"Typecasting Is The Biggest Threat For A Creative Person & Can Lead To A Burnout” – Lessons From An Award Winning Filmmaker’s Journey!

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on May 25, 2016

Pranav Harihar Sharma - Executive Creative Director at Rediffusion Y&R (West and North) is a prominent name in the advertising circles. Having worked with top agencies like JWT, DDB Mudra in the past and directed several ad campaigns for brands such as Dabur, Videocon and LIC, Sharma by his own admission was always inclined towards filmmaking and pursuing other creative interests since a young age.

His foray into the creative world of advertising and film-making began with a stint in an advertising agency in Indore which led him to winning Cannes-Yahoo International Big Idea Chair award, after which he never looked back.

Sharma recently directed the short film Watermelon that was an official selection at several festivals including Cannes Short Film Corner, IDSFFK, Manhattan Short Film Festival and New Generation Indian Films Festival 2015, Frankfurt (where it won the Best Screenplay award).

He also was in the news for having directed Wazan - a short film featuring Pankaj Tripathi that won the Best Screenplay award at the recently concluded Dadasaheb Phalke awards.

We recently spoke to Sharma and interesting conversation ensued about his foray into advertising, filmmaking, his future plans and why filmmakers shouldn't worry about which format they are shooting for.

Republished below are some excerpts from the same.

Could you tell us about your early days and your journey into the world of advertising?

I am a teetotaler-non smoker and vegetarian, which I think is a rarity in the field of advertising. I was born in Indore, Madhyapradesh and hold an MBA degree in marketing. Right from my childhood I was interested in art and the creative side of life. As a dyslexic kid I didn't have that great a childhood, when I used to struggle right from tying up shoelaces and necktie to solving the formulas of mathematics and equations in physics. While I was in my final year of MBA, I joined a small advertising agency, in Indore as a summer trainee in the Client Servicing department. That’s when I realized that I want to pursue my career in advertising and that too in the creative department.

When I was in the final year of my MBA, I got a lucrative job offer from a marketing company, but I chose to join an ad agency as a proofreader for Rs. 600 a month. I worked in Indore for three years and while I was there, I won the First Cannes-Yahoo International Big Idea Chair for the short animation film You Vs. Him, which I had written and directed for green awareness.

As a reward, I went to the Cannes Lions advertising festival as a Yahoo delegate and had a dinner with stalwarts like Piyush Pandey, Bob Greenberg and David Droga who were on the juries of the Yahoo Big Idea Chair, which I had won. At that time I knew only Mr. Pandey and was overwhelmed to sit next to him on the dinner table.  During the dinner itself, Mr. Pandey offered me a job in Ogilvy, saying you are too good to be in Indore. But due of destiny and some other reasons I couldn't join Ogilvy, but shifted to Mumbai without a job.

After working for sometime as freelance filmmaker i joined Rediffusion YR Mumbai and later DDB Mudra, Mumbai. Thereafter I shifted to Delhi and worked with agencies like JWT Delhi, Rediffusion YR (Delhi), Linen Lintas, Delhi and Grey, Delhi in different capacities. Right now I am working with Rediffusion YR India as Executive Creative Director-West & North, looking after the creative products for both Mumbai and Delhi Offices. In the year 2010, I was adjudged as the Radio writer of the year and in 2011 I was named as Ad Club Mumbai’s Under 30 Young Achievers.

Having worked with some of the top agencies, did filmmaking come naturally to you or was it an instinctive decision? 

So far I have made close to 70 ad films and one short film. Out of these 70 ad films, some 20 films I have directed in the last one year. I have started directing films only from December 2015 and it's just one and a half year since I forayed into direction. While I was making ad films as a creative director, I used to watch the whole film making process very closely. I was interested in films even when I was starting off in advertising and was working as a proof reader.

But at that point of time I couldn't go for a proper training/course in an institute like FTII, Pune as I already had a professional degree and was supposed to begin my career. But since I decided to jump into advertising rather than taking a cushy marketing job, I was happy at that point of time ( and also you can push your luck with your family only to an extent :-) ).

But slowly I started getting to learn about films and the processes of their making. One of the major reasons of my shifting from Mumbai to Delhi during my professional life, was because in Mumbai I was not getting any opportunity to make films. So I researched a bit and found that Delhi market generates more film projects than Mumbai and its because all the major film making brands (telecom, beverages, FMCG) are headquartered in Delhi. At that point of time my decision was ridiculed as in advertising people shift from Delhi to Mumbai and I was doing just the opposite. After working four years in Delhi, in 2015 I was back in Mumbai with almost 50 ad films to my credit. The gut proved right. It always does.

Now as far as shifting from advertising to filmmaking is concerned, it was pretty smooth. When I decided to don the director's hat, I had already learnt enough from the ad film directors, whom I worked with during the making of my ad films. You can say that all those directors are my mentors or more appropriately 'uninformed mentors' :-)

It’s somewhat like Eklavya and Dronacharya. They didn't knew that they were training for a future competition.

What was the idea behind 'Watermelon' which is unlike the other films you’ve created including 'Wazan' & 'Brave And Beautiful'- the film for Dabur Vatika that raise awareness about an issue?

While starting off as a director, I was pretty clear that I won't work only for a particular zoner. Not just in feature film making, in advertising film making too, you are prone to be typecast as a 'stylish ad film maker', 'Performance Film Maker', 'Humor Film Maker', 'Emotional Film Maker', 'Demo Film Maker' or even more closely categorised like 'automobile film maker', 'Fashion Film maker' etc.

So typecasting is the biggest threat for a creative person. He is offered with same kind of projects on a repeated basis and than he faces a burn out. So while I was starting off, I decided that I will try to work in as many zones as possible irrespective of the fact that whether it is an ad film, a short film or a feature. The reason being that direction is an art that you learn/acquire. Once you are a director then it doesn't and should't matter what you are shooting. It should just make you feel excited and then you are on. This is visible in the ad campaigns I directed so far which ranges from tourism to skin care, beverage, hair care and electronics.

Watermelon is a dark film. I have experimented with Noir in this. The film is slow paced, almost muted and keeps playing with your understanding of story and the plot. It keeps making you think about the action of the characters and their decisions. In fact half the story of Watermelon is in its' end credits. It keeps challenging you till the end.

Watermelon is based on my belief that in this world no one is black or white. We all are grey, sometimes black, sometimes white. In the film too, the characters shift colors from black to white and vice versa.

This is unlike Wazan or Brave And Beautiful, which are more emotional, positive and bright. Both the films talk about a cause and try to bring a change.

But that's what I said in the beginning. I am a writer-director, these are my crafts and a true writer-director can handle any kind of subject comes his way. And I strongly feel, having this ability is where the true craft lies.

'Watermelon' also made it to Cannes Short Film Corner, IDSFFK & Manhattan Short Film Festival among other prestigious international film festivals. Could you elaborate on the film’s festival journey and the reactions received by the film?

The film has made it to almost 25 National-International Film festivals so far and everywhere the reactions were overwhelming. I was told that it is one of the most professionally made short films of India. It has good production values, strong script, great performances and a unique look.

I never expected such kind of response for my first short film. In all the festivals it has went to till date,  the film participated either in official selection or in competition section category. Such a response is a great booster for a new film maker.

Could you tell us about 'Wazan' and what prompted the idea for it? How did you ensure that it didn't fall prey to jingoism or cliches while delivering the intended message?

Wazan was the result of a client's brief. It’s an ad film (though i never treated it like that :-))

The brief was to create an ad film that goes with the occasion of Republic Day. It should be powerful enough to touch the millions and should be on a cause. I didn't write Wazan. The script was written by the writers - Bhuvan Sharma and Kapil Rana, of my team in Delhi.

But as there was hardly any budget to produce it, I took the onus of directing the film. But this was on January 21st and the film has to go on air on Jan 24th.  There was hardly any time left and we needed to finish the project in three days. I took it as a challenge and wrote the shooting script, screenplay in two hours and started getting people on board as crew, simultaneously. The cast of the film was locked at 3:00 AM for a 9:00AM call time for the shoot!

It was hard but it was a roller coaster ride and paid off well for the client-Videocon, for the agency-Rediffusion YR and for me as well.

The visual treatment of Wazan was kept purely real. There is no drama or unnecessary zoom-ins or zoom-outs. The close ups are taken wherever they are required and the whole camera movement and framing was done keeping one thing in  mind- the story should look like as if it's happening in front of you in real and not on reel.

My D.O.P Akhilesh Srivastava used as much natural lighting as possible. The reason being that my TG for the film was the common man. It has to depict his struggle and life. It has to touch him, deep inside. He should feel that 'it's my story' and should feel victorious towards the end.

There are lots of cliches in the film by the way! There is a flag. There is National anthem. There is a vulnerable old man and a sly clerk. These all are usual ingredients to make a patriotic film. But all these cliches becomes great ideas, when you use them in a way they were never used. Here the credit goes to Bhuvan and Kapil for writing the great script, to my crew to pull it off in three days and to the extraordinary cast of Mr. Pankaj Tripathi (Clerk) and Mr. Vishwa Mohan Vadola (old man), who lived their characters to the 'T'.

What’s next? Is there a feature film in the future?

Immediate next are a lot of ad campaigns which I will be shooting in the next two months.

Next on a little short term are two short films for a brand which I will be shooting in July 2016. One of those is a period film set in the era of late 1800. It will probably be the most expensive short film produced in India and I am fortunate enough that I have got people who believed in my idea/script as a writer and are trusting me as a director to put that kind of monies in the project. Unlike Watermelon, this short film is 'History-Drama'.

The other short film I will be shooting is a science-fiction. So in this way, I am keeping my words of being an experimental film maker. The next long term plan is of course to make a feature film. I have completed two scripts. with one being a social drama and the other catering to children. I am in talks with some corporate houses for the production and soon the announcements will be made. Most probably before the year ends.


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