Ad filmmaker Jayendra Panchapakesan on directing his first feature film, his stint in advertising, and working to make NGOs visible

Restless in peace. That's ad filmmaker Jayendra Panchapakesan for you, all set to direct his first feature film, 25 years after he started J.S. Films with P.C. Sreeram. He seems at peace, yet has a never-ending zeal to explore new creative dimensions.

In these 25 years, he's done over 500 ad films for pretty much every single national brand, started the successful Real Image Media Technologies, and taken it global, directed the critically-acclaimed concert experience “Margazhi Raagam”, and kept the creative fire burning by making films for NGOs, including Sankara Eye Care Institutions; The Cancer Institute, Adyar; SOS, Tambaram; and The Banyan.

So, it's no surprise when he tells you that his producers, Sathyam Cinemas, didn't really ask for a script. “What more can you ask for in a producer?” he laughs, reluctant to share details about the film, apart from the fact that it stars Siddharth, and will release in early 2011.

“Over the last two to three years, Mani Ratnam has been driving me saying: ‘When are you going to make it? If you don't make it now, you are never going to make it'. He has been really pushing me.”

So, what took him this long? Jayendra started his career in advertising in 1978, and within a year, moved to Bombay to work with Clarion. “Clarion, at that point, was the number two agency in the country. There were no senior people. Chaks (K.S. Chakravarthy, now the national creative director of FCB ULKA) and I were the only two writers. We had big accounts, and we one-year-old copywriters were working on those accounts. It was an opportunity that not many people get,” he says.

“In eight years, I skipped 14 jobs. I had done all the agencies around, twice over. My shortest resignation letter was two words — ‘Previously Yours',” he grins.

“Sometimes, it was creative differences, sometimes it was not getting the right accounts to work on. In 1986, I started ad film production with JS Films and became a consultant for HTA and Mudra. But, ad film production got so busy that I had to wind up creative consultancy,” Jayendra recalls.

“When we started JS, Mani was shooting ‘Mouna Raagam'. And, we (Jayendra and P.C. Sreeram) were shooting our first ad film. At that time, not many people considered Madras for ad film production. But, within a year, we completely turned the tables, and started getting films from Mudra in Ahmedabad and Delhi, and then, agencies from Bombay... Soon, a flurry of ad films came our way.”

He continues: “We did commercials for every national brand in the country. PC came from a film background. He had already done features, but his strength was experimentation. So, I could demand stuff from him.”

“When I was working as a copywriter, I always used to work with the visualiser in coming up with the images that went with my copy. So, I thought I would have greater control to create an idea and see it through all the way,” he justifies his shift to ad filmmaking, recalling the campaign they did for Regal liquid blue that went on to become a huge hit.

After he co-founded Real Image in 1993, he slowed down a little to focus on the company. “I got into technology and, for 10 years, balanced it with ad filmmaking; then, it became fewer ad films and more technology. But, whenever I visited NGOs… and if I liked their work, I would do films for them.”

His series of films for Sankara Eye Care Institutions (he did four or five in the last 10 years) helped raise a few millions. “It was not just creatively satisfying, but it also gave them a product that would have otherwise cost them lakhs of rupees.”

Last year, he came up with “Margazhi Raagam” that married two of his interests — technology and music. “Indian classical music is so badly presented that it needed a platform to be showcased well. ‘Margazhi Raagam' was an attempt at packaging a classical music concert in a way that the music completely immersed you.”

Even the DVDs, priced at Rs. 1,250, sold like hot cakes. “Everybody said DVDs were not priced beyond 300 rupees, but I felt the price should reflect the quality of the product; also, we had to cover the cost involved in sourcing Red cameras.”

Back to films

It was just a matter of time before he decided to make a film. “It's been lying dormant for 10-15 years. Several scripts we've done have been lying in the cupboards for a long time. It had a lot to do with seeing Real Image through to a stage where it can operate on its own,” he explains.

“A lot of times, we come across films that are really commercially successful, but when you speak to viewers, you see that they were not completely satisfied, because it did not involve them. I want to put real people in a situation, and see what happens. Once you create strong characters that are real, they drive the script, and it's no more in your hands.”

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