IMPACT Annv Spl: Sumanto Chattopadhyay on 7 ad films that tell a better story

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Executive Creative Director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather, writes about the seven ad films that tell a story better that Bollywood films...

e4m by Sumanto Chattopadhyay
Updated: Nov 25, 2011 9:19 AM
IMPACT Annv Spl: Sumanto Chattopadhyay on 7 ad films that tell a better story

Is it that hard to tell a story better than a Bollywood flick? Not really, I say. Here are seven examples of ad films that have done a great job at telling us stories that we enjoyed. As a tribute to Bollywood, they are presented in random order, much like the plot sequences in our movies seem to be…

While Bollywood cinema is trying to become more international in its look and feel, some of our ad films have already arrived at that ideal. The new Fox Crime commercial is a case in point. The commercial is, appropriately, a whodunit. A beautiful woman involved with two men. Incriminating photographs. A car explodes into flames – with someone inside. Murder! But what’s the motive? Who’s the killer? Indeed, who’s the victim? A series of edits of this film are aired. Each one seems to point to a different guilty party – just as the shadow of suspicion falls on different individuals at different points in any great crime movie. The films end with an invitation to the viewer to go to the Fox Crime website to solve the ‘photographs case’ online.
Eventually you get to see the complete film that tells you what really happened.
The twists and turns of this crime thriller, flawlessly directed by Shashanka ‘Bob’ Chaturvedi, bring out the detective in you.

While movies are often made to launch new actors, it’s not often that a commercial serves as a debut vehicle for a star. Yet no first appearance has caused as big a stir as did that of Aishwarya Rai – when she was discovered by director Prahlad Kakkar and launched in his Aamir Khan-starrer Pepsi commercial.

In this ad film, Aamir’s pretty new neighbour (Mahima Choudhury) rings the door bell and asks for a Pepsi. Aamir has run out of Pepsi but, not wanting to make a bad impression, he jumps out of his window, almost gets run over, then manages to slide under the closing collapsible gate of his neighbourhood store to buy a Pepsi. He retraces his steps and gives the Pepsi to Mahima casually as if he got it from his fridge. That’s when there is a knock on the door and Mahima says, “That must be Sanju.” On cue, Aishwarya walks in and says, “Hi, I’m Sanjana, got another Pepsi?”

With that statement, Aishwarya walked not only into Aamir’s apartment, but into India’s collective consciousness. Years later, we love her, we hate her, but all that’s irrelevant. It was her rare beauty that mesmerised us in the moment of her cameo for Pepsi and that is what still enthralls us.

Incidentally, like many Bollywood films, this ad was a remake – of a popular American Pepsi commercial starring Michael J. Fox.

Raymond’s The Complete Man ad of yesteryears is a classic. A young man returns to his hometown after a long absence. He went elsewhere and found his fortune but his strong values bring him back to his roots. He is searching for his childhood friend who seems to have vanished. His family no longer lives where they used to, complicating matters. Eventually, he finds his friend – who has become a recluse. He is living in humble circumstances and is wheelchair-bound. But all this does not diminish the bonds of friendship. Despite the fact that their lives have turned out so differently, our hero and his friend are able to bridge the gap.

It’s an epic story that is told successfully in a short duration format by director duo Namita Roy Ghose and Subir Chatterjee. Every image, every subtle expression carries the story forward. It’s difficult not to be moved by this tale of values and friendship triumphing over separation and tragedy.

Seeing a very young Shernaz Patel and Rahul Bose in the film make one realise that it’s an old film. But the story-telling certainly stands the test of time.

Social ills and injustices have been recurring themes in Bollywood. While such topics do not usually find expression in ads, casteism was the subject of an interesting commercial for Idea. The plot: Members of two castes are at loggerheads. The village headman (Abhishek Bachchan) decrees that here on, the villagers will not be known by their caste names but by their cell phone numbers – thereby erasing one of the most obvious differentiators between the two groups, helping ease caste violence and paving the way for the villagers to live in amity. This ad, which was directed by Amit Sharma, introduced the line ‘What an idea, sirjee’, which has since passed into popular culture.

Regional cinema has been known for its superior quality, often inspiring Hindi movies – be it in terms of storyline, treatment or technique. An equivalent in the genre of advertising films is the Tamil classic – the Asian Paints ‘Pongal’ commercial directed by Rajiv Menon. This early Asian Paints ad celebrates tradition. It’s a story of a son’s homecoming and a mother’s love. When the son makes it back just in time for the puja, the mother is overjoyed. Her face crumples with emotion for an instant as she greets her son happily – it is an image that is so real, so expressive of the essence of the Indian mother, it stays with you.

This commercial is quintessentially Indian in character. Though this quality would hardly be surprising in a commercial of today, when this ad was made there was a bias towards Westernised milieus in advertising. This ad helped show the way to embracing Indian aesthetics and themes in our advertising.

Indian movies are almost always musicals. The music plays a prime role in the film. Whether it is a box office success or not often depends on whether the songs are a hit or a miss. So it is, at times, with ad films as well. The latest example is the Airtel commercial directed by Ram Madhvani. Har ek friend zaroori hota hai. Everybody is singing it. The song’s a hit = the ad’s a hit. In a good Bollywood film, the songs take the story forward. In this ad, the song tells the entire story of the film – with the visuals as support. A film becomes popular when people identify with it. In this case, viewers are slotting their friends according to the different archetypes described in the ad, and thereby linking the film to their lives.

Family values have been the focus of many a Bollywood tear-jerker. But, for me, the ad film that brings out family values in the most touching manner is not an Indian one, but one directed by Yasmin Ahmad for the Singapore Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.

The film is set at a funeral. Its story is told through a speech in which the widow pays tribute to her dead husband – as is conventional at funerals. But there is nothing else conventional about the situation. The lady is of Sri Lankan origin and the man of Chinese ethnicity. She begins her speech by saying that what she is going to talk about might make her audience uncomfortable: the marital bed. She imitates her husband’s loud snoring and goes on to talk about his ‘rear end wind action’ – that would actually wake him up! We hear laughter of embarrassment from the audience at her inappropriate albeit funny speech.

But she suddenly turns sombre. She looks at her husband’s portrait and talks about how ill he became towards the end. At that time, she said, it was his nocturnal sounds that let her know that he was still alive.

It is these imperfections that make someone perfect for their loved one, she says. And now there is not a dry eye in the house – on-screen or off. She wishes that her children, who are present, may also get such perfect life partners.

Yes, a funeral speech which talks about snoring and farting can make us identify with a woman’s love and loss and to cry for her.

There you have it. Seven ad films that tell a story beautifully. When you consider that ad film directors are usually given less than a minute to tell a story, one appreciates their tale-telling prowess all the more.

(Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather.)

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