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Cannes 2015: India has earned its respect at the festival: Piyush Pandey

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Cannes 2015: India has earned its respect at the festival: Piyush Pandey

For more than 20 years, ad guru Piyush Pandey has attended the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, not missing a single year. He has seen it evolve, made those human connections that are so dear to him, sang on the streets of Cannes, made friends with a cafe owner and named a place ‘Baabul ki galiyaan’...

According to Pandey, as life evolves, the festival does too... “When I first came here in 1994, there were only five of us from India - Rajiv Agarwal from Nexus Enterprises who was on the jury, Pradeep Guha, Kailash Surendranath, one person from Purnima Advertising and me. Those were happy days because we didn't have anything to win or lose. We didn't even know what it was all about, we just came to attend, of course going to more sessions than we do today,” says Pandey, adding that nowadays agency honchos (including him!) plan for more meetings by the sides of the festival than for the festival itself.

He recalls the time when India had its first shortlist in 1995, for an ad for Cadbury's Perk. “That year, Sonal Dabral was with me and we were so happy that we had a shortlist... those were the early days of Cannes when the jury members from India were not creative people, they were heads of agencies, probably it was their way of involving agencies by calling heads to be jury members. Slowly it evolved, more people started coming, categories increased, media evolved... from what used to be a primarily Print, Television and poster festival, today we have 13 judges from India, almost every jury has an Indian on it...,” recounts Pandey.


Pandey says India has made its presence felt year after year... there have been ups and downs, but now India is taken seriously at the festival. “Culturally, we are so different from what happens here, so much so that none of our movies have done well at the Oscars or at Cannes. If you compare with Indian cinema, I think advertising has done a lot better, we have earned more recognition than the movie industry in India has been able to. The cultural fit is a little different. India will always have that disadvantage, but if you look at the last 17-18 years, I think we are a very respected country when it comes to advertising. Some years we win more, some years less. We weren't respected here in 1995....but now we are,” Pandey states.

He says that India falls short in some aspects like packaging, because packaging costs serious money, and the kind of case studies people put together would entail the cost of an entire film. “We must do our best to make our work presentable, but should we change our style of working? No. We are loved on the streets of India for our work... I’d say don't lose that for winning here... I have said it for 25 years and I will keep saying it till the time that I am alive,” Pandey says with emotion.

As for conveying the message in Indian ads, he says it is a fairly large jury in every category, and we are always at a disadvantage because they don't understand us...”When they do, it's great, but it is difficult to understand us as we are culturally so different. Emotion is so important to us as a country. The funny bit is that a lot of American advertising wins in Cannes, and most of America hates American advertising...we don't win in Cannes, but most of India loves Indian advertising. That is the key point,” he observes.


Pandey has seen the festival grow bigger, seminars increase, number of clients at the festival grow over the years. “It's become a networking place for everybody. Over the years, the most sought after session used to be the new directors’ showreel. It still is very good. You have got speakers like Monica Lewinsky coming here, movie stars... it's getting richer in terms of its experience,” he says.

“The direction it is moving in, it has become more of a festival than just an award show. And that is what it should be... and that is what we should learn in India... that it is not about awards, it has to be a little richer. It has to be sprinkled with a number of activities that involve our lives...” Pandey adds. “Cannes is a great meeting place... I catch up with those that I have known, catch up with the world that is changing and the world for youngsters to get inspired...For me it is not an award show place anymore, it is a festival.”


Over the years, Pandey has found a friend in Jean Michel, who runs a bistro called Casanova at Cannes. Pandey calls him ‘Giridhari’, and always carries a gift for him. Michel always receives him with a warm hug.

It turns out that in the early years, all delegates from India ended up staying in a hotel called Touring, which was the cheapest option available in Cannes. The Casanova bistro is right behind the hotel, and people got into the habit of shouting down for tea and food from the hotel’s balconies which overlooked the bistro. The impromptu India hub apparently had people talking to each other across balconies, enquiring about thepla and achaar! “I remember Mahesh Mathai and me walking on the beach at six in the morning, not having gone home the entire night... and there was the bistro downstairs and Jean Michel... before we arrived every year, he used to go buy ginger for me because I always wanted ginger tea in the morning...,” Pandey recalls. “When we didn't have money, we had more fun.”

Pandey’s brother Prasoon adds that they taught Jean Michel how to make masala omelettes, and once he started making good omelettes, they christened him Giridhari. Pandey also named Le Suket, a cobbled stone street, as ‘Baabul ki galiyaan’. “The code word was ‘Guys! Let’s go to Baabul ki galiyaan for you know what! We have been a crazy bunch of fun people. A guy with a guitar used to come to our table and sing for money. So Kailash Surendranath took his guitar and sang, we took his hat and passed it around, and collected lots of money for him!” Pandey recounts.


It must be a world record that there are three judges from one family at a festival, jokes Piyush Pandey. This year, his nephew Abhijit Avasthi, niece Ashima Avasthi and brother Prasoon Pandey are on three different juries.

Prasoon’s son Aayushman, a budding film-maker who is already winning accolades, is attending the festival. “Jury mein koi kam pad gaya toh we have quite a few,” Pandey says with his hallmark laugh.

At Cannes’ Majestic Hotel, where we meet for the purpose of this interview, Piyush, Prasoon and Aayushman Pandey seem to be having a jolly good time!


(Transcription credit: Saloni Dutta)

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