In the last three months, popular ads for Cred, Good Knight, Tide etc have been recreated for the internet. We dig into the who and why of it.
‘Bantai, apun Chatpat, gyan dega sabko jhatpat. Aur ye apni gang!’ (Friends, Chatpat is my name, sharing street wisdom is my game. And this is my gang) That’s how the 10-year-old influencer introduced himself to the virtual world in his first video on his social media page ‘Chatpat ka gyaan’. But he’s not the run-of-the-mill child influencers promoting toys and products. He’s here to share the wisdom he has learnt on the streets and eventually raise corporate funds for the NGO SOS Children’s Villages. And as a ‘return gift’ he and his gang recreate their brand’s popular ads.
While a recent recreation of the popular CRED, where he plays Jim Sarbh with a comical wig on, made him the talk of the town, there’s so little we know of the boy himself. In an interview with afaqs!, Kartikeya Tiwari, National Creative Director, Kinnect, narrates the story of Chatpat’s birth and the evolution of his world.
Though he gained popularity as ‘Chatpat’, the boy and his world is a figment of the digital marketing agency’s imagination, created with the goal of raising corporate funds for the NGO. The Mumbai-based boy’s real name is Akul Baduni.
Chatpat opened the doors to his world last year in November, but the creation of the world began in September when Rakesh Jinsi, president of SOS Children’s Village India, reached out to Kinnect to seek help in generating more corporate donations.
Since funding is a persistent problem that will exist year after year, they wanted to create a long-term platform. They also wanted to create an emotional attachment and influencer marketing seemed the right fit.
“Being an NGO they had limitations on budget. We thought of doing something online, which would be disruptive and impactful in a quick time, but at the same time it should be something long term,” he said.
They decided to have a child seeking help. But they didn’t want to create the stereotypical tragic NGO ads. Tiwari believes that people would be more willing to help those who are helping themselves. So they had the kid saying, “I am willing to create these ads for you with our limited resources but are you willing to help with funds?”
“In India, you need a brand ambassador, typically a celebrity to draw attention towards yourself. We knew this needs one, but not the typical one. Creating an icon of a child seemed the right thing to do. With that came the idea of a 10-year-old child who has set out to become an influencer and in the process, becomes the brand ambassador of SOS as well,” said Tiwari.
"In India, you need a brand ambassador, typically a celebrity to draw attention towards yourself. We knew this needs one, but not the typical one."
They visualised a child who has acquired street wisdom due to his living conditions and his content will be life hacks that come from the streets, but are still applicable to each one of us. It took them about two to three months to develop the concept and create the character. Now came the time to blow life into the idea and they began the hunt for the right child.
Apart from Tiwari, the nationwide hunt for the child also involved Swati Bhattacharya, CCO, FCB India, the film’s director, Amit Roy, casting agencies and several organisations that worked with street kids.
“We couldn't feature an SOS kid. It's a global mandate. So we had to look at other places. A lot of organisations that work with street kids also helped as many of their kids have acting aspirations,” Tiwari said.
After taking physical auditions, which included testing the child’s personality, attitude, confidence, charm and lingo, they finally came down to 40 kids. Now each member of the team had their own picks. And Baduni was clearly not Roy’s and Tiwari’s choice.
“Amit and I were going more for authenticity. In our heads, we were making a documentary. And this particular kid was actually our least favourite choice. He was outright rejected. We felt he was a little too cute and charming. We needed someone who was a little bit more raw and street smart. But Swati was rooting for him and she explained to us that we're not looking for a documentary series but for an influencer. We're looking to get people to open their heartstrings and purse strings and that emotional job needs a charming and cute kid, who has that innocence,” Tiwari explained.
"We're looking to get people to open their heartstrings and purse strings and that emotional job needs a charming and cute kid, who has that innocence."
Baduni’s father, who was a valet driver at a hotel, lost his job during the pandemic and since he had a desire to act he began looking out for auditions. “I remember he came with his mom and dad. He did the acting audition and Amit and I said definitely not this kid. And two days later, that was the kid.”
There’s a story behind the naming of ‘Chatpat’ as well. They wanted to give him a name that sounded like it's acquired from the streets and they zeroed in on Vishnu. But a conversation between Tiwari and Bhattacharya changed everything.
“Chatpat and I have a soul connection because his name is actually born out of my name. My mother calls me Chatpat. Swati and I were on a call once and she said she hates my name because it is so long. She asked me what my mother calls me and I said Chatpat. I used to be a really hyperactive kid and I figured things out very quickly. So they called me that. Swati immediately said now that's a name that sounds like it's acquired because of your characteristics and not simply given by your parents with love. So we named the character that,” she said.
An important aspect of Chatpat is his ‘Mumbaiya’ lingo. And that required some coaching. The team conducted workshops to train Chatpat and his gang of four boys.
“It took him some time to pick up the language. But there were instances when he slipped and went back to being Akul, especially during a radio interview. But he also realised that he had made a mistake and apologised. So he takes it as seriously as all of us. The next time he came prepared and now he can switch between Chatpat and Akul effortlessly,” Tiwari shared.
‘Chabi’ is the whole symbol of his existence. This is highlighted not only with the key hanging down his neck, but also with one of his dialogues in an early video. He describes his life's simple rule, “Chabi karte rehna ka, tala aaj na kal khul hi jayega” (Keep looking for the right key, until all your problems get unlocked). The ‘Chabi’ is a metaphor for ‘Jugaad’.
Chatpat’s world has two key locations- the Dhobighat in Colaba and the area around the huge pipe at Mahim-Bandra junction. Working with kids for the first time and outdoor shooting was a challenging task. They were shooting on hot days. So they had to prepare so well that the kids were exposed to the heat for as little time as possible.
Taking care of the five kids was the number one priority. This meant being their parents on set. From making them mingle with each other to sorting out fights between them, from food to sleep, from games to dancing, they did it all. “Some days the kids would have had a bad morning or an argument with their parents and they're upset now. So we would play games or give them their favourite food to change their moods.”
On a lighter note, Tiwari says his greatest challenge was the kids’ toilet breaks. “A couple of kids in the gang always come to me in the middle of the most crucial shots saying they want to potty. What can we do, but stop for potty time.”
Some of his earlier videos give you tips on mental health, how to seek a raise and how to live rent-free in Mumbai. While the innocence of the boy immediately takes you in, you also feel a sense of discomfort to see a 10-year-old child knowing so much about life. In Tiwari’s words, these videos make you realise 'if we don't raise our kids the streets will'.
Initially they would put out a recreated ad of the brand and then ask the brand to come forward to help. But they were running a few risks here- they were spending a lot of money in the hope that the brand would like the work and donate. But what if they didn’t? So soon they changed the strategy to recreating the ad as a ‘return gift’ for the funding.
The goal was to get corporate India to notice and come forward to work with SOS. While they have raised a good amount of money, Tiwari stresses that the biggest win is the amount of awareness created for SOS.
Since November they have onboarded brands like Tide, Cred, Unilever, Godrej, Neeman’s, DaMENSCH among others.