Sohini Sen

H&R Johnson: A Story of Solutions

The tile manufacturing company created a ramp in one of Goa's beaches to make it accessible to physically-challenged visitors, and captured the initiative on video.

YouTube has been abuzz with videos on physically-challenged and differently-abled people who fought the odds and emerged stronger. At first, these made people moist-eyed; but lately, the videos are losing steam with so many of them vying for audiences' tears.

Busting this trend is a new film from H&R Johnson. Created by Soho Square Mumbai, the digital film talks about the one-day activation carried out on a beach in Goa. It does not tell a story, but gives a solution instead - that of accessibility.

H&R Johnson: A Story of Solutions
The film opens with Soho Square's Anuraag Khandelwal sharing his personal story. He says that being an independent man, the idea of someone helping him to get down to the beach in front of his daughter, makes him feel helpless. Another story shows how it is possible to write books, dream big and make those dreams come true - but not be able to get to the beach just because the wheelchair cannot go down the sandy path. H&R Johnson came up with a solution. The company, known for tiles and bath fittings, used its tiles to make a path which leads to the sea in Goa's Keri beach. The film ends with the question that if one ramp in one beach for one day could bring about such a change in some people's lives, what would be the impact if it was done on a larger scale?
H&R Johnson: A Story of Solutions
H&R Johnson: A Story of Solutions
H&R Johnson: A Story of Solutions
"H&R Johnson was looking to appropriate a larger good to the brand," explains Sushil Matey, COO, H&R Johnson. "We did evaluate a few initiatives, but this one appealed the most to us because of its need in India and its uniqueness and scalability. We expect this movement to gain traction as more people, Government bodies and NGOs participate in it. We, at H&R Johnson, shall be happy to contribute to this noble cause."

The film, though only a momentary solution to the problem of making public spaces accessible to everyone, stands apart from previous videos which have dealt with physical ailments because, here, the protagonists are self-fulfilled, confident individuals.

"When we started to look at characters, we knew we did not want anyone who looked dependent. The Hindi word 'laachaar' was what we consciously wanted to avoid. Instead, our characters are strong; they have achieved success in their own little ways. They are also comfortable being what they are," explains Khandelwal, national creative director, Soho Square.

The motto of the film was to create awareness. Going to the beach is something we take for granted or for that matter even simpler things like getting into a restaurant or coffee shop. Let alone new-age hang-out spots, even temples in India have hundreds of steps, and senior citizens who suffer from different age-related ailments visit the temples regularly.

"The issue is just so apparent, but no one thinks about it. We take it for granted. But, I know from my own experience how it can be. You see, people want to help. But, I want people to help people to help themselves. Because we can do it - we just need a little bit of the opportunities," adds Khandelwal.

"Our society in not really sensitised to the needs of the differently-abled people. We hope this initiative sensitises people at the least. The intent is to make people think, 'hey, this place doesn't seem very welcoming to a physically-challenged person," agrees Satish DeSa, ECD and creative head, Soho Square.

Doesn't the brand think it is joining the do-good cause a bit late? From embracing stammering to fighting cancer, autism to vision loss - a lot has already been explored.

"I cannot think that our film is about misusing the plight of someone who may have been physically disadvantaged. We are doing something, in our small way, which can make a change in someone's life. And, we are already in talks with NGOs to take it forward. We will also be using geo-tagging to ask people where they think the next ramp should be built. It's not about selling our product; this is about sensitising people towards a cause," adds Matey.

Does the ad inspire change or come across as just another tearjerker?

H&R Johnson: A Story of Solutions
Prathap Suthan, Bang in the Middle's managing partner and chief creative officer, is impressed, because, to him, the film which touches all the right spots.

"Absolutely inspirational. However, I think, as someone who initiated this, Johnson should work with the Government to offer tiles to build permanent paths. This should not just end with the hope of one mere film. They should drive this into an activity, and, hopefully, build on the conversation they have started to make this into continuing reality. It is true that our country doesn't have a heart for listening to the needs and anticipating the needs of the physically challenged. It is appalling when you compare the staggering statistics of the number of people we have to the facilities that smaller countries bring to their equally challenged citizens. This is a beautiful initiative, and it should be made into a permanent nationwide sensitivity and activity to build more of these. Not just for those who are bound by wheelchairs, but also the hearing impaired, visually challenged etc," Suthan says.

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