"PSAs Are Closer To Cinema As Opposed To An Ad Film" - Shivendra Singh Dungarpur On Getting The Message Across!

By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on June 09, 2016

Media = Pandora's box!

Every day you switch on your television set, turn on your radio, log into your social media accounts, open your browsers and a swarm of videos, films, articles, news, pictures and much more floods in. Which is why, it has become a herculean task to hold the attention of the viewer/ reader long enough to say what you have to say. For any filmmaker, it's a challenge to make sure that her film doesn't get lost in the myriad possibilities of spending time that are available to everyone.

No wonder, one finds it almost impossible to make one's voice heard in all that noise that's media today. However, not all of what you see is memorable. Not all that you find out there, is interesting. Not everything that comes across is meaningful. And what is interesting, what's meaningful still holds a place in all that chaos. There is always a way to make your voice heard. There's always a possibility of making a difference through your work. All you need is the right platform and the right guidance.

With the same aim, YES FOUNDATION has come up with an initiative called YES FOUNDATION Social Film Grant, which aims at creating socially aware content by tutoring & mentoring young filmmakers with brilliant ideas. The program is inviting ideas for one minute films that focus on UN's sustainable development goals. The candidates whose ideas will get selected will be mentored by a team of professionals. Grants worth Rs 20 lakhs are up for grabs through this grant and this is an opportunity you must not miss out on! You can read more about the grant right here & find some tips here.

The deadline is nearing (15th June 2016) and we thought it'd be helpful if there was someone to advise the participants on the Do's and Don'ts as well as the general essentials for making Public Service Advertisements (PSAs). And therefore, we caught up with none other than Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, who is one of the mentors in the program and is himself an ad filmmaker and a film preservationist!

In this interview, Dungarpur talks about the advent of digital media and its impact, the essentials of a PSA, the difference between an ad film & a PSA and lastly, things one should remember before participating!

The digital boom has created a space for filmmakers to explore subjects that would otherwise have never being explored. Do you see your peers & younger filmmakers leveraging the freedom to create socially conscious films (short or otherwise)?

In a way it's very good that the digital medium has actually reduced the cost implications. It's made it more accessible to many people. As the great filmmaker Jean Cocteau said, in order to have a more democratic approach to filmmaking, filmmaking has to be cheap. As cheap as pencil & rubber. Once you have the process cheap, its accessibility is better, so it's easy to experiment.

Having said that, my real worry about the young generation of filmmakers is that, while I admire their confidence & their urge to make a film, I feel that they've deviated heavily from the language of cinema. Filmmaking has a language. Just like painting. Not everybody can be a painter. Everyone can have a piece of paper & a pencil or a brush, but that doesn't make everyone an artist, right? Because, there's an art to it!

So it's very important that we understand filmmaking as a language. It may be easily accessible today because of the digital technology, but one still needs to learn the language. That's why I think it's very necessary to mentor the younger generation. To make them understand the importance of what they're doing.

Does the narrative structure of a PSA differ from that of a normal brand ad film?

If you look at what an advertising film does, its basic job is to tell a story creatively to sell a product. In the public service sector, when you're trying to engage the audience, you're telling your story about a social issue; the selling aspect doesn't arrive in this. It's more about the impact. It's more the approach that matters in the end. While you're heavily bent towards a particular product in advertising.

In PSAs, the key thing is simplicity. The fact that you're able to tell the story in such simple ways through a visual format & still be socially conscious and aware within those surroundings, is what matters. The film should reflect that issue itself. It should not be what I'd call 'something dealing with A product'. While ad film deals with a single issue, a PSA can involve a larger perspective. They both differ in many ways.

If you look at PSAs, they're closer to cinema, as opposed to an ad film, which primarily relies on a certain structure & purpose of selling a product. A PSA is closer to reality, it's closer to cinema.It deals with social issues, it's a reflection of the society that we live in & how we want to project it cinematically.

What do you find in common in PSA's that work? Or if I may put it otherwise, what are the key ingredients of a good PSA?

One of the key things of PSA is that it's honest, it's truthful, it's a reflection of the world that we live in. Unless you're honest, truthful & simple, it wouldn't work. And if we believe in something, it reflects in the film that we make.

We know the points which need to be discussed, addressed & reflected upon and those are the points to talk about in the film.

Another thing is who do you cast in the film. Through my whole association with PSAs, I have cast non-actors. As opposed to ad films, where you cast actors, models or stars. I have a huge problem when we start casting celebrities in PSAs. I feel that they endorse so many products that it becomes just another product for them. While for me, the purity, simplicity & truthfulness of the film matters and the non-actors contribute tremendously to that. It's just all very close to the social fabric that we're a part of. It has bigger impact, I believe.

Do PSA's really make any visible impact? What are some campaigns that stand out for you in that regard?

There are so many public service campaigns out there. Some are made for television and now with the explosion of the internet, so many PSAs we find on the internet. With the inexpensive way that people can shoot, there's a flood of public service campaigns. One of the key features in a public service campaign is that there's no product in the end.

I did a public service campaign for the Gates foundation in Bihar, which dealt with the healthcare issues. One film was about giving medicines to cure malaria & similar issues were covered through different films. So here, there's no one product that you're endorsing. It's a huge issue of health that you need to address through your film. The message is simple & needs to be conveyed with clarity & simplicity. Here the message is simple - Go to a doctor or to the PHC when you have fever and don't go to the tantrik or the baid. The issue that we're dealing with is much larger.

The impact can be felt, certainly. There are many ways through which the PSAs are reaching people. On social media or so to say internet, you can keep a track of its impact. In villages, where these ads are being shown by a mobile van, you have to go to these places to see the impact. Then there are municipal halls, where these films are shown. So, each film reaches differently.We have to keep in mind the purpose behind making the films- they're made to impact people's psyches, they're made to create awareness. So that impact cannot be measured like that of an ad film.

What would you advise filmmakers who are looking at participating in this program?

What I have stated before- the salient features of a PSA, those should be kept in mind. Apart from that, I'll also advise them the following:

First, you must understand the medium of cinema. It's very essential to understand the language of cinema. Film is a visual medium, it's not a verbal medium. So, express yourselves through visuals and not verbose dialogue.

Secondly, cast non-actors. Cast real people. Cast someone who'll make people believe that this is about them. This is happening to them, or to someone who is one of them. That's very important.

And lastly, there should be honesty, simplicity & truthfulness in your film. It should be so simple that even a layman should be able to understand the message.


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