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Finally, an Indian Rockstar

The movie was eminently watchable. Ranbir Kapoor smouldered as the tormented rock icon searching for the love that could not be. Discovering that material success and a huge fan following did not necessarily mean that everything you desired was within your reach.

But what struck home was that this rockstar was not dressed in Western clothes. Rock-on, another attempt to chronicle the travails of an Indian rock group, released a couple of years ago. The lead characters were dressed in the uniform of rock – the rebellious tees and torn denim. They were simply aping the West, much like the tracks in the film.

There is no real Rock ‘n’ Roll culture in India. It’s a small set of dedicated groups that make the effort and then disband since it’s hard to get crowds, make money or sell records. There have been a few like Parikrama and Indian Ocean, but when they bring out the acid metal and the rolling drums, most people just cup their ears. One band that is trying a different route is Avial (in Malayalam, it means a dish prepared from a mish-mash of several vegetables in a coconut milk and yogurt base) – which goes for the rock genre with lyrics in chaste Malayalam. It is a fringe success, but going mainstream will always be a tough slog.

Rock is tolerated only when it happens far out of the city and for most young people rock concerts are more about ‘trips’ other than the music. True Indian classical music – Carnatic or Hindustani does not resonate with a majority of the young. So what we have is film music with so many regional and classical influences, it’s hard to pin down and confine to a particular genre.

Against this background, creating a distinctive look would have been a huge ask. AR Rahman’s music works wonders as he weaves in Indian influences into the rock ballads or the strident ‘Sada Haq’, which has been brilliantly picturised. It throbs with kinetic energy but having a guy play these tunes in western clothes would have been a letdown.

Aki Narula and Manish Malhotra – the dress designers of Rockstar combine Middle Eastern influences with the big brass buttons and lapels of the Indian wedding bandmasters. The harem pants, the embroidered coats and the long hair combine to give Janardhan aka Jordan a look that feels right. If you wanted to know what an Indian rockstar would look like, it fits the bill. The costume evolution of the character, from college wannabe to a troubled success traverses the route through the Kashmiri Kaftan and the intermediate jeans and embroidered coat to the finale where he just rips into the crowds and the music.

Nargis Fakri, the heroine has a similar evolution, but her performance never matches the manic intensity that Ranbir brings to his role – so she stays in the realm of the well-designed clothes horse – which is a pity, since the role had enough dramatic depth and if she had got it right, it would have been an amazing launch. But you have to give her marks for trying and failing. Anyway, companies are now rolling out the endorsement deals.

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Chennai without billboards

About 3 years ago, Chennai’s billboards disappeared. A government ban came into effect and erased every single vinyl from public view. Old, dilapidated and unfamiliar buildings appeared magically. Like dirt under the carpet, Chennai’s skyline was glamourous when it was unseen. Today, the only outdoor medium that survives in Chennai are the bus stops. Splashed with myriad colours, they provide a respite from the drab and mundane. The big brands try to sneak past the ban by painting outdoor surfaces like walls in public view, but ever so often, the government retaliates and strips the wall bare. Political posters and billboards, however, root themselves along pavements along with flags, and posters.

The malls are the direct beneficiaries of the ban. The space for events at malls is booked throughout the year, at inflated rates, since brands have very few opportunities for reminders in outdoor media. Walk through any mall on a weekend and food, car and personal care brands vie for attention. Much like the public grounds where 4-5 cricket matches go on at the same time and fielders watch out, not only for the ball from the game they are playing in but from others that could knock them down from behind.

Now, the city looks a lot better. The ban worked for the best, as it had grown to unmanageable proportions. On certain roads, it felt like driving through walls of vinyl, 70-80 feet tall. The support was at best, sketchy and these monstrosities came down regularly in a thunderstorm or merely with a forceful gust. And those old, dilapidated buildings? Oh, the facades have the new fangled plastic tiles now. Making them look like new age buildings. But don’t be fooled. Look at the sides and the ‘original’ manifests, peeling walls and all.

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The Last Minute Syndrome

Why do agencies always get ideas at the last minute? Apparently, it is the only way that everything in the world gets done. The best ideas come when there is pressure to deliver. Othwerwise, agencies are in ‘thought’ rather than ‘action’ mode. We have tried to anticipate what our client needs and prime them for it. But each time, we found that clients have their own pressures and priorities. An advertisement campaign is only one item on their list of things to be done. It’s worse for service providers down the line from an agency. They have even less time to deliver. Take printers for example. The brochures are designed and approved with only days to spare. The printers usually have to burn midnight oil to catch the deadline. The printed brochures or any other material is delivered to the location required just on the day of the launch when the ad appears and customers start calling.

One day before is absolute chaos. Whether it is a stage show, a launch event or the inauguration of a sales outlet or an office. I have seen bare supermarkets open within hours of the shelves being stacked with the goods. Hotels where the furniture just comes in a day before the launch. Even Chennai’s legislative asembly inaugurated by the Prime Minister was more of a superstructure than an actual building. If you had driven by a few days earlier, it would have looked impossible. The Commonwealth Games is another shining example of the Last Minute Syndrome. The press went to town with the filth, the state of unpreparedness and the reputation of the nation was at stake. But then, everything miraculously fell into place and then, no one seems to remember. Until the next Last Minute Syndrome presents itself