Q&A: Agnello Dias & Ashim Ahluwalia on Recent Campaign Work, Creative Trends in India, and More

Agnello Dias & Ashim Ahluwalia

In June, Kolkata-based ABP, one of India’s largest and oldest media houses, launched a charming campaign film featuring a young boy’s epic search for “Korea City”. Or so he thinks that’s what he is looking for.

You’ll have to watch it (see below), we won’t spoil the ending for you, but the nicely-filmed three-minute spot, shot in the remote parts of Bengal and Jharkhand, offers varied slices of life in the region as the camera follows the curious and quite intrepid young boy on his journey to find “Korea City.”

We recently caught up with two of the creative minds behind the film, Creative Director Agnello Dias, who conceived the idea, and its director Ashim Ahluwalia of Future East.

 
 

Creative veteran, Dias, is a highly-awarded and influential figure in the India’s advertising industry, and Ahluwalia is an acclaimed director who has had his work premiere in some of the world’s most renowned venues including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, and SXSW festivals.

Over the course of our conversation, the pair talk about the ABP campaign, the use of long-form ad films, creative trends in India, how it nurtures talent there, and more.


Having lived in Korea for several years, I wasn’t sure where the film was going and half expected a post-pandemic time-to-travel-again-tourism-ad. What a wonderfully clever twist for me personally at the end. Tell us more about the creative vision and how the film’s concept was born.

AD: The ABP Group is one of India’s leading media groups and a centenary year is quite a feat by any yardstick. They wanted to articulate and capture their ethos and belief with a positioning that resonated internally as well as the pulled-out world of pure journalism that the group was born in.

 
 

A series of conversations with various stakeholders consistently threw up this perennial inquisitive gene that seemed be omnipresent in everything the group did. That, and the defiant little voice that seeks to scrutinize the unquestioned truths of the past kind of swirled around in every discussion that led up to the execution.

The concept of the film was born out of the aim to use the strengths of each medium at its best. The film offered us the chance to put forth the same concept in a parable-like narrative seen through the powerfully pure and innocent eyes of a child.



Something that didn’t seem to lend itself naturally to print where we were inclined to lean towards a sharper, more affirmative, and bolder tone of voice. The concept of the film also allowed us to travel through a social and cultural time machine that literally spanned a hundred years, all of which still co-exist in the India of today.

During the boy’s epic journey to find ‘Korea-City”, we see myriad slices of different cultures within India’s borders. Can you talk about that creative aspect of the campaign?

AD: Besides being culturally rich in their cinematic draw, the journey also moves from a really remote village that probably still functions like it did almost a century ago to a growing kaleidoscope of rural and semi-modern society and communities culminating in an India that’s pushing towards a post-modern global world. Ashim and I had to choose the various legs of this journey with care so that married the visual richness that we needed with the logical progression of the storyline. Not to mention on-ground production logistics.

“There is a growing push towards digital innovation where intelligent thinking in the digital ecosystem seems to have caught everyone’s attention and it’s percolating down to the grassroots with young creative minds now being literally born and bred in that atmosphere.”

AA: Essentially for us to find this visual universe meant we had to travel to very remote villages – some areas that are quite unsafe for production due to guerrilla insurgencies. We were accompanied by military to be able to get to these locations. We cast locals, many who had never seen a film crew, and did all our costume and art shopping locally in the bazaars, working more like an ethnographic film crew rather than in the typical way we might shoot a commercial. This gives the film a certain authenticity which is quite hard to achieve otherwise.

In general, when pitching longer ad films to current or potential clients, how receptive are they and how do they usually react?

AD: It’s not the same with every client, and actually depends on the need of the hour. With ABP, since this was a milestone campaign, the general onus was more on getting it right rather than trying to fit it in a media slot. But usually, receptivity to durations is random and follows no particular pattern.

“With the growth of OTT networks and new digital spaces, there are more options now than there ever have been for creatives that felt dissatisfied with the industry, and it can be more exciting to leave and work elsewhere where there is more artistic freedom and less corporate career-building.”

AA: As a director, It’s rare to see really well-crafted scripts for longer ad films. This one was written like a short story, which really helped. Often we get scripts that feel like a 45 sec spot was stretched to 2 or 3 minutes.

What are some recent creative trends you’re seeing in India’s ad industry that stand out for you?

AD: There is a growing push towards digital innovation where intelligent thinking in the digital ecosystem seems to have caught everyone’s attention and it’s percolating down to the grassroots with young creative minds now being literally born and bred in that atmosphere.

AA: I see more overlap from the world of fashion, documentary, feature film and stand-up comedy which makes for more formally engaging commercials now. Clients also seem more open than they were in the past.

Agnello said in an interview more than a decade ago that “the industry lacks the structure that allows good people to flourish.” I’m curious what both of you think of things currently.

AD: I still think the industry did not do enough to fertilize its patch where the best ideas grew. As a result opportunistic creative minds navigated their way through while many pure creative minds chose to find their outlets elsewhere.

AA: I agree. With the growth of OTT networks and new digital spaces, there are more options now than there ever have been for creatives that felt dissatisfied with the industry, and it can be more exciting to leave and work elsewhere where there is more artistic freedom and less corporate career-building.


Quick Hits:

Agnello

Book everyone in the industry should read: Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Favorite show you’re watching lately: The end of the [email protected]#$*&ing world

One album you would take to a deserted island: Hallelujah – the Jeff Buckley version

Something you want to learn or wish you were better at: Drawing or sketching

Ashim

Book everyone in the industry should read: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Favorite show you’re watching lately: I’m working on my first Netflix show, so am on a sabbatical from watching other series at the moment.

The best contemporary films I’ve seen in a while are by the artist Michael Robinson, very inspiring re-use of popular 1980s music videos and other weird found ephemera.

One album you would take to a deserted island:  Music for 18 Musicians – Steve Reich

Something you want to learn or wish you were better at: how to be punctual


Film Credits

Production House: Future East Film
Director: Ashim Ahluwalia
Producer: Suparna Chatterjee
Writer: Agnello Dias
Director of Photography: Satya Rai Nagpaul
Music Composer: Arijit Datta
Second Unit and Associate Director: Abhinav Babar
Chief Assistant Director: O’Keefe Attari
DAs: Pranay Dawar and Pallav Saha
2nd ADs: Amogh Shandilya and Falguni Dhumde
Cast: Krishiv Jindal and Aarsha Mohan

Line Producer: Sunny Salvi
Production Manager: Sameer Kamble
Kolkata Line Producer: Saubhik Das
Kolkata Production Manager: Subharaj Singh
Kolkata Second AD: Shakhu Karmakar
1st AC: Yudhisthira Behera
Gaffer: Avijit Jana
Production Designer: Bablu Singha
Make Up & Hair: MD Younus and Bina Nath
Costumes: Gobinda Mondal
Casting Directors: Crackerjack Casting and the AD team
Drone: Vicky
Second Unit DOP: Kenneth Cyrus

Post Producer: Akash Kakade
Offline Editor: Abhinav Phoenix
Offline Studio: Prime Focus
Online Editor: Jitendra Kalwani
Online Studio: After Studio
Sound Engineer: Rishabh Agarwal
Voices: Niharika Singh and Agnello Dias
Violinist: Jitendra Thakur
Pianist: Akshay Dabhadkar
Sound Studio: Rishabh’s Studio & Tonic Factory
Post Production Assistant: Dhanik Dhende

Related