Saumya Tewari

Rotary International Celebrates India's Polio-Free Status

India has recently, and finally, been declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation. A campaign released by Rotary International, a company that offers humanitarian services, and has contributed significantly towards this goal, celebrates the achievement.

The recent declaration of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that India is a polio-free country, punctuates over three decades of tireless efforts. Among others, Rotary International, a global organisaton that offers humanitarian services, has been part of the eradication program. The not-for-profit company has launched a celebratory campaign that is currently on air.

Rotary International Celebrates India's Polio-Free Status
The ad film uses animation to depict the story of India's successful struggle against polio. The video is about a little child - the nation personified - who breaks free from the shackles of the disease.

Created by JWT Kolkata, the 90 second long film shows a small boy who is tied down by a seemingly tough vine - possibly, a symbol for the braces or callipers worn by those who suffer from polio - that refuses to loosen its grip around his legs. Just as he appears to be giving up his struggle to pull free, a football hits him.

Curious, he looks at it and smiles. At this point, the camera pulls out a bit, to reveal the background; the boy is sitting on the line of a human palm - the body part that several nations from this side of the globe believe holds clues to one's future, and ultimately, one's destiny. By now, the ball has made its way to the adjoining palm. Determined, the boy gets up and fights with renewed vigour. He breaks free eventually and makes his way over to the other palm, trapeze style, to finally kick the ball in the direction of the viewer.

The film ends when both palms join to form a Namaste, as Amitabh Bachchan's voice-over - reminiscent of his 'Do Boond Zindigai Ke' campaign for UNICEF, that motivated thousands of Indians to a ensure their children were given anti-polio drops - says, "India is Polio Free. When we join hands, miracles happen."

Why animation, why palms?

The visual imagery used in the film is different in that it shows no actual children. Raji Ramaswamy, senior vice president, JWT Kolkata, tells us, a lot of research has gone into making this campaign "visually rich."

Rotary International Celebrates India's Polio-Free Status
Rotary International Celebrates India's Polio-Free Status
She says, "Conversations with polio patients revealed that most of them believed the disease was 'written' in their fate. And it is said that you can't change fate because it's sealed in the lines of your hands. But the news that India is finally polio-free was, in a way, fate-changing. That's where the idea of using hands and fate lines kicked in," she explains. Animation (as opposed to actual actors) has been used in a very conscious attempt to avoid any possible conjectures regarding caste, creed and religion.

Besides celebrating India's victory over polio, the film has another objective - creating interest around Rotary International and stimulating people to volunteer/seek membership. The campaign provides 'Rotarians', or members of over 3,000 Rotary Clubs in India, a "supportive communication environment" and an opportunity to showcase the good work they are doing every day.

Released on the 25th of last month, the film will be on air till the 27th of next month. Two more films, that highlight the initiatives of the Rotary Club in India, are in the pipeline.

Apart from TV, the campaign will be promoted across magazines like India Today, The Week and Outlook. The digital plan includes a specially created micro-site, a Facebook page, Twitter handle and YouTube channel. Rotary clubs across the country will showcase the campaign through outdoor media (including posters) in their respective districts.

Cynthia Palmer-Kenzer, public image grant specialist at Rotary International, reminds us that in 1985 the organisation launched PolioPlus, a global movement to protect children across countries against polio. In 1988, it became a partner to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), along with the WHO, UNICEF, and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Since 1988, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99 percent, from about 3,50,000 cases a year to slightly more than 400 cases in 2013.The coming together of the tremendous efforts of the Government of India, supported by GPEI, has contributed to India becoming polio-free," she states.

As communications experts point out, as far as mass media efforts go, Amitabh Bachchan's 'Do Boond Zindagi Ke' campaign for UNICEF has played a significant role in spreading awareness about polio in India. The campaign, we learn, worked in tandem with Rotary's very own campaign titled 'This Close', one that also features the actor.

Other prominent names from the Indian entertainment industry that have participated in the fight against polio, by featuring in similar campaigns, include actor Anil Kapoor and music composer AR Rahman.

A High-Strung Execution

Suresh Eriyat, founder and director of Eeksaurus, the production house that has designed this campaign, says it took his team around three months to complete the assignment. They used musical instruments like the Birimba (a traditional instrument from Brazil) and Gopichand (or Ektara, a one-string instrument used primarily in the Indian sub-continent) for the background score. They also got kids from the slums of Govandi, Mumbai, to lend their voices for the film, an idea in sync with the "ethos of the campaign", as Eriyat puts it.

Rotary International Celebrates India's Polio-Free Status
"Notice that when the child limps initially, only one string can be heard, but when he gets up and plays, multiple strings can be heard," Eriyat says, about the musical score.

"Senthil Kumar (NCD) from JWT came to us with this interesting concept of 'Haath Ki Lakeer'," shares Eriyat, letting us in on the ideation stage of this campaign, "The brief was simple: Our fate is sealed in the lines of our hands the day we are born. We had to marry this fact with the thought that few drops can enable us to change the life of a new born."

JWT's Kumar says, when Rotary International briefed the agency for this campaign, the idea of spreading the core message without words presented itself immediately - the message that through combined efforts (depicted through the joining hands) it is possible to overcome even the most difficult problems.

Simple, yet touching

Rotary International Celebrates India's Polio-Free Status
Our reviewer, Kailash Surendranath, an animation specialist, feels the campaign has what it takes to hold viewer attention, all through. Each frame, he says, fills one with a sense of patriotic pride. Terming the film "captivating", the director and producer of Kailash Picture Company, says, "Despite the fact that he is a mere line-animated child, I soared with him as he soared and broke free to kick the ball."

Surendranath, who recently worked on contemporising the Amul girl by giving her a 3D avatar, claims the Rotary film managed to elicit an emotional response from him, a rarity amid the on-screen clutter we see today. He compares the ad to landmark 'national integration films' like Mile Sur and Torch of Freedom, and applauds the animation style used by team Eeksaurus. Though very simple, the film, he says, is "stylish enough to be a cut above these old world, Doordarshan-style" films.

A minor detail in the animation really impressed him: "I noticed the hand getting ever so slightly depressed when the boy grips it for support!" he exclaims.

Surendranath sees the film raising interest levels around Rotary International. "It motivated me enough to check the website," he admits. If he had to, what would he change about the film? Well, he'd shorten the boy's struggle a bit, considering the dwindling attention span of viewers today.

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