Advertising Interviews

Prahlad Kakar

Ad Guru | 26 Oct 2012

Films today have become boring and predictable, unlike those of the olden times. The art of storytelling is distorted. If in a 30-second commercial you can’t surprise people, can’t make them smile or sad, you might as well not do it. If you are only doing it for the money, then why do it?

Known for his brand of irreverent humour and memorable brand building campaigns, Prahlad Kakar is the doyen of Indian advertising. The ad guru, cigar connoisseur, gastronome and restaurateur, globe trotter and scuba diver is the brain behind campaigns such as Pepsi’s ‘Yehi hai right choice baby! Aha’, Gold Spot’s ‘The Zing Thing’, Maggie’s ‘2 minutes’, Britannia’s ‘Ting Ting Ti Ting’, Limca’s ‘Zor ka Jhatka’ and Maggi Sauces’ ‘It’s different!’, which have remained etched in our memories.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Twishy, Kakar speaks at length about how the ad filmmaking business has changed over the years, the growing importance of technology, his favourite ads and much more...

Q. How has the ad filmmaking business changed since the time you set up Genesis in 1977?

When we started in the industry, it was very young and nobody pretended to be an expert. They were also very trustworthy, not only the agencies but also clients, which is why they used to repeat them so often, so it was almost like a business relationship.

But there are a lot of multinationals and MBAs, and as far as filmmaking is concerned, they want to know everything about everything. By doing an MBA you can’t learn everything, you only can learn it through experience. Films today have become boring and predictable, unlike those of the olden times. The art of storytelling is distorted. The youngsters of today who are in advertising are totally at risk, they like to stay in the middle ground and not do anything controversial or different.

Q. Do you think overuse of computer-generated imagery (CGI) is somewhat killing the beauty of storytelling in today’s ads?

Today, we are tech savvy and tend to use a lot of technology and special effects and all this makes up the content, but that’s not true art of telling a story. CGI works best when it is invisible, when it actually helps the storytelling, so then you notice it is there. But if it stands out of a story, then you defeat the whole purpose of using CGI.

Q. What goes on in your mind when you set about transforming an ad script to what we finally see on the screen? Which aspects do you focus on?

Human interest, casting, location, smell of reality and not to make it so good that it looks unreal.

Q. You had assisted Shyam Benegal on some of his films. When do we see you coming out with a full-length feature film?

Having abstained for so long and enjoying myself so much, it is actually a scary proposition to go back to proving myself all over again. There is a very strong desire to make a feature because I realise that if you want to tell a story properly, you have to make a feature.

Q. Who are the emerging talent in ad filmmaking that has made you sit up and take notice?

All the youngsters in my office; we are a training ground where we train some of the best. Some of them are ex-Genesis students.

Q. From your vast repertoire of ad films, which are the ones that you consider to be your best and why?

I don’t think that any of them is best. If I had to do them, I’d do them all over again.

Q. Which are some of the ads that you would rate as your all-time favourites and why?

No favourites, just sentiments. I am very sentimental about a Pepsi commercial that I had done with Aishwarya Rai, because it was with her.

Q. Ad guru, ad filmmaker, restaurateur, cigar connoisseur, scuba diver – how do you juggle so many roles? Which role is the closest to your heart?

I am a certified scuba diving instructor and have two schools, one in Andaman and the other in Lakshadweep islands. I don’t juggle all these roles. I just decide what I want to do, when I want to do and I do it. I don’t try and justify them and don’t explain myself to anyone, I just disappear.

I don’t keep any of these roles close to my heart. If I’m bored with scuba diving, I do ad filmmaking and when I’m bored with that, then back to scuba diving. It depends if I get to dive with a beautiful women or if its filmmaking, I get to work with a great actress, then I do it. I’m a man of very small and simple taste and most of them revolve around women.

Q. What is your idea of humour?

If there was no humour I’d be suicidal and I’d probably kill myself. The only thing that saved me is humour. I find everything funny. In fact, greater the tragedy, the funnier I find it.

Q. What do you hate in a script? What is the key to a successful ad film?

I hate mediocrity, predictability and the obvious. If in a 30-second commercial you can’t surprise people, can’t make them smile or sad, you might as well not do it. The craft of filmmaking is at one stage to touch people’s lives with a story that is about your brand. If you are only doing it for the money, then why do it? It is about the kind of story you tell.

Q. When you look back at your long innings in advertising, at what points do you wish you could go back and re-do things in a different way?

Nothing! Everything was an accident, everything was deliberate and I’d love to leave it like that.

Q. How do you engage students in a meaningful dialogue at various institutes?

During my recent interaction with students at the Goa Institute of Management, I advised them not to waste time fantasising, but just do it. That high level of shouldering responsibility is not there for a young student, so they should enjoy life to the fullest.

We should be able to handle rejection, the most attractive thing in a man is handling rejection, if he or she handles rejection with grace and humour, without it letting him down, then he is always acceptable at everyone’s table.

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