ABHINAY DEO: Excel Entertainment; Big Flicks: Delhi Belly, Game, Force 2
WATCHING Star Wars in 1977-78, when Abhinay Deo was about seven or eight years old, left him taken aback a little. “Films have the power to make you believe that a world like that (Star Wars) exists. If it can do this so convincingly, then for me it is a medium stronger than any that I have known,” he says. “To make somebody’s mind believe for two or three hours that this exists, that was the biggest moment for me.”
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Even before joining advertising he was clear about his goal to pursue filmmaking.
Deo wrote his first script at 14 and showed it to his father. His father urged him to finish his education instead. This led him to study architecture and work for a year, post which he joined advertising. Deo finds advertising to be a very structured form of art.
“In India, filmmaking, when I joined it 20 years ago, was formulaic. The making process was not very well defined,” Deo says. He enjoys the spontaneity, a certain level of rawness that filmmaking brings to the table while also admiring the process-centred discipline advertising makes you follow.
SHOOJIT SIRCAR: Rising Sun Films; Big Flicks: Vicky Donor, Madras Cafe, Piku, Pink
For Sircar, advertising happened by chance. With a background in theatre, he is more of a film director that an ad filmmaker.
The purpose of creating content is the most important thing for him. “At the end of the day, when you are making a film, you are having a very direct, heart-to-heart conversation with the audience,” he notes. “It’s your own perception, vision and treatment.” The connection, in this case, with the audience is far higher, and so is the recognition. What Sircar takes from advertising is the skill to get casting right, the craft of it, the art direction and the nuance of telling a story — how simple or complex it may be. The two mediums — films and advertising — although both means of communicating ideas, Sircar believes, are not related when it comes down to telling stories.
In advertising, he observes, people who watch your work, know that you are trying to sell them something at the end of the day. “When you start selling, people will respect you as a maker of that content. But the flipside is, people don’t like you.”
NITESH TIWARI: Big Flicks: Chillar Party, Bhoothnath Returns, Dangal
A Leo Burnett hand, Tiwari, currently riding on the success of his latest movie, Dangal, saw filmmaking as an alternative way of staying in the field of storytelling while exploring new horizons. What also attracted him was the kind of freedom that it brings.
He no longer felt bound by a tight brief, less time or budget constraints. This, he says, allowed for the exploration of a new creative side which couldn’t be done in advertising. “What advertising taught me and my team is that writing is always to an insight even if it is for an open brief. We tried to utilise our learnings on human behaviour while creating certain scenes,” he says. He and his team now excel at optimising all available scenes without trying too hard. He credits this to the discipline, craft and understanding of human behaviour picked up from his days in advertising.
Being a director has made him more careful though, especially about time. “The budgets in advertising, compared to the duration for which you shoot, are pretty decent. They are decent in Bollywood as well but certainly not as luxurious as in advertising,” he observes. “It also has to do with the time for which you get to shoot. In advertising, you can shoot for a 45-second ad within two days. In a feature film, on an average you shoot for two to three minutes in a day.”
He reminisces about his father reluctantly agreeing to his decision of joining advertising. “When Chillar Party got the National Award, the pride on my father’s face was a nod of appreciation,” he recalls.
RAM MADHVANI: Equinox Films; Big Flicks: Taare Zameen Par, Neerja
Madhvani grew up in a small town called Barsi, just outside Firozpur, which had four theatres. Since Madhvani’s family knew the theatre owners, he remembers, being able to walk into any of the four theatres at nine or 10 years of age and have a small chair pulled up for him. Calling it the world’s greatest place to be at, at that age, he recalls, “I started by looking at it from the audience’s perspective and then wanted to give them an experience where they could forget themselves and then in a way, remember themselves. This was the first awakening for me.”
At 16, he wanted to be a film director. He enrolled in a filmmaking course in New York University. On returning, Madhvani joined Equinox Films as a trainee. “I found advertising to be something that I was passionate about. It is temporary because I don’t do it all the time but paradoxically also permanent because the shelf life is so long,” he notes. Advertising, he says, teaches you what and how you have to say, and very importantly, to be able to predict what the audience should feel. It is about applying the same process to filmmaking — predicting what the audience ought to feel when they walk out of the cinema hall. He has just finished working on a McDonald’s ad. He speaks about the risk factor of becoming a film-only person. “You keep thinking, in advertising, that since you are making feature films they will forget you. So, you are constantly nervous about that. It is a daily struggle to send out messages to people that you are still doing both.”
RAVI JADHAV: Big Flicks: Natarang, Balgandharva, Timepass
Jadhav’s realisation that filmmaking is what he wants to move to is a combination of the childhood interest he held in theatre and the creative ideas he penned at FCB Ulka. He remembers how his boss kept reminding him, in jest, that the script will not fit in a 30-second spot and the client doesn’t have the budget for a two-minute ad. The longing to tell long format stories remained. By 2006-07, Jadhav had started thinking about ideas that could be explored via movies. That’s when Natarang started taking shape.
He eventually made the move into filmmaking, but with the agency’s encouragement and confidence that he would be welcome if he ever chose to come back. That motivated him to pursue his interest. His father, however, did not see it that way. “My father was shattered on knowing that I wish to make films, starting a career from scratch,” he shares. “My wife however understood my need to explore this creative side of mine.”
Advertising, he says, taught him how to handle pressure. The friends he made in adland are among the people that are still sounding boards for his ideas. He notes he’s gone from churning out two to three campaign ideas in a week — not knowing whether they will be accepted or rejected by the client — to making a film. A sea change.
“There was a time when certain pieces of advertising work inspired how films are made. And now you are starting to see films that are glossier, sleeker, more modern in how they are made given that a lot of advertising hands are finding their way to various departments of filmmaking,”
RESNSIL D’SILVA: Big Flicks: Ungli, Rang De Basanti, Kurbaan
D’Silva started writing for Aks in 2001. Back then, not many were thinking about shifting to films from advertising. From adland’s perspective, it was an uncool thing to do. By around 2008, people had just started wanting to move to films.
“I’ve seen people going from seeing Hindi films as not-so-cool to the days of advertising talent wanting to enter films,” he muses.
He shares that back then, advertising was in a far better shape than it is today. People were more comfortable; there was the madness, fun and excitement
Juggling both wasn’t easy. “I never let my advertising work suffer. I used to write for films in the night, between 11pm to 4am, after I finished my day in advertising,” he shares.
“When Karan Johar offered me to direct Kurbaan I went to Piyush (Pandey) and told him about the offer.” D’Silva was in a bit of a fix because Pandey had entrusted him with the mandate of starting and running Ogilvy’s sister concern, Meridian (now Soho Square).
“But he was very warm and told me it was a great opportunity and that I should do it,” recalls D’Silva.
His interest to pursue filmmaking stemmed from wanting to tell stories in long format, apart from being a movie buff himself. Life, he says, has come full circle, as people have started talking about web series’ or long format ads — the digital video content. While films allow him to tell stories, advertising is where he thinks people still talk about an idea. “Otherwise it is very tough to discuss ideation,” he says.