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Indian advertising rediscovers Jammu and Kashmir and its cultural nuances

For the last few decades the most vivid and frequent images from Kashmir have been either grim newsreel footage or the madcap romantic comedies of Shammi Kapoor playing on a retro film channel. The long overdue change of scene is finally taking pl...

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Nov 21, 2012, 08.53 AM IST
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For the last few decades the most vivid and frequent images from Kashmir have been either grim newsreel footage or the madcap romantic comedies of Shammi Kapoor playing on a retro film channel. The long overdue change of scene is finally taking place as Indian advertising rediscovers the beautiful state and its unique cultural nuances
For the last few decades the most vivid and frequent images from Kashmir have been either grim newsreel footage or the madcap romantic comedies of Shammi Kapoor playing on a retro film channel. The long overdue change of scene is finally taking place as Indian advertising rediscovers the beautiful state and its unique cultural nuances
In August when Shahrukh Khan finally flew to Pahalgam and Gulmarg, it was mission accomplished for the J&K government and Kashmir’s hospitality sector that were desperately campaigning to encourage Bollywood’s return to Kashmir. Explains Nazir Bakhshi, an old friend of the late Yash Chopra who has worked with tinsel town for decades. “It helps convey the message that Kashmir is safe for tourists.”

Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan may take a while to create an impact, but several recent ad films have already led people to look beyond the stereotypes of a ‘troubled’ state and terrorism when it comes to Kashmir. Via the jingle of the new ICICI bank commercial, the stunning visuals of Nike’s Parallel Journeys and a very universally human story in a new ad for Visa from BBDO, the ad industry is consciously or unconsciously bringing the culture, locales and stories of Jammu and Kashmir to the rest of the country. And there are a lot more on the anvil from brands like Mahindra.

With instant impact and high frequency exposure both on television as well as online channels like YouTube, TV commercials are gradually emerging as a new way of relaunching brand Kashmir as a destination for leisure, romance, adventure and business. A few in the state’s policy making coterie are considering even creating a separate protocol for the producers shooting commercials because the message is instant.

BBDO’s recent Visa commercial is the story of a teacher who lives in a distant mountain hamlet in Kashmir, faced with power outages. The protagonist is encouraged by his younger brother to use his debit card on the internet to make certain purchases and assemble a cycle generator that supplies electricity to the hamlet. The story, the main character, the background and the crisis, all have a ring of authenticity. “In the tourism sector anything and everything – as long as it is not bad — that links a destination is a good projection,” says Abdul Hamid, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce.

“We had two options Kerala and Kashmir. Thank God, we choose Kashmir because that ultimately proved the turning point leading to the appreciation for the film,” said Amit Sharma, who directed the film, his first in Kashmir. The team opted to have a Kashmiri cast and consciously decided not to change the accent in which the protagonist Gulzar Ahmad spoke.

“In a way, we packaged the entire story of India’s countryside into this small Kashmir story,” says Sharma. Adds BBDO’s chairman and creative chief Josy Paul, “We were keen on a new look for our story and wanted a sense of a faraway land. We finally chose Kashmir because it was most remote, beautiful and brought in an element of inclusive growth which was our brand idea for Visa Debit.” The film has created a ‘hero’ out of Gulzar. “As I move around, people stop and point towards me and it embarrasses me sometimes,” says the actor who actually fainted during the course of shooting since he was fasting at the time, but soldiered on regardless.

The campaign aimed at increasing debit card usage, complements trends in the local market. Online shopping is on the rise and more businesses accept credit cards. A phenomenally successful tourism year added to the overall appetite for cashless transactions.

“We have nearly 3000 POS machines and more than 32000 of our customers use credit cards,” Tafazul Hussain, one of the top executives at J&K Bank, the leader of the banking sector in the state, says, adding. “Debit cards are a major success story. Over 1.25 million of our account holders use them.”

Glimpses of Kashmir also found their way into Nike’s new Parallel Journeys, by way of proving that passion for cricket can transcend all obstacles.

However a fairly unique take on Kashmir came from Ogilvy & Mather for ICICI; surprising especially because the film itself was not shot in the state. The agency nevertheless has succeeded in turning an ancient Kashmiri poem in the nonsense verse tradition into a catchy jingle. The opening lines on the new commercial for ICICI are: ‘Hu-Kus, Bhu-Kus, Teli Whan Tsche Kus’ – Who is s(he), Who am I and (then) tell me who are you?’ While ideating the team hit on Hu-Kus, Bhu-Kus, which was suggested by the film’s director Prasoon Pandey. “In every language, certain poems lack any meaning and are termed nonsensical,” explains acclaimed Kashmiri poet Rehman Rahi.

“We all have grown singing it at some point in our childhood though this may not be true of new generations.” But it is via this commercial that Kashmir rediscovered the poem even as it got introduced to the rest of the country.

And so it almost doesn’t matter that the agency had to shoot in Ooty instead of Kashmir, due to budget constraints. Ogilvy’s national creative director, Abhijit Avasthi admits that the soundtrack may not have an authentic Kashmir voice but that was not so important in the entire process of capturing the romance of the hills. He claims the campaign is a hit and people have begun to compare the jingle to last year’s surprise sensation Kolaveri Di.

In Kashmir, the shooting of TVCs might be a new phenomenon given two decades of turmoil. But it is already a flourishing industry in Ladakh. And the person who knows and has nourished it is Odpal D George, who runs the Himalayan Safari and is increasingly termed as ‘Bollywood’s one man army in Ladakh.’

“We had four commercial shoots this year. We have invested in basic requirements that burden the crews and local availability makes it easier for producers to manage shooting here,” says George, citing commercials for Nike, Incredible India, Tata Nano and Mahindra and Mahindra. George is now looking further afield since many filmmakers are keen on Kashmir. He wants to create a joint venture arrangement with somebody in Srinagar to manage the facilities that the crews require.

“Every time I go to Mumbai, they talk about Srinagar,” he admits. “Travel and handling crews are two different activities. We have a well trained staff with experience of handing 20 advertising films and 15 feature films and a lot of documentaries and that will help us in Kashmir.”

These films have already created a rush to Kashmir. “Since, we shot the Visa card film, we have done two more and one of them was actually shot by me,” Sharma says. “One is for the new Mahindra Quanto car and another is for a bandage brand.” He believes the state offers sets that are unavailable elsewhere. “I never knew such a beautiful place exists in India and I am totally overwhelmed at the treatment I got from the people,” he says. Move over Shammi Kapoor, Kashmir has got itself a new set of brand ambassadors.

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