TV personality behind Aaj Tak's Abby ad triumph

Black and white ads, in this age of digitally created colours, which endeared themselves to all and sundry; better still won creative awards for excellence! Apocalypso Filmworks was in news recently as TV Today‘s Aaj Tak channel bagged the silver trophy for the best media campaign of the year at the ABBY Awards 2003. Conceptualized and written AAJ TAK Black & White ad campaign ,which won three ABBY awards for the year 2003 - Silver trophy for the best media campaign of the year written by Gajraj Rao; Gold Trophy for the best director of the year to Pradeep Sarkar; Gold Trophy for the best actor awarded to Akhil Mishra.

It was magic when the man who wrote the entire Aaj Tak‘s B&W (black and white) ad series,Gajraj Rao, walked up to the stage to recieve the Abby awards. A theatre personality Rao has also been involved in several TV shows such as Bhanwar.

Here, associate director and script writer Rao talks to about his association with the Aaj Tak team, the other campaigns and assignments he has handled and the reactions of several prominent personalities who applauded the Aaj Tak ads.

The initial brief for the Aaj Tak campaign:

We have been associated with Aaj Tak since its initial launch phase. The two previous Aaj Tak B&W campaigns were highly appreciated and once more I was given the task to write a third series. Everyone had high expectations from me - including my director Pradeepda (Pradeep Sarkar) and the entire Aaj Tak group. Their expectations made the task more challenging for me.

The clients - Aroon Purie and G Krishnan from Aaj Tak - had given clear instructions that the campaign was not to be a set of data filled infomercials. The Aaj Tak team gave us an exhaustive brief and total freedom and liberty to think of the concept. They wanted us to be contemporary but refrain from being newsy. The themes we developed were about the issues facing today‘s society. Although it took a long time tackling "writers block", I thought I had come up with a good follow up series but I never anticipated the kind of response it got in the form of three prestigious Abby‘s…

Inspiration for the Aaj Tak campaign:

I would credit all the appreciation bestowed upon these Aaj Tak scripts to my theatre days spent with my theatre group ACT ONE in Delhi and my theatre guru Ranjeet Kapoor. The entire experience of the Aaj Tak film series was just like the old times and took me back to my days on stage.

Finding suitable characters was challenging:

Finding suitable actors for the numerous characters in the Aaj Tak films was a very difficult task albeit fun filled in its own way. The experience of the last two campaigns had taught me that finding actors who could do justice to the characters of the B&W genre by mouthing the dialogues in that same original way of the B&W age was going to be no easy task.

I took care of a lot of aspects of characterization alongside the initial scriptwriting itself, in fact I etched out a few characters of the films keeping in mind the images of the actors who eventually played the roles.

For instance the gold trophy winning Akhil Mishra of the market leader film was someone who I met on the sets of a Sudhir Mishra film in Bhopal, I was fascinated by his mannerisms and looking at him Munshiji‘s image started appearing in my head instantaneously.

Finding a "Dusshasan" for the Mahabharata film was another tricky task as it had to be someone who could portray a slimy dangerous persona nonetheless maintain a royal touch about him. Then one fine day close friend and writer-director Anurag Kashyap walked into our office and I immediately knew that I had found my Dusshasan. It‘s another story that it took a great deal of convincing and persuasion to get him to do the role.

The triumph on Abby night:

All the effort put in the conceptualisation, writing and shooting of this series of ads paid off at the night of the Abby‘s. First of all, when the announcement for the best director‘s award was made, instead of going alone, Pradeepda insisted that I go with him on stage to receive the award. I was deeply touched by this gesture. Apart from this and the three lovely trophies, I think my biggest achievement and the high point of the evening for me was when ad genius Piyush Pandey hugged me saying "Good Work… Keep it up".

Celebrity comments on the Aaj Tak campaign:

Bollywood star Aamir Khan: "Aaj tak ke ads bahut he achche likhe gaye hain (Aaj Tak ads were very well written), very creative and very humourous also…. Very nice ads…"

Lagaan director Ashutosh Gowarikar: "Bahut Kamal ka lagaa campaign, behtareen campaign hai (amazing and fabulous) campaign beautifully written, beautifully conceptualized."

Bollywood actress Preity Zinta: "Bahut hi achhe (very good), bahut hi funny,bahut hi crisp and really really funny…I‘m really happy that it won…"

Theatre performer, folk singer and pop artist Ila Arun:

"As a layman mujhe Aaj Tak ke ads bahut achhe lage! (As a layman, I liked the Aaj Tak ads very much!)".

Gajaraj Rao‘s previous experience:

Rao has been involved with theatre, TV, cinema and advertising as scriptwriter and as an actor since 1988. He is the founder member of ACT ONE theatre group Delhi.

Apart from many other serials, he has written and acted in popular serial Bhanwar (aired on Sony Entertainment) which was based on real life court cases.

Rao has acted in films such as Bandit Queen (directed by Shekhar Kapoor); Dil Se (directed by Mani Ratnam); Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar (directed by Hansal Mehta); Dil Hai Tumhara (directed by Kundan Shah) and Hazaron Khwahishe Aisi (directed by Sudhir Mishra and yet to be released).

Experience in advertising:

Rao has been working as associate director and script writer with ad film production house Apocalypso Filmworks since its inception in 1997. The firm is headed by renowned ad film maker and music video director Pradeep Sarkar. In this period Apocalypso has produced more than 350 ad films and more than 12 music videos. The work done includes Shubha Mudgal‘s music video Ab Ke Sawaan; Euphoria‘s Dhoom, Maaeri and Sultan Khan‘s Piya Basanti were highly appreciated by critics and audiences alike. Currently Rao and his team is working on a feature film script, which will be on the floor soon.

Apocalypso Filmworks shifted its base from Delhi To Mumbai for business reasons, at the beginning of 2002.

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