|MUMBAI: Ram Madhvani is the director behind one of the most memorable commercials of the decade – Happydent White ‘Palace’ by McCann-Erickson – which won Gold at ADFEST 2007.
In the same year, Madhvani ranked #11 in the Gunn Report’s ranking of the world’s most awarded Directors.
With its catchy soundtrack and bizarre tale of a dark city lit up by people’s bright, white teeth, Happydent White’s ‘Palace’ TVC set Madhvani apart as one of the most original directors in the Asia Pacific.
With over 20 years’ experience, Madhvani is traveling to Phuket in March as Jury President of the Film Craft Lotus and New Director Lotus categories at ADFEST.
Ram says he would like his epitaph to read: “He died of an overdose. An overdose of cinema.”
ADFESTbuzzasked Madhvani to share his wisdom as a partner in Equinox Films – one of the leading production houses in India.
You are famous for directing the award-winning Happydent White ‘Palace’ commercial. What did you think when you first read the script?
Ram Madhvani:“When Prasoon Joshi approached me with the script I knew it was something I really wanted to do. It’s thanks to him and the faith he and the client Sameer Suneja had that made Happydent what it is.
At first it was a montage film, but over discussions with Prasoon we knew that it was important to make it a narrative film to hold the viewers’ interest, and to make them feel for the people and their problems etc. After all, we all come from a narrative culture.”
How did you bring Happydent to life?
Ram Madhvani: “There is a concept called "rasa" in Indian aesthetics that literally means "juice" or "essence". It asks, ‘What primary feeling should be evoked in the viewer?’
In the case of Happydent, it was the "Adbhutam" rasa, which means ‘Wonder’ or ‘Amazement’, and also "Hasyam" rasa, which is humour. The pitching of humour is something that I spend sleepless nights over. Now more and more I feel if the comedy comes from character and it rings true and believable, it will be the right pitch.”
Why did you decide to shoot Happydent in such a colourful, lively way?
Ram Madhvani:“Once the "rasa" is decided, I then move to the "how". (Of course, "how the viewer should feel" versus "how we should make the film" is a parallel, chaotic, sometimes confusing process that I call "circling the beast".)
I believe the "how" should never limit the mood and the emotion. I then purposefully make it difficult for me to pull off the "how". If it’s easy, it’s not going to ‘wow’ the viewer. I try not to be handcuffed by production practicalities while keeping all of the practicalities in mind. I also spend some time discussing "sur" – another Indian concept that includes "tone" and "pitch".
Do you have any advice for emerging directors?
Ram Madhvani:“My rule for ideas that are surreal or "out there" is that the more "ridiculous" (I mean that in a good way) an idea, the more "real" it needs to be.
I feel that in most ads in India the characters don't exist before action or after cut. My biggest joy as a director is to see how to make the viewer believe that the characters in the film exist before the film began, before action, after the final cut, and after the commercial finishes.”
Why do you think juries from around the world responded so well to Happydent?
Ram Madhvani:“Some films are blessed and the universe conspires and grace descends and these cannot be explained. As they say in India ... ‘It happens’.”
ADFESTbuzz: Thank you Ram for your excellent advice.