When Admen Become Film Directors

Author: Sami Qahar

Asim Raza has announced his second film. Its’ shoot and the subsequent publicity are going on in full flow. Paray Hut Love is his second venture after the Karan Joharsque-beautiful-people-with-first-world-problems film, Ho Mann Jahan. Saqib Malik’s Baaji is also finally on the floor. It’s a noir drama. The common link between the two films is that these are being directed by former ad films directors. And then there was Teefa in Trouble, the debut of immensely affable Ahsan Rahim. Again, an ad film director by trait.

Talking about Admen directing feature films, Asad ul Haq’s Dekh Magar Pyar Se (DMPS) opened in theaters along with Jami’s Moor and Adnan Sarwar’s Shah. Purely from theatrical trailers, Moor was by far a superior looking film than DMPS. Right from Ayub Ogada’s Kothbiro in soundtrack to the subject matter of Baluchistan Railways. It was a fascinating contest knowing the two being rivals in the ad film industry as well.

I have always preferred Jami’s best over Asad’s best, even though Jami’s best is rarer than that of Asad’s. Yes, I might be opening your favorite debate here, you’re welcome.

Senior ad-men venturing into big screen is nothing new. Arguably the best film director alive today, David Fincher, was also once an ad film director. Across the border several prominent names in the current industry are from advertising world. Top of the list has to be Balki. R. Balakrishnan, commonly known as Balki, is now the group chairman of Lowe Lintas India. Balki has been associated to the ad business for over two and a half decades. Balki made his directorial debut on the silver screen with Cheeni Kum in 2007, which he also co-wrote. He followed up Cheeni Kum with another success in 2009 with Paa that went on to win him the coveted National Award for best film of the year.

Among others, Pradeep Sarkar, founder of Apocalypso Filmworks made his first feature film in 2005, a commercial and critical success Parineeta. The film won Filmfare awards for both debutants, Pradeep Sarkar and Vidya Balan. A fellow Bengali film director of Pradeep Sarkar, Shoojit Sircar was a top director for Rising Sun Films. Shoojit’s first film was 2005’s Yahaan. Shoojit waited for seven years for his second release, an out of the box Vicky Donor, which brought him his first mainstream success. His last film was Piku in 2015. Shoojit followed them with critically and commercially acclaimed Pink and the more recent October. Dibakar Banerjee, yet another Bengali name in the list of the “converts”, was a brilliant ad film maker before he became a successful feature film director. Dibakar took the leap of faith in 2006 with an unexpected hit of the year Khosla Ka Ghosla with the National award on debut.

Nitesh Tiwari, former Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnette India is the director of brilliant Chillar Party and an average Bhootnath Returns. He eventually landed Aamir Khan in Dangal which turned out to be the highest grossing Bollywood film. A Stanford graduate, Rohan Sippy is son of Ramesh Sippy. If your father has directed arguably the biggest film ever of Indian Cinema, called “Sholay”, how can you follow up? Rohan’s filmography includes a box office flop Kuchh Naa Kaho, moderately successful Bluffmaster and further flops. Vinil Mathew of Foot Candles, made his debut in 2014 with Dharma Production’s Hasee Toh Phasee. Gauri Shinde, wife of Balki and known name in Lintas productions, released her charming English Vinglish in 2012. One of my personal favorite ad film makers, Bardroy Barretto of Brown Skins Films is released his debut film in Konkani language called Nachom-ia Kumpasar. And last but not the least, one of the most celebrated ad films director of India Ram Madhvani is release his second film Neerja which gave Sonam Kapoor her first few awards, even though the film was underwhelming by Madhvani’s standards.

A close look at the successful films by admen suggests that they have one thing in common. A fresh perspective; an outsider’s view. Their films earthier in nature, more grass root level, covering fresh subjects seldom touched before. If Cheeni Kum was unique, Paa covered the sensitive subject of Progeria. Khosla Ka Ghosla rode on novelty of the story, fresh style of film-making and its appeal to the masses with a very real problem highlighted in the film, land mafia. Dibakar’s LSD was an experimental film told from the point of view of cameras recording, India’s very own Blair witch Project. Produced with a meager budget of 1.5 crore Indian rupees, it gave 5 times returns to its makers. Pradeep Sarkar’s Parineeta was a modern-day adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s Charulata. Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor, despite being an ordinary execution, gave a completely fresh idea to the audience. Piku by far is the best of Shoojit’s work. A comical, emotional relationship drama with brilliant characterization.

On the other hand, the admen films that did not set the box office on fire were run of the mill Bollywood masala films. Be it Kuchh Na Kaho or Laaga Chunri Mein Daag. A seasoned ad film maker is used to making a 30 second story. He has to tell the entire message in 30 seconds and that includes the branding. A feature film maker has 2 hours on hand. Both the media have different demand. Small cuts, short dialogues and faster pace is what you would see in a film made by an adman. Take Parineeta or Khosla Ka Ghosla for example, and compare them with Jab Tak Hai Jaan or Jodha Akbar. The durations of sequences are polar opposites. The one time when Balki failed, in Shamitabh, was when his sequences dragged on and on becoming rhetorical. The best thing in Rohan Sippy’s Kuchh Naa Kaho was opening credits, done in a typical adman style, in short cuts and with a sense of creativity.

Going by the uniqueness of subject, we have Jami taking up a subject of Railway system in Baluchistan and Asad going for a typical masala romance. Moor seemed to have a lot more to offer than a run of the mill rom-com with sub-par acting efforts from lead actors of DMPS. Nonetheless, for Pakistani cinema, it’s a success that both have entered feature film making. Success of Bilal Lashari, Jami and Asad will surely encourage other ad film makers. Here’s to seeing more admen making feature films on unique subjects, with fast pacing and exquisite creativity.

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