‘I could have written only about my own ads, but that would have been selfish’

Submitted by admin on Mon, 08/14/2017 - 11:41

KV Sridhar aka Pops talks to IMPACT about his book ’30 Second Thrillers’ that will give readers a peek into the behind-the-scenes action of some of the most iconic Indian ads over the last 40 years.

 

For whom did you write the book ‘30 Second Thrillers’?

The book is aimed at normal people who have been watching and loving advertising for the last 40 years. Everyone has their own favourite ads. I simply tried to curate around 110 ads and wrote about their behind-the-scene stories. While being educative, the book also talks about the history of advertising and how people’s behaviour has changed over the years. The stories are classified into different eras and themes, be it the Doordarshan or satellite era or children and women in advertising, comedy in advertising or celebrities in advertising. I have tried to add a historic perspective.

Can you pick out one or two anecdotes from the ones that you have compiled in the book, that are your particular favourites?

It is difficult to pick out a few favourites. Most people from the ad world have great stories to tell. For example, Piyush Pandey told me about his experience while shooting the Fevicol bus ad where close to a hundred people were sitting on the bus. They had to dig up the entire terrain to ensure that the bus kept swaying on both sides. The bus needed to move at a certain speed to adjust to the track with all the actors inside. Apart from people, there were also goats and chicken on the bus. Close to 30 people had to sit on the bonnet. In the midst of all this, there was a goat which would pee on a little boy sitting beside it every time the bus would start. Every time this would happen, the entire bus would burst out laughing. While he couldn’t change the settings, Piyush warned everybody not to laugh or disturb the boy so that he could go ahead with the shot. It’s a lovely story about what kind of madness goes on during the making of an ad.

Then Alyque modelled Lalitaji from the Surf ads on his mother who would not blink twice before buying a Mercedes but would bargain hard with vegetable vendors. One morning, he got up and saw a swanky Merc parked in the garage. At that time, the car was priced about Rs 10-15 lakh. But the same afternoon, he saw his mother negotiate hard with the sabziwalli over two rupees! When he expressed his surprise, she replied, “Sasti cheez aur achi cheez mein farak hota hai. You buy value not price – it isn’t about the amount of money but the amount of value that I derive out of what I am buying. That is important!” And thus was born the character of Lalitaji! These are just a couple of the lovely stories out there.

When did you start writing the book?

Almost three years back. When the publisher approached me to write a book on myself, I said I was not going to run away from advertising in a hurry so there was a lot of time to write my own book. However, I had always had something like this at the back of my mind. Whenever I would meet people from outside the industry, they would want to know anecdotes about their favourite ads. I could have chosen to write about my own ads but that would have been selfish. All the people in this book have a great body of work. However, many people do not know that a particular ad had been done by Piyush, Prasoon, Balki, Alyque or Josy. I wanted to introduce the people behind the ads to the audience.

How did you zero in on the 23 people who have helped you tell stories in the book?

It was quite a nightmare to start with, as I didn’t know where and how to start. I began by categorizing each period and era and then tried to look at the famous ads during that time. I divided it into four decades. In each decade, there were quite a few ads where I could not trace the people behind them, so I had to leave them out. I chose the commercials first, and then chose the people who created them. I didn’t want to interview the clients, the servicing guys or the planners because the best stories come from the directors or the creative people who have worked on the ads. While writing the book, I realized I have a lot of patience. It is no less than doing a feature film! If Nitesh (Tiwari) took two years for Dangal, I took three years for this book!

Was there anything new that you discovered while writing the book?

In the earlier years, ads would have a proposition that would be dramatized, whether it was the freshness of Liril, or the ‘samajhdaari’ of buying Surf. Even today, there are products and propositions. But ads like Airtel’s ‘Har friend zaruri hota hai’ or ‘Touch the Pickle’, among many others, have been able to cut through the clutter. In those days, there wasn’t a lot of clutter. It was clever selling with an insight and with a proposition. Today, ads have also become very Indianized and we are witnessing a lot of emotional stories. Both marketers and advertising creatives have matured. Back in 1978-79, we used to do 2-minute ads which would be put on the newsreel along with the feature films in theatres. Moreover, at that time, you would see a lot of ads led by imagery, like Suresh Oberoi walking in the hills of Ooty for the Charminar ad. From the 2-minute ads, there has been a jump to 30-second selling ads. We had to unlearn a lot of things and learn from scratch. However, if you only have 30 seconds to tell a story, you need to be far more disciplined. Also, till the end of the 70s, 90% of the ads would talk about Western lifestyles because TV was only available in the metros. Even for ads like Taj Mahal tea, you would see Malvika Tiwari doing aerobics. From there, slowly, we started getting bigger budgets, so we created 1-minute advertising for TV. That was when cricket came into place. Though expensive, we would get a captive audience for a 1-minute commercial. That was when clients started spending on the big burst on cricket for 60 or 90 seconds, and then go on with smaller edits. Now all that is gone; TV advertising is far more transactional. Even the average has come down to 12-13 seconds, which is very sad. How can you tell a story in such a small time-frame? Meanwhile, there are far better story-telling ads on the Internet. Vicks will never advertise a 3-minute video. It’s a powerful, brilliant video which they have created. It’s all about caring families and mothers. Today, you can’t afford a 3-4 minute spot on TV and thus ads on the medium are becoming far lesser. The new generation is hardly looking at TV. Around 90% of TV viewing in the future will come out of OTT platforms. Internet penetration will ensure that nobody sits and watches TV. Advertising on OTT platforms will be completely different where you will be able to skip an ad whenever you want. In such a scenario, unless you do compelling ads and tell engaging stories, you will not be able to survive. Meanwhile, the skillsets needed in youngsters is hardly developing, because a lot of people who are supposed to mentor the next generation are moving to Bollywood. How will the young talent learn to tell stories? We used to learn from the wonderful story-tellers we worked with. I am not saying that there is no talent. But advertising might not be a priority for most of them who are moving to the likes of Amazon and Netflix where they are getting to create great content.

 

A MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION

Mubarak ho! Ladki hui hai! A tryst of a girl; her plight in a country like India, was weaved into a story, where gender discrimination was abhorred and the power of knowledge was celebrated, with the voice and support of none other than, Amitabh Bachchan. Life of Asha began with a line – “Mubarak ho! Ladki hui hai” Her father’s frowning face and her rightful existence was validated, when she was on the hot-seat of KBC and had won a crore. She said, “Mubarak ho! Ladki hui hai”; the ad is one of my personal favourites, it has always brought tears in my eyes. Each time, I talk about it, I feel the lump in my throat. And so I tell to Nitesh, ‘Nitesh it is one of my favourite commercials. You made me proud with this ad. I wish, I had done it! I have presented it at many forums and conferences including New York with subtitles; Each time it has received an overwhelming applause. I am all ears to know about the stories attached to it.

‘I quite remember your reaction, when I had first shared the script with you. You often have called me a “Boys hostel man” and changed the guy protagonist in my scripts, to a girl. But this time, I had scripted the life of a girl. Unfortunately, I could not go to the shoot of the ad. But Ashwini, my wife did go, since she is the Executive Creative Director. She came back from the shoot with loads of experiences from Haryana, which is where we shot. When she narrated the reality to me, I felt proud of being associated with this campaign. The incidents we weaved in our ad were actually a reality there.’


What kind of incidents did she share?

‘She had been to a remote town in Haryana. There, the Mukhiya (Village head) told her and the crew, “6 baje ke baad bahar mat nikalna, kyunki uske baad inn choron pe mera bhi control nahin hota”. One instance, they went out drinking and Ashwini wasn’t allowed in the bar. She was told “Idhar choriyan allowed nahin hai”. When she tried a hookah out there, everyone was scandalized. The women in the village usually are in veil (ghoonghats) and in multiple instances, they would call Ashwini aside and in complete bewilderment would ask, “Aapko allowed hai aise Pant pehen-na?” “Aap kaam karte ho?” They were shocked to know that a girl can work outside and also earn! And in those conversations, Ashwini came across the little dreams of those women. At night, when they sat with Ashwini and served her food, they would often share their dreams, “Meri bhi ek chori hai, mujhe usse padhana hai”. Having lived with the reality for some days, Ashwini had come back really disturbed. She was really hoping that an ad like this would bring in some change in the society. Pops, when you are doing a job for a brand and simultaneously, contributing to the society with the same work, it is a beautiful feeling. I am sure Amit will be able to share a lot more stories on this one. Amit shot all the KBC commercials and we were glad he did. Amit embraced KBC ads like his own baby. One requires such a partnership to dole out successful campaigns. He owned KBC like we owned it and we needed such a commitment from the director of the ad.’

 And for a lot more insights, I turned to Amit
‘Pops! The KBC girl child ad, I decided to shoot in the most difficult location - at a village called Bahadurgarh in Haryana. When I had received the script, the last line of what the girl was to say originally, was on the lines of, “Mein chahati hoon ki aap log apni betiyon ko saraahe, unko aage badhne de”. I wasn’t very happy with this line. I told Nitesh instead of this, can’t we have just one hard-hitting line, which acts like a slap across the face? So he asked, what should we end with? I suggested, “What if we end with the line with which the film started … and make her say, Mubarak ho ladki hui hai!” Nitesh looked at me smiled and said done sir. For safety sake we shot both the lines but went with “Mubarak ho”. Coming back to the shoot in Bahadurgarh - for the first scene we converted a school’s corridor into a hospital. The guy who says, “Mubarak ho lalaji!” is actually the sarpanch of the village. I went to him and asked him if we would act. He replied, “Haan kar lenge! Par karna ke hoga”. So, I explained him the dialogue and he said confidently “Yeh to bol lenge … us mein kya hai”. I narrated him the entire story and asked him whether such things happen. Do people become sad when a girl is born. He agreed and said it happens quite frequently. It made me feel really sad.

(30 Second Thrillers, 333 pages, Rs 499; Excerpted with permission from Bloomsbury Publishing India)

 

Do you think the business of advertising has lost its soul?

It has, in a way. It’s always easy to criticize the younger ones but they are growing up in a new ecosystem. You can’t say that young people are not passionate. However, their delivery systems have changed. They are chasing short films, content creation or technology. At one time, a lot of IIT students used to work in advertising. Nitesh Tiwari is a student of metallurgy from IIT Bombay, Mahesh Chauhan is also an IIT boy. Today, technology and creative have merged. A lot of these IIT guys, some of whom are in my network, are working on Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality filming. However, 20 years ago, you would need to be at least 40-50-year-old to start an industry and nobody would give you a loan. There was no opportunity. Today, even third year IIT students are floating their own start-ups because there are a lot of people who can fund them. A lot of things are changing; the ecosystem will change and so will advertising. Why would passionate story-tellers come here to work on catalogue advertising when they can join a content company and tell stories?
 

@ FEEDBACK srabana@exchange4media.com

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Volume No: 
14
Issue No: 
10