Lights, Camera and Kashmir

After Visa, ICICI Bank and Hero Honda, it is time for India’s leading IT company, HCL, to show Kashmir in their upcoming ad film as part of its growth story, SHAMS IRFAN catches up with the crew of the shooting team in Srinagar.

Saatchi and Saatchi shooting HCL ad in old city Srinagar. Photo: Shams Irfan

Saatchi and Saatchi shooting HCL ad in old city Srinagar. Photo: Shams Irfan

It is half past noon but the sun is still not out. There is a prediction of snow on upper reaches of the valley. In a small lane near the famous Dastgeer Sahab shrine, a group of men, stuffed under layers of clothes, carrying handheld cameras and other accessories are busy shooting.

A small group of locals have assembled near them, killing the time and enjoying the Sunday afternoon. In a corner, an old man wearing a traditional Kashmiri pheran walks in and out of a narrow wooden door. He is the lead protagonist of the HCL ad film that Saatchi and Saatchi, a Mumbai based ad agency is shooting in Kashmir.

The team has bought a truck load of expensive carpets with them to make the location look like a working factory from where the protagonist is operating his business. The house where the team is shooting, is a grand old one; its large lattice windows overlooking the narrow street, where the director of the ad film is struggling to take perfect shots, despite cloudy overcasts, are painted fresh.

In the recent years, Indian advertising industry, which so far has remained away from Kashmir and its culture, has finally found valley as a potential place to shoot ads. Unlike Bollywood, ads which are shot in Kashmir reflect its culture and the people in a sense that was desired from Indian films.

Last year, Visa debit card ad campaign, which was entirely shot in a remote village in Sonmarg, talked about power crisis in the region while a Hero Honda Glamour ad campaign made by renowned ad agency JWT used Kashmir as background. Though Hero Honda campaign is limited to visuals of Kashmir only, it ensured the arrival of international ad agencies like JWT in the conflict-torn valley.

Produced by Finger Prints Films, HCL ad campaign will be shot in Kashmir, Banaras, Agra and Goa. “We are trying to show how HCL technology helps a local businessman from these areas to connect with the world outside and grow,” said Anuj Alia, films head of Saatchi and Saatchi.

Most of the 15 member team are visiting Kashmir for the first time. Assisted by a local line producer, Bilal, the team has shot sequences in Gulmarg a day before. “I am completely bowled over by the place and the charm of the people,” said Ramanuj Shastry, chief creative director, Saatchi and Saatchi. “In my 20 year ad making career, I always wanted to shoot in Kashmir,” he added.

Ramanuj Shastry

Mesmerized by the scenic beauty of Kashmir and the warmth of the locals, Shastry and his colleagues wonder how different Kashmir actually is from what is shown on screen. “Indian audience know Kashmir only through Bollywood cinema. But Kashmir is much more than just beautiful locations,” he exclaimed.

In between the takes, Anuj said that as soon as he landed in Kashmir, the first question he asked himself was why he didn’t come here for the last 30 years. “I kept asking myself. ‘Why we missed Kashmir so far’,” said Anuj.

This is Saatchi and Saatchi’s first ad film in Kashmir. But Anuj is optimist that after spending three days in Kashmir, one thing was clear that there is no dearth of locations or stories for an ad filmmaker. He assures that Saatchi and Saatchi will surely keep Kashmir as an option for shooting ads in future.

“As a filmmaker, Kashmir is a delight. You don’t need to look for perfect places to fix your camera at. You just put your camera anywhere and it is beautiful,” said Anuj. “People charmed the life out of us,” said Anuj.

From an ad filmmaker’s perspective, Kashmir is an ideal place to shoot ads. “It is unique as not much has been shot in Kashmir so far,” agrees Shastry.

Anuj Alia

Saatchi and Saatchi has hired Rajay Singh, a Malaysia based ad filmmaker, to shoot this ad in Kashmir. “It is wonderful to be in Kashmir. It is such a beautiful place that you don’t need to hunt for locations,” Singh said excitedly.

After completing the shoot and packing for the day, the team left for Lal Chowk to try some Kashmiri cuisine. “I have heard a lot about Kashmir food. I want to taste Kebabs,” said Anuj. Next day, the team shot sequences at a Lal Chowk based antiques shop. “We are heading straight to Banaras from here to shoot next sequence,” said Shastry. “But we promise we are coming back soon.”

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