Director Abhinay Deo won a Gold in the Film Craft category at Cannes Lions 2012 for the ‘I am Mumbai’ campaign for Mumbai Mirror, conceptualized by TapRoot. He talks to Disha Thakker about shooting ‘I am Mumbai’ and the award that celebrates execution over idea for an ad campaign
A well-dressed working professional stops a VIP cavalcade and shouts out on a megaphone. In a vengeful tone, he accuses the minister in the car of dirtying the city’s walls with his political posters, only to be forced away by bodyguards. People driving by watch intently from their cars. Eventually, in the din of traffic, the man’s voice reverberates… ‘I am Mumbai’.
This and many more similar individual vignettes put together make up the ‘I am Mumbai’ campaign for Mumbai Mirror, created by TapRoot and Ramesh Deo Productions. Loud, emotional and condescending were some tags attached to it at the Cannes Lions 2012, but a few jury members of the Film Craft category maintained that they weren’t bored of it even after viewing it 20 times in a row, and awarded it what is India’s first Gold in the category this year. In 2011, Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and Creative Director, South Asia, Ogilvy India won a Gold in the Film Craft category for the agency’s campaign on Indian Railways.
THE HIDDEN TRUTH
Making the ‘I Am Mumbai’ film wasn’t an easy task. Director Abhinay Deo points out that this hard-hitting TV commercial was shot in public places in the city, sometimes without government permissions. But they probably didn’t need permission, as no cameras were to be seen anywhere, just a few enraged Mumbaikars venting their anger against the city in public, as in a street play. “We wanted to capture natural public reactions. We chose places like Flora Fountain, skywalks across the city, a GPO and the Peddar Road bridge and made our actors, who were facing the camera for the first time, to stand alone and shout out their anger,” says Deo, adding that the films were shot with hidden cameras, except the slum children sequence.
This award was another feather in the already decorated cap of Deo, who shot to fame with ‘Delhi Belly’. In spite of having directed 450 ad films earlier, including conceptualizing the famous Cadbury commercial of the girl in the stadium, Deo is more known for the Aamir Khan Production film. His win at Cannes is of added importance because the Film Craft category has been designed to laud the direction and the very craft of filmmaking rather than the idea.
The ‘I Am Mumbai’ multimedia campaign running across TV, Radio, Print and Outdoor has been conceptualized by TapRoot’s Agnello Dias and his team for Mumbai Mirror. “Our brief was to position Mumbai Mirror as the voice of Mumbai using examples of a few stories carried in the tabloid,” informs Priya Gupta, Vice- President, Times of India (Brand). “The film was exactly in line with the brief, thanks to TapRoot’s long partnership with the newspaper. Aggie has worked on the Mirror brand ever since it was launched. And the same can be said about TapRoot that looked after Mirror ever since the agency’s inception,” Gupta adds. Dias and Deo too share a working relationship that goes back more than 15 years, the reason why their mutual thought processes match, and which helped them win the award.
However, if there are bouquets, there are brickbats too. In this case, while one category -- Film Craft -- lauded the commercial, the other -- Film Lions – termed it ‘loud’. To understand this, it is necessary to define the two categories, says Deo. “Craft includes everything from direction, art direction, production design, music, editing, cinematography, etc. The Films category gives more weightage to the idea. The award goes to the agency here, while in Craft, the award is for the production agency and director,” he adds, explaining the two streams of thought. However, this doesn’t prevent him from saying that since the jury was international, they couldn’t understand that the film was meant for Indians who are ‘loud and emotional people’.
A WORTHY CAUSE
A lot of things made this commercial worthy of the accolade, but what stood out the most is the intricate details observed and planted during the shoot.For example, the actors were given their lines just a minute before the shots so that the ‘naturalness’ could be captured well, informs Deo. Also, the models selected turned out to be novices, who had never faced the camera before. This helped add a raw feel to the campaign. Niceties were planted on purpose; for example, the sari of the woman who complains about milk adulteration rides three inches above her feet, making her more acceptable to the aam janta. Also, choosing slum children whose ribs stood out was deliberate, so that when they talked about lack of food, it would seem obvious.
A few more aspects that multiplied the film’s effectiveness was the black and white treatment, about which both TOI and Dias were initially sceptical. “They asked me to shoot in colour and then convert it to B/W if need be. But, when you shoot in B/W, there are certain properties that you get that you would never get by converting later. It adds to the disturbing factor and the grime of the city. The only colour in the film is Mumbai Mirror’s red,” explains Deo.
However, the most important contribution came from Dias, says a modest Deo. Dias was the one who thought of using the megaphone, the medium of announcement that went so well with the ad that it is impossible to imagine the film without it, feels Deo. However, the director needs to be credited for adding the texture of Mumbai to the film. While Dias was of the opinion that the film should be shot at colleges, etc., where announcements can easily be made, Deo believed that it should get bigger than that. Another important aspect that he added to the film was that ‘uneasy’ feeling. “I felt the film should disturb people. They should say we are uncomfortable watching it. That is when we hit the hammer on the head,” he says.
NO RIGHT TO SHOOT
Talking about the making of the commercial, the director remembers the shoot at Bandra skywalk -- the incident in the film where a mother, with her two kids, complains about milk infused with gutter water. When the crew was shooting, sans permissions, a group of cops were seen coming up from the other end. Panic spread and the entire crew had to flee. Everyone got into different modes of transport and congregated at another spot. After a lot of research, they found out about the still under-construction Parel skywalk. Finding people on it would be impossible, so the crew had to form a part of the crowd with a few extras.
When Deo first heard about the commercial from Dias, his first thought was whether Dias was sure the brief was for Mumbai Mirror, and not its broadsheet parent. Many others in the industry too had said that the connect is more with TOI. “But, these are the stories that Mirror broke and not TOI, and therefore this commercial could be made,” says Deo, quoting Dias’s argument and putting the talk about the ‘missing’ brand connect to rest.
Questions have arisen if the commercial, that has won an international creative award, will actually help brand Mumbai Mirror. Many in the industry ask whether international awards should be the measure of effectiveness for a campaign. Only time will tell if the campaign helps raise the numbers for Mumbai Mirror, that has slipped to eighth spot in Q1 rankings of the latest Indian Readership Survey, but it surely has made people sit up and take notice of the brand.
THE FILM CRAFT CATEGORY JUDGING PROCESS
• The jury rewards the quality of Craft as demonstrated in the film-making process. This might take into account, for example, the quality of the direction, copywriting or editing; the skilful use of music or sound design, depending on the category entered. The idea behind the execution in relation to the client or brand should be of little or no consideration to the Craft jury, excepting, of course, that it is often integral to the ad and cannot be ignored completely.
• If the film or ad gives a pleasurable or memorable aesthetic experience, regardless of the subject, product, client or idea, then it may succeed in the Craft categories, even if it is not awarded in the Product and Services categories.
• The jury considers the level of the emotional bond with the work and whether the craft of the work adds something to the idea and pushes the execution.
The 59th International Festival of Creativity shortlisted two out of 33 entries submitted by India under the Film Craft category - Taproot’s ‘I Am Mumbai’ campaign and BBH India’s ‘Tanjore’ campaign for Google Chrome. A total of 1721 entries from 48 countries were submitted to the category. The Grand Prix went to Canal+’s Bear commercial done by BETC Paris.