‘Winning the National Award made up for the feeling of not winning at Cannes’

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‘Winning the National Award made up for the feeling of not winning at Cannes’

On 22nd March 2021, the combined effort of Ogilvy and Little Lamb Films paid off when their ad film for Hindustan Unilever called ‘The Shower’ won at the 67th National Film Awards under the ‘Best Promotional Film’ in the Non-Feature Films category. In conversation with Kainaz Karmakar and Harshad Rajadhyaksha, Chief Creative Officers of Ogilvy India, the agency behind the ad, and the director of the winning film, Bauddhayan Mukherji who heads Little Lamb Films on bagging their first-ever National Award.

Bauddhayan, why did you pick ‘The Shower’ to enter the National Awards? There were a lot of interesting ad films you made in 2019. Why did you feel this particular film will make the cut?

Bauddhayan: We had entered another film too but ‘The Shower’ won. I have no qualms in acknowledging that I’m extremely biased towards The Shower. It is possibly one of those films which apart from being a good film also changes human behaviour. We entered it as a short film, repackaged it and got a censor certificate which is compulsory to enter the National Awards. An interesting thing about the National Awards is that you can’t enter work for a certain category, it totally depends on the jury what category they want to put it into. For e.g., while we wanted to enter it in the non-feature film category the jury could have chosen to slot it under the cinematography section. That’s the fun part, everything literally boils down to what the jury decides to do with the film.

It is not the first time Ogilvy has won a national award. It had won it in 2010 for the Pulse Polio campaign although in a different category. But it is definitely a first for you, Harshad and Kainaz…

Harshad: ‘The Shower’ is very dear to us, but for Kainaz and me, the canvas has largely been about advertising but Buddy (Bauddhayan) realized that this piece of work is not a conventional ad and transcends that. So he started entering the film like a work of art in various film festivals hosted by cities across India and globally over the past year and a half and kept us in the loop too.

The film has notched up almost a dozen wins worldwide before this. So we knew that Buddy has been entering it in various festivals but the National Film Award honestly came as the most beautiful surprise to us. Kainaz and I were in the middle of one of our crazy Zoom calls when  Buddy called both of us to say, “Can you imagine our ad film has won a National Award.”

He was himself sounding like the surrealism of it hasn’t sunk in. We were completely in disbelief because in the next room at home I could hear the news where they were declaring the names of the luminaries who had won the National Award. Thanks to Buddy, we are all National Award winners now.

Kainaz: Like Harshad was saying, despite Buddy screaming on the other end that we have won the National Award it took a minute or two to register that we have won such a big honour. And the first thing that comes to your mind as a human being is who else has won it. Imagine Satyajit Ray, Amitabh Bachchan have won it and now we have bagged the same award. And as far as our country goes, for cinema, there is nothing bigger than the National Film Award. It’s hugely coveted. It was the kind of news you want to share with everyone, so we texted Hephzibah, our clients Harman, Priya; and Piyush Pandey who was so excited to hear about the win.

In 2019, ‘The Shower’ was shortlisted at the Cannes Lions but didn’t really win. Was that a big let down and does winning the National Award make up for it?

Bauddhayan: I would be kidding myself if I say that it was not a letdown for all three of us. In the end, a particular film’s win finally boils down to 10 people liking it or not in a room. But the question is, have we got more recognition today? Has it reached people? I’ll give you a very interesting example; one of my neighbours met me in the elevator and said, “You have turned our life upside down, when my husband saw your film he went out, got three buckets and all the three members of my family now are being forced to have bucket baths. Showers are off our lives. I don’t think it’s fair.” So that’s when you suddenly realize that you have touched upon people’s lives, which, for a storyteller and a communicator, is possibly a bigger reward.

But as far as awards go, what’s more important for you? Cannes Lions or National Awards?

Kainaz: I think that both of them are very, very important. Because one is about being recognized by the topmost cinema award in your country, and the other is being recognized at a global stage. While we were disappointed at Cannes Lions, Buddy kept the film alive by entering it in so many film festivals and when he called and said it’s won the National Film award, I think it made up for the feeling of not winning at Cannes.

Harshad: Just to tell you that in my 24 years of working in advertising, all our Cannes Lions have got me a whole lot of congratulations from within the fraternity and from family and friends. But for the first time, my grand uncle in Nagpur actually took the trouble to call me on that day of the announcement of the National Awards saying, “I know you’re very busy but you’ve made the whole family proud because we saw that your work has won the National Award.” That hasn’t happened with any advertising award.

Bauddhayan: I obviously have won Cannes Lions before and I have seen how my mom has reacted, she’s 80 and she suffered a stroke two years ago and she can’t speak anymore. So after winning the National Award I walked up to her room and showed her the screenshot. The way she reacted, tears me up every time I think of it. It doesn’t happen every day. And it has never happened even after I have won Cannes Lions. For Indians in this country, possibly this is absolutely the biggest award, it can’t get better. For our fraternity, obviously, Cannes is a Cannes.

Whose brainchild was it to install that shower in the midst of an arid land for the ad film?

Kainaz: That was Harshad and me. The two of us came up with the idea. The brief was given by the client, it said that they’re doing a lot of initiatives across India to educate people to save water and wanted us to do a piece of communication around it. This particular film was a part of the pitch that we had made to the client. And, I think I really have to give it to Hindustan Unilever, because from the day they heard the film, they have supported it completely.

Then, of course, we had to get the right person who would make it. And a key factor in that is that anybody who’s making a project that is connected to social good has to have a desire in them to do that. And I think that there is almost nobody better than Buddy for that.

Harshad: There is one thing about Buddy that wowed both Kainaz and me. We chose a village Manglaram Ki Dhani in Rajasthan close to Jaisalmer. Many of those people you see in the film are real villagers who probably were seeing a glass shower cubicle for the first time in their lives, we also involved some kids who have grown up over there. So of course, a contraption had to be made, the water supply was real.

There were tankers of water that had been brought in. Now can you imagine, it’s like going to a village which has been largely thirsty with that quantity of water for a shoot. Of course, we were doing it for a cause and hoping to make a social change. But most of those villagers had not seen water in those quantities in one go.

But thankfully we had Buddy, who wasn’t some mercenary director announcing, “Hey, let’s get real shots and come out.” He planned the whole thing in such a way that all the water that came cascading down into the shower was pumped back into a clean and empty water tank. There was no need to do this but he insisted that not one bit of water that was used in shooting this was wasted by laying a reverse pipeline with a motor. And it was given to the village to use in all their daily chores. This just tells you how invested Buddy was as a director partner on this. And that really amounts to something; it’s not just a film for us.

Two years after you made ‘The Shower’, what has been the impact of the campaign?

Harshad: The location we had selected for the shoot was in one of the aridest states, Rajasthan. It was one of the states where HUL had been working. They have invested in tying up with farmer communities and taught the meaning of rainwater harvesting to so many communities. Some of the HUL scientists have based themselves there in those villages.

So there was a lot that was being done even before this film was made. What this film did was cause change on an everyday level, as Bauddhayan mentioned. Yoga teachers we know, school groups etc. have been advocating it by sending the film to the parents of the students, saying here is a nice message we should be teaching.

So many people have told us that they’ve gone and finally bought buckets after seeing this ad. To me, the biggest measure of the success of the campaign would be if even a handful of city dwellers can bring about a 50% change in their life after watching the film.

So now that the spotlight is back on ‘The Shower’, is there a part two on the cards? Are the three of you going to come together again?

Yes, we already have ideas for part two. Now we just need to come together and make them happen.

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