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Between agency people and film makers, we've just stopped trying hard enough: Abhijit Avasthi

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Between agency people and film makers, we've just stopped trying hard enough: Abhijit Avasthi

Abhijit Avasthi former NCD of Ogilvy and Founder of Sideways Consulting, who was on the Film jury at Cannes 2015, talks about where India lacks when it comes to winning metals at Cannes, how clients need to be braver and take risks, and his experience as part of Film Lions jury this year.

What are your observations of the overall work in the Film Category this year as a juror?

The variety of work is definitely increasing. Many more experiments are happening in products and categories. Lot of technology players are coming and technology is increasingly becoming an inherent part of the  narrative. There is an overall dominance of western culture that is happening, for example - I am quite aware of even a small time TV actor in the US, so if there is a joke around him I would understand it , and this would be the case for most of the jurors around the world. They would be aware of Hollywood and the work coming out of there, as opposed to most of them not knowing Rajnikanth or even Mr. Bachchan here. So the whole back story is lost on them, therefore the magic of so much of our work is lost. That holds true for so many of culture issues , that is the reason I think a whole lot of countries like India, China Japan are disadvantaged and you can do nothing about it.

But doesn’t having a juror from these countries help?

It helps to some extent, it is like someone explaining a joke. It’s not funny after that. The context is gone, it becomes mathematical and becomes rational, you can’t build a rational argument for what is supposed to be an emotional piece. I’ll give you an example. There were couple of pieces based on Derek Jeter from New York Yankees, they were great films they were very moving and they did very well but that’s also because I understand and know what baseball means to the people of America, and what New york Yankees means to the people of New York , and when they pay respect and homage to him  I know what it means . Turn it around to two years earlier when Sachin Tendulkar retired, an equally big or even bigger sporting occasion, had we done an equally emotional piece of work I don’t think a lot of people here would have got it.

After a point in time these kind of global festivals have become the arenas where if it wins great if it doesn’t ,  it is not  a reflection of our work not being great.

A lot of conversations with global agency heads and market leaders I have had at Cannes indicate that India needs to stop emulating west, which is currently counter-productive for India , and instead build on its on talent pool and culture and work, do you agree?

In a way, yes. Let’s put it this way , when we come here ( advertising fraternity) one way our brains get trained  and sometimes we say how well South Korea , or the US used a social media app, etc.,  which is hyper cutting edge stuff. But we  forget that most people in India use Facebook on feature phones and celebrate if there is 2G connectivity. It is important for our creatives and our clients to understand where technology is in India, how society has adopted it and how do we use it. Unless we do it, we won’t make a big mark here. Having said that again there is a good chance that the work we do there won’t win over here, but we need to remember Cannes is a great thing to win, but it is not the end all and be all. And it cannot be the driver when we are creating work.

I am sure you feel India could do better … we had fewer shortlists as well this year, what are the areas we need to work on ?

There are many areas we definitely need to improve, firstly Craft. When I say craft, I don’t only mean the way you film it, but sound, design, etc. Styles of story are changing. We need to expand our talent across the spectrum, from writers to designers as well as film makers. I have had this debate with a whole lot of film makers in India that you also need to help us tell stories in a different way , I think that is important. For example the Geico film that won, could it have been done in India? Yes.  Was it about cultural relevance? No. But somewhere it didn’t happen. Between the agency people and the film makers somewhere we have just stopped trying hard enough.

A lot of clients also are unwilling to take risks, they are saying ‘get a celebrity’; we are not being brave, people don’t understand that not taking risks is the biggest risk and it is the biggest cliché. I don’t know why people are not understanding it. So the fault lies on both sides, clients need to be so much more brave and lean lesser on research and not worry so much about what if it fails what will my boss say. No. A lot of mindset has to change. That’s a big message for all of us. For a second forget the cultural bit, on the other bits can we try harder? Yes.

The other thing I would point out is even packaging our work. There is a lovely piece of work that Ogilvy had done for Five Star. When my friends in YouTube  saw it 7-8 months  earlier they said they had never seen anything like that, when the idea has been explained to everyone around the world they have said this is a Cannes Gold this is going to be brilliant .But  when I saw the way it was packaged over here I felt sad because most people here didn’t get it . And when  I told them what it was they said ‘oh wow ,’ is this what it is I wish someone had told me this before.’

But packaging has been a perennial problem. Are we not improving?

Some people are, and those are the people who are doing well at Cannes to be fair and give them credit, Josy (Paul) and BBDO have cracked it and they do it very well. They come up with good work and package it brilliantly .

What are the takeaways/ Perspective you are taking away from the Film Jury this year particularly for your new venture Sideways ? 

Coming to Cannes each year is a refresher course, the first thing it gives me a little self- assurance. The time has come for something like this. The possibilities are immense, I know creative people can do so much more than create ads.

I have been discussing sideways with so many people here and everybody is like hyper excited about it , what an amazing idea, it’s surprising no one is doing it till now .  

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