residents of India's ulcer gulch have always displayed a predilection
for beautiful people. Hindustan Lever Limited has just unveiled
its newest Liril girl, its sixth; everyone has lost track of just
how many hunks have played Raymond's complete man; and companies
with money to burn still go out and get supermodel-turned-superstar
Aishwarya Rai to endorse their products.
Over the past two years, however, advertising
pros and the makers of ad films have shown a preference for people
who, in their terminology, ''look different''. That's a term that
spans the entire range of non-conventional looks, from fat to skinny
to buck-toothed to squint-eyed to big-nosed to plain and simple
Different looking as the skinny, dazed-looking
young man who appears in the CentreShock commercials, trying to
get a rural barber in his dotage to give him a Hendrix-cut or arriving
at his fat girlfriend's house to take her out on a date. Different
as in the liberally-endowed-with-adipose paanwallah who manhandles
a customer (a funny looking one) in the Chlormint ad. Different
as in the short-and-fat street Romeo who gets repeatedly slapped
by women, for no reason at all, in an ad for Usha fans, And different
as in the dark-and-old groom who appears in a Fevicol ad.
VARUN VOHRA: An ad filmmaker's
assistant, he plays the skinny, dazed-looking young man in
the CentreShock commercials, trying to get a rural barber
in his dotage to give him a Hendrix-cut
''Young (ad) directors are not looking for tall,
dark, and handsome models anymore,'' says Manoj Pahwa, the much-abused
Romeo of the Usha ad who seems to be a favourite with ad filmmakers.
He has appeared in ads for Limca, Tide, Videocon, M-seal, 8 PM (whisky),
and Mentos, and sees filmmakers ''looking at the story and doing
justice to their scripts''. Casting, the message between the lines
goes, has come of age in the Indian advertising industry. ''Prasoon
Pandey (the man who made the Fevicol film) told me I was the best
guy to play the part,'' says Virender Saxena, the 48-year-old graduate
from the National School of Drama who plays the groom in the Fevicol
ad. Pandey also made the CentreShock film and picked his assistant
Varun Vohra to play the protagonist. ''He struck me as having an
interesting face with a character,'' says the filmmaker. That's
a refrain many of his breed have adopted.
The Quasimodo Effect
The human mind remembers the unconventional
and the plain ugly. An exec travelling on the 8.30 a.m. Virar Local
in Mumbai will remember a hunchback far more vividly than he does
a pleasant-looking girl. Make no mistake, the latest trend in ad
film making isn't about featuring people like us; it is about featuring
those who look different, very very different, from most people.
The desire to break through clutter lies at the bottom of this phenomenon.
Perfect faces and bodies have become clichés that no longer
work in Indian advertising. ''Earlier, clients expected to see good-looking
models in their ads,'' says ad filmmaker Ravi Udawar. ''Now, the
realisation has dawned upon them that unusual and real faces have
much more empathy and recall to them.''
VIRENDER SAXENA: The NSD
graduate who appears in the Fevicol ad says advertising films
are a source of "additional income" up to Rs 50,000
a day, sometimes
Ad filmmakers could well be pandering to an
emerging fondness for street-lingo and quirky humour among the young
upper middle-class urban audience. The fact that most brands targeting
other audiences still use good-looking models, sometimes movie stars,
lends credence to this theory. However, even some of these brands
are resorting to the use of models who 'look different'. ''Unless
it is a fashion brand, sticking to specific physical types (of models)
is no longer valid,'' says Ramesh Ramanathan, National Creative
Director (NCD), Mudra Communications, proferring his own take on
what kind of ads can use models with unconventional looks. If that
is true-and circa 2004, that does seem to be the case-the era of
ugly-duckling models is here to stay. ''The era of supermodels is
over,'' says Amit Arora, who runs Glitz, a New Delhi-based model
search agency. ''Anyone can be a model today.'' Indeed, of the 1,000-plus
models on Glitz's roster, around 400 are what Arora calls ''character
types'' (read: those who look very very different). Arvind Thakker,
a hunk who graced several ad films in the 1990s and now a model
coordinator echoes the sentiment. ''Anyone will do (as a model),''
he says. As does R. 'Balki' Balakrishnan, NCD, Lowe India. ''We
look for faces with character, charm, and the ability to tell the
brand story,'' he says. ''In many cases the angularity, the quirkiness,
sometimes the ugliness of the model makes the ad and the brand-speak
SHEKHAR SHUKLA: Gujarati
theatre actor Shukla, the paanwallah in the Chlormint ad says
ad films give him "exposure" and bring in lots of
The (Funny) Man Next Door
That desire to stand out has resulted in an
altogether unexpected fallout: the 24x7 search for faces. Modelling
agencies are, in the words of Prasoon Joshi, NCD, McCann Erickson,
''clueless'' when it comes to finding such. ''We do use a lot of
street-casting around our lives,'' says Sheha Varma of Nirvana Films.
And so, everyone from unsuspecting neighbours to passers by on the
street to director's assistants, find themselves starring in ads.
For the record, Vohra, the man in the CentreShock ads, says he himself
is more comfortable behind the camera rather than in front of it.
''The other day, I was at a chemist's and the guy behind the counter
had a tooth coming out in a very particular way,'' says Joshi of
McCann Erickson. ''I do not know how and when I can use him, but
I have taken down his contact details.''
''We try to pick up good actors rather than
just peculiar faces,'' adds Piyush Pandey, Chairman and NCD, Oglivy
& Mather India, introducing a note of caution about not getting
swept away by the trend and ending up using unusual faces for the
sake of doing so. And sometimes this acting talent doesn't come
cheap. ''Advertising is just additional income, but sometimes it
can go up to Rs 50,000 per day,'' says Saxena of Fevicol fame (and
Sprite and soap Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin he proudly adds). And even
when it doesn't touch those stratospheric levels, it hovers at a
respectable Rs 10,000-15,000 per day of shoot, same as what a good-looking
model charges. ''The rates depend on negotiation,'' says Gujarati
theatre actor Shekhar Shukla, the paanwallah in the Chlormint ad.
And although they cannot survive on ad-money alone, it does come
with perks attached. ''Ad films give me exposure and that brings
in a lot of offers from (motion) pictures films,'' says Shukla.
After all, it isn't easy finding faces that can launch a 1,000 brands.