totally in-home, so that we didn't violate anyone's safety. So, Gajraj and his son shot it in their home. And it went beyond our expectations. The Code Red (production house which Rao co-heads with Subrat Ray) team then edited and composed the music from their homes, and put it together."

She continued, "We were lucky that both he and his son were in the same space together, and so it came out well. They tried various takes and angles, and how to shoot each situation. I think they were having a lot of fun doing it. They sent it to us, and we chatted and put together our chosen takes. And then, together, we decided on the lineup."

The reason why Rao discarded other scripts was because he found them to be too infomercial in nature, and he didn't want to only talk about the brand. He revealed that he actually owns a Voltas AC. "I am the brand's end-user. And knowing how it works, being a Tata brand, one gets the feeling that I want to do this."

Rao says the script does speak about the brand, but at the end. It motivates the viewers to adjust to the lockdown in a light and humorous manner.

I'd read in an interview about Piyush Pandey recording his voice inside a closet for an ad, so I recorded my dialogues by burying my head inside a cupboard with blankets."

Because both Rao and his son hadn't made any ad film from home, they decided to do a mock shoot first. Rao cheekily added that he had taken his wife’s permission before the shoot started.

Well, it does make sense because shooting from home means a disruption to everyday life. The ad director-turned-actor said that shooting at home is a far cry from shooting at a studio. "You don't have artificial lights (at home). Whatever you do, you have to do it under natural lights. So, it's important to figure out where the natural light is at its best."

Rao also gushes about his son, "... He's terrific and his design sensibilities are excellent... He leans towards the minimalistic side."

Rao revealed that the shoot took two days and "... We used two iPhones. One to shoot and the second to record the audio. This helped us get clear audio takes. The first day, we shot the kitchen and the morning sequence, and on the second day, we shot the living room sequence."

During the shoot, the father-son duo realised how little control they had over the elements. Rao says, "In a studio, there is an assistant, who says silence and the entire place goes quiet. But here, on the fourth floor we live, silence is hard to find. Kids are walking up and down, there's noise from some work going on, the noise of the water tanker coming inside, and in an hour, we lose the light advantage."

Rao talked about a slight snag they encountered during the shoot. "... One of my dialogues from the kitchen segment was sounding hollow. I'd read in an interview about Piyush Pandey recording his voice inside a closet for an ad, so I recorded my dialogues by burying my head inside a cupboard with blankets."

While shooting is one thing, editing the ad film is equally important. Rao was mindful of this fact, "I was continuously sharing the sequences we shot with my assistant directors, and they were sharing it with our editor Kiran Ghaisas; he's edited most of our films for the last 15 years... He was continuously editing the film at his home and simultaneously giving inputs such as 'This could be shot from close', or 'This could be a profile shot'."

Rao also spoke about music director Ananad Bajpai, and Vipal, a sound engineer, who gave a body and structure to the entire film.

"It was a four-day process," reveals Rao, adding, "... Usually, I collaborate with specialists from the studio, but this was my first experience of long-distance collaboration, and I am very happy that we could achieve this".

Rao now plans to have sound equipment installed at his home, just in case such a situation occurs again. As of now, he's got a lot going for him. Not only is his last movie 'Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan' (Amazon Prime Video) is gaining buzz, but after this Voltas AC ad was released, in his words, "... We've got an offer from a brand where the cast will be in two different cities, and all of it will happen over Zoom."


Agency: Ogilvy India-North

Client: Voltas Ltd.

Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy India-North: Ritu Sharda

Creative Team: Kartikeya Dixit, Siddharth Menon, Jigi Yadav, Saroj Patra, Vikas Tyagi

Writer: (Sam) Soumya Shiva Nagabhushan

Head of Strategic Planning, Ogilvy India (North): Rohitash Srivastava

Planning: Ashwani Sinha

Account Management Team: Atif Rahman, Rohit Sachdev, Saumya Sahni

Production House: Code Red Films

Producers: Subrat Ray & Gajraj Rao