Writers from the world of advertising understand the worth of every single second while writing commercial spots. Their need to keep the content crisp and relevant guides them to cut the flab and save client’s budget. Scriptwriting makes similar demands. Copywriters and creative directors with a sharp, focused mindset avoid deviations and slowdowns while telling stories for the big screen. Enriching cinema with narrative legerdemain remains their forte, and the unique ability to weave commercial viability in their artistic pursuits wins them accolades.
The film world is blessed with many notable departures from the advertising world including the likes of Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal. The cross-over trend continues with the influx of advertising professionals in the world of Hindi cinema.
By mid-70s, a space that was once dominated by the works of literary greats was now left open for other creative professionals — from diverse fields such as advertising — who connected with the youth and spoke their language.
Jog your memory and the first name that comes to mind is Kamlesh Pandey — the advertising legend who began as a copywriter in 1970 and finally became the creative head of a big-sized agency. He entered Bollywood with Pankaj Parashar-directed Jalwa in 1987 and soon found mega-success with Tezaab in 1988. Chalbaaz, Dil, Saudagar, and Khalnayak followed in quick succession, establishing Kamlesh Pandey as one of the most prolific and successful screenwriters in the 90s.
His command over the film medium was seen once again in Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra’s blockbuster, Rang De Basanti in 2006. With his remarkable stint in Bollywood as a screenwriter who worked with the best directors, Pandey set a precedent for advertising professionals to try their luck in Bollywood.
Prasoon Joshi, a creative stalwart handling MNC brands, became a popular writer in Bollywood. He is best known for his work in Fanaa, Lajja, Delhi-6, Hum Tum, Black, Taare Zameen Par. With Rang De Basanti, Joshi became a dialogue writer. In 2014, he wrote the script for the award-winning Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and emerged as one of the finest screenwriters in Bollywood.
Another legend from the world of advertising, Pradeep Sarkar earned a National Film Award for best director for his debut film Parineeta. He began his advertising career as a creative supervisor and worked for 17 years before he quit to make films. His stint in Bollywood established him as a powerful raconteur who raises relevant socio-cultural issues through his stories. Sarkar garnered accolades for exploring bold themes. He directed three big films under the Yashraj banner: Laaga Chunri Mein Daag, Mardaani, and Lafangey Parindey.
With over two decades of experience in advertising, Rensil D’ Silva entered Bollywood as a debutant director with crime drama Kurbaan in 2009. Before this, he worked as a writer in films like Aks. He directed India’s first seasonal fictional TV series 24 and a drama flick Ungli in 2014.
Talking advertising background reminds one of Dibakar Banerjee. He joined as a copywriter in one of the most creative agencies in India and later met Jaideep Sahni, another ad guy who wrote his comedy-drama Khosla Ka Ghosla in 2006. And there’s been no looking back ever since. He gave us one brilliant film after another – Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye, Love Sex Aur Dhokha, Shanghai, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, and very recently Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar.
Vinil Mathew’s recently released Haseen Dilruba starring Tapsee Pannu, Vikrant Massey may not have worked its charm with the audience but the ad-man turned filmmaker showed promise with his debut film Hasee Toh Phasee in 2014 featuring Malhotra and Parineeti Chopra. The sensitivity and finesse he brought to his storytelling was noteworthy.
A chief creative officer who ventured into filmmaking, Nitesh Tiwari co-directed his first feature comedy Chillar Party in 2011 with director Vikas Bahl. Then came the supernatural political drama Bhoothnath Returns in 2014. Tiwari’s fortunes reversed with the 2017 super hit sports biopic, Dangal for which he wrote the script and dialogues as well. It won him the Filmfare award for best director. His 2019 directorial venture Chhichhore won him the National Award for Best Feature Film award in Hindi in 2020, establishing him as one of the finest Bollywood directors in recent times.
Gauri Shinde cut her teeth in advertising, making hundreds of short films and ad films before directing her first feature film English Vinglish in 2012. She returned with her next, Dear Zindagi starring Alia Bhatt and Shahrukh Khan in 2016. Her husband R Balki, an ad veteran established himself with Cheeni K-um in 2007. His award-winning Amitabh-starrer Paa in 2009 catapulted him to the limelight for an offbeat theme.
Ashwini Iyer Tiwari who worked as an executive creative director for over a decade took a big leap when she quit advertising in 2013. Nil Battey Sannata was her first directorial venture that won critical acclaim in 2016. With director Nitesh Tiwari as her husband, they are another film-making couple to watch out for in this decade.
Cinema has seen several successful ad filmmakers rise to prominence because of their refreshing approach to storytelling. They understand the pulse of the audience, having worked in a time-bound format. With evolving tastes and growing appetite for different kinds of cinema within the mainstream format, new filmmakers and writers are finding acceptance.
The trend of migration from advertising to films should continue to gather momentum particularly with the influx of more streaming platforms and access to all kind of films now more than ever before.
A writer by profession, Devraj Kalsi has published short fiction in Deccan Herald, The Bombay Review, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. He's authored a family drama novel titled 'Pal Motors' and is currently working on a memoir.