Basing this conclusion on his observation that people throughout the world were not interested in anything that was boring, Mr. R. Balki, the man who made the critically-acclaimed film Paa with Amitabh Bachchan, said that the two questions that would be asked most frequently in the future would be “Is it interesting?” and “Is it boring?”
Speaking at the last meeting on “Is Bollywood burning money?” he said that if an advertisement film (or ad film) was boring, the viewer just switched off. But if there was an interesting ad film, he looked forward to watching it. The key words were “interest value”.
Huge sums of money were spent on producing ad films and showcasing them on television in prime slots. The viewer did not pay anything for watching them and was often doing the ad film-maker a favour by watching his work.
In the case of feature films, on the other hand, the viewer voluntarily paid Rs. 200 to go into a theatre to watch a movie. Getting such a person out of the theatre was a difficult task because he wanted value for money.
Whether in a restaurant or in a theatre, a patron was willing to accept things even if offered far less than the value that he had paid. “The viewer is willing to forgive the person (feature film-maker) even if he gives you 10% of the value that he paid for... Yet, you (the feature film-maker) have scant respect for his time.”
Sadly, Bollywood, as the Hindi feature film industry was called, “in spite of a captive audience, is mastering the art and the craft of getting paying people out of the theatres. It’s crazy... A feature film can be just 20% as interesting as an ad film and it will still work. The difficulty is in making that 20% work”.
Mr. Balki then screened an ad film for a product, Idea Cellular, which showed a village chieftain decreeing that in future people would be known by their mobile numbers rather than by their caste names. This was promoted as a brilliant idea that brought peace and tranquillity to a strife-torn village. (The catch line of the ad film was What an Idea, Sirji!)
“Both advertisement and feature films are about entertainment, because the human race in general is bored and our job is to make their lives interesting. It’s not to educate them. If people are interested, they (will) get educated. We just have to make their lives interesting and make what they see interesting,” he said.
Mr. Balki was introduced by Programme Chairperson Dolly Thakore who said that he was the Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of Lowe-Lintas and among the three top advertising persons in the country. His full name was R. Balakrishnan.
He had walked out at the interview stage after applying to the Madras Film Institute to study direction because he had not liked the interview panel asking him “stupidly silly questions”. Later, he was thrown out of class in the third and final year of the Master’s course in Computer Applications because of poor attendance.
He chanced upon an advertisement for Mudra Advertising and applied for the job, stating that his “inspiration” came from the composer Illayaraja, director Ramesh Sippy and watching the worst of European films and the best of Tamil films. He rose very quickly in the advertising world and the rest, as the saying went, was history.
If all villagers have mobile numbers as names, it will help solve caste problems, says Idea ad man R. Balki
His body of work included several interesting, humorous and message-driven ad films for Surf Excel detergent, Tata Tea, Havell’s Fans and Cables, and Idea Cellular.
After he made two Hindi feature films starring Amitabh Bachchan (Cheeni Kum and Paa), he had come to be called the “Big B of Lowe-Lintas”.
Mr. Balki said that he straddled the twin worlds of ad films and feature films. While in one (ad films), people were paid to watch them, in the other (feature films), it was the people who paid to watch them.
And yet, both genres were exactly the same. In fact, the two were “actually masquerading as different entities”, (but) were exactly the same. Both told stories. While one told a story with a purpose, the other just told a story.
But despite his years in advertising, he was yet to understand the meaning of the term “target audience”.
“I never know who I am talking to and it is really presumptuous of anybody to assume that they can understand another human being and tailor-make a conversation for them. One can’t even understand one’s self; it’s highly unlikely that one can understand another human being. It’s the same with feature films. People make them for themselves.
“But if what you like is liked by a lot of other people, then you are a good advertising person, or a good film-maker. But if a lot of people don’t like what you like, then you are a bad film-maker, or a bad advertising person. That’s the definition of good and bad. It’s all a question of chance. It’s not a question of science, of understanding or anything else.”
As an ad film-maker, he believed that his fraternity was extremely callous. However, at least it paid lip service against wasting the client’s money. In the feature film industry, on the other hand, it knew how much money it was wasting (and yet was callous about it).
In fact, considering the huge sums of money being wasted by them, he had come to believe that the advertising world and the film industry would be better served if they donated their monies to the Rotary Club!
However, his foray into the feature film industry had convinced him that the advertising world was science personified and even “holy” in comparison. Not only was there extreme disrespect for money in the film industry, there was a general feeling that some “science” was involved in the kind of films that were being churned out and that this “science” was the genuine article.
This was a scary situation and had led him to believe that the world of advertising was a respectable profession which wasted far less money.
It was at this stage that Mr. Balki screened the ad film of Idea Cellular (What an Idea, S