Rewind: When a HelpAge India ad showed a character facing social isolation for decades

The ad film was created 14 years ago by Manish Bhatt & Raghu Bhat, and was directed by Shoojit Sircar

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Apr 3, 2020 12:09 PM
HelpAge India Ad

While the world is grappling with social distancing and isolation for some weeks now, there are certain people that have been going through it for decades even before the onset of COVID-19. A creative gem created for HelpAge India, 14 years ago by creative duo Manish Bhatt and Raghu Bhat when they were both creative directors at McCann Erickson, directed by Shoojit Sircar that put the spotlight on the topic made us want to look back at the spot. It made us mull over its relevance in today’s scenario with several countries around the world practising quarantine.

The ad opens up to an old man making a phone call inquiring about his loved ones. He picks up the telephone receiver and dials a number. After waiting for a while, he speaks into the phone, “Hello…Kantaprasad bol raha hoon. Happy Anniversity! Haan…aur theek hai? Sandhya bata rahi thi ki uske husband ki transfer ho gayi hai….haan. Pinky bolne lagi hai? Zara Pinky se baat karaiyo…” After a while, the camera zooms to the telephone cord revealing that it is in fact cut off.

Manish Bhatt, now the Founder and Director, of Scarecrow M&C Saatchi said that the idea stemmed from a story they read in the newspaper about an old Christian man in Bandra who died in his home.”Since the man lived alone (with a pet dog as his sole companion), his body was discovered seven days later when his neighbours complained about a peculiar smell from the house. Extreme hunger led the pet dog to feed on his master’s body. It was gory and really stayed on our mind,” Bhatt revealed.

Research indicated that 37% of Indians live and die alone, something that also set the backdrop of the idea. “It took inspiration from a scene in the Bollywood film, ‘Koun’, in which actor Urmila Matondkar talks on a phone and it’s cord has been ripped off. While that was in a horror context, we thought that it would be the perfect way to draw a metaphor to the loneliness that the senior citizens go through,” Bhatt continued.

Taking the cues, the team approached Sircar who agreed to shoot it. Furthermore, Kishan, who played the old man wasn’t a professional actor. “We were looking for an unknown actor so he was cast.. we had to do a few weeks of rehearsals with him.. And while shooting he did really well and believable,” Sircar said.

Meanwhile Raghu Bhat, Founder & Copywriter, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi explained that instead of a long-format story, the duo chose to weave an emotional story but with a twist. “We wanted to tell an emotional story that brought alive the issue of loneliness. What I liked best about Shoojit's execution was - the simplicity and the fact that Kantaprasad is talking rapidly. It brings alive his eagerness to cling on to the moment, which makes it all the more touching,” he remarked.

Moreover, fine nuances such as the character saying ‘happy anniversity’ instead of anniversary and talking speedily were retained to give it a natural feel.

Manish Bhatt added that 14 years ago while the team was just communicating about social isolation, today people are actually going through it which would make it even more relatable to people in today’s scenario. “This is a pandemic which will get over. But social isolation is a long-term problem. Now is a good time to remind people of their loved ones and draw attention to this issue,” he remarked with an air of finality.

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