R Balakrishnan Curated
Former Group Chairman of Lowe Lintas
CURATED BY :
Which are the people/agencies in your view who are doing great work?
I have always respected Ogilvy; there are quite a few agencies that are doing great work Taproot, Creativeland Asia and some younger agencies are doing good work too. Leo Burnett did some lovely work on Bajaj V and I was very proud of that. I like many other people’s work; I am only ashamed of my work.
Where is advertising today from where you started off?
There is a lot more confusion in terms of media, it’s exactly in the same place as it still depends on the idea, few people who have jargonised data and tried to make it more confusing saying that’s how will we reach consumers. But I believe a good idea, with strong execution in any medium still reaches out to a lot of consumers.
As a leader how have you managed to maintain loyal and longstanding clients?
The work…. it is all about the work and the people who are committed to their work. You know you can do one piece of great work, but it takes a lot to continue to do it year after year. All clients are friends but we are talking of a relationship that is based on the brand succeeding, so, it’s all about the work and nothing else.
When did you decide that you have had enough of advertising?
I have not had enough of advertising yet, it’s just the fact that when you like films too, you need to choose them, at some point of time and you got to plan for that. Specially having been hands-on for such a long time, it’s only important that once you become the face of the agency, you also need to change the face in your presence, put a structure in place and then move on. We have been planning this for a couple of years actually: how will the transition happen and how will everybody take over. It all started when we made Joe CEO and we sat and planned this out; Arun would then take over and so would Amer and other people. So it was done bit by bit. I love to be hands on, but I can’t do both, and I like to do films, both are fun, but I would like to have a different kind of fun at this point of time in my life.
How long does it take you to write a final screenplay?
Approximately three months to write the final draft complete with the dialogues. If I delve on it longer, I feel I’m going to ruin it. Same with the shooting. I prefer to wrap up a film within four months. If the shooting stretches longer, I turn impatient. Shamitabh took much longer and I decided that I’ll never let that happen again.
What is difference between making a film and Advertisement?
That is the biggest challenge in doing a film – resilience. An ad film gets over in three or four months. With a feature film you have to remember what turned you on before and sustain your interest right through the year or more. You have to remember what got you excited in the first place, because it is hard to stay excited for such a long time. I approach a film the same way as an audience. The way I watch films is the way I make them. I don’t pretend to be a filmmaker. I just make a film because there is some story I want to tell. My trip is in the telling of the story. Even if you are not trained, you should be a good viewer of films and have common sense and aesthetic sense.
Does advertising and association with stars make it easier to make films?
I didn’t know Amitabh Bachchan before Cheeni Kum. But yes, you know how to get access and how to get some number to be able to approach stars. If you have an idea, they are willing to listen and to assess if it is viable. They need to have faith in the idea and your body of work. If you have a story, then there is a way. But your story has to be good enough to stop someone in their tracks. Filmmaking is a director’s medium, but fundamentally it is a writer’s medium. You cannot zap people with just special effects; you need writing of substance and it needs to be written to be shot. But we pay so little to writers. There are a lot of fantastic writers but we pay them abysmally. We celebrated Salim-Javed and then stopped celebrating writers after that.
How did filmmaking happen?
I almost went to film school, ended up in advertising and then forgot about filmmaking for about 17 years thanks to advertising.
Why do you feel some have expressed strong dislike for few of your commercial like hangman?
It’s a very strong commercial. People are not used to seeing a hangman in a commercial – usually they expect ads to throw up a joke or something, because there’s a box of creativity people draw and define what is acceptable, what is not. It takes some time for people to absorb something that’s not in their box of creativity. So there are some people in advertising who are cool with it, some who are not. Then there are consumers who believe it’s strong and shocking and there are some who believe it’s a damn good idea.
What do you have to say about comparisons between this ad and the short film?
Well the film-maker wrote to me. I haven’t seen his short film at all. He’s yet to send it to me. But there’s a film by Adoor Gopalakrishnan called The Hangman. I’m tremendously inspired by Adoor’s work and the image of the hangman, his feelings and his life are obvious inspirations from that film - not in terms of the idea, but in terms of the portrayal of him, the starkness of a hangman’s job. So I’ve paid tremendous tributes to Adoor’s work. The guy who wrote to me and his film was made in 2008 and I wrote back to him saying, Adoor’s film was made four years before that.
How did you manage the transition from advertising to bollywood so successfully?
It’s the same thing. It is just a longer ad.
what are the challenges that the advertising industry faces today?
To keep bringing out ideas day after day. To have the people who are interested in coming up with those ideas. To attract talent to the industry. To project it as a business that is like working in five companies as marketing directors. If you are working in one FMCG company, you are handling one product. In advertising you solve the problems of five products.
How did storytelling happen for you?
Because nothing else happened. When you tell a lot of lies in your life, you get to tell a lot of stories.
What are the considerations when you try to tell a story through an ad film?
It must be interesting and it must be a story that is likeable.
Why do clients change agencies?
Clients don’t changes agencies just like that. Only when there is a misunderstanding, services aren’t met or may be the agency hasn’t delivered – the client looks out. But a client today will wait 10 extra days to get a good idea and those 10 days would also be forgotten if you delivered a good idea. If not, the 10 days would be remembered and you would be paid less.
Apart from the big idea or the creative element what else contributes to an effective advertisement ?
There is nothing called ‘creative’ today, it is all about being ‘effective’. The reason to be ‘creative’ or rather differentiated is that you can catch somebody’s attention and they can get the message of the ad. That is the purpose of creativity. If an ad is just creative and not effective, it is not an ad at all, you might as well remove it.