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The Garden ad film – a technical triumph

November 7, 2006

The client wanted to depict a zephyr-like ‘spirit of style’. They wanted to depict timelessness…the crossing over of the spirit into an arcane dimension suspended in infinite space. A space which would personify the Garden fabric. And Subir Chatterjee of White Light Moving Picture Company was entrusted with the job. He created a film which has an amazing fluidity. The camera movements, the choreography, the effects…everything has a quicksilver feel to it. His cinematic portrayal of the ‘spirit of style’ is evidence of a master at work.
What’s the film’s story?
Well, it opens on a derelict lakeside Rajasthani fort sprawled over a barren, wind-blown landscape. A lone woman shrouded in a black cloak, arrives at the fort on a chariot. She is drawn to the fort, as if mesmerised, and a dark, wall-like structure appears out of the ground. A sci-fi-like portal opens. Simultaneously, a white veil materialises out of the fluid, rippling the surface of a mirror lying amongst a clump of bushes. Entranced, the woman walks through the portal and is instantly transported into the fort, the white veil sensuously wrapping itself around her. Here, she cavorts around in different ethnic outfits, reliving a series of surreal experiences. Eventually, the veil detaches itself from her and floats out of the portal. The wall and the and portal disappear, and the veil vaporises into thin air. The woman too is gone…The base line and the voice-over say, ‘Garden. The Spirit of Style.’ Tough call for a film-maker.
The people behind the film
Sonya Khan, General Manager, Advertising and Communications, Garden Silk Mills, conceived the idea for the film, Vikas Sivaraman was the cinematographer and the half-Swiss half-Indian Romy Gysi played the Garden woman. The track was re-mixed, and instrumentation was added by Zubin Balaporia wherever necessary. Subir Chatterjee directed the film. ‘We had to create a universe which would set Garden apart from the others, and also create a completely different look for the film,’ says Subir. Given the mysterious feel the film demanded, a completely different tone and texture was essential.
How did he do it?
After toying with a variety of ‘feels’ Subir and Nomita Chatterjee settled for one in which the tone and texture resembled the ‘gum prints’ and ‘plate prints’ of old photographs. We are all familiar with these kind of photographs, ‘which due to long exposures and primitive lenses, give off a high contrast, where the blacks are crushed, and colours, in most cases are very unstable, bruised and smeared,’ says Subir. Most importantly, there is ‘very little edge sharpness.’ The result is pictures which contain a certain earthiness, lending a mass and body to the object. What Subir calls ‘a fleshy sensuousness.’
Today, small-grained films and sharp lenses are used, which means that Subir had to ‘degrade the sharpness of the images shot and smear the colours deliberately to get that old photograph look.’ He also ‘blurred the edges and desaturated some colours from the palette, and tweaked some others.’ In fact, the colour palette of the entire film was very controlled.
The filmmakers and the cinematographer worked with ‘earth colours’ throughout, which meant that they had to be very careful during the shoot. Ofcourse, post-production did help correct any colours they found unsatisfactory.
Flash-frames
One technique used through the film were the ‘flash frames’ which are hardly visible to the naked eye. They resulted in the subliminal effect of the film. ‘Flash frames have been used in the edit…not only for transitions, but in the middle of shots too,’ reveals Subir. This is achieved by starting the camera late, and by shutting it off just at the edge of the take. The same applies at the end when the camera is winding down. ‘The over-exposed frames at the beginning and at the end alter the free flow of the film, giving a more fragmented feel, and change the rhythm of the images,’ says Subir. And when in sync with the soundtrack, the effect is heady…
The soundtrack
The soundtrack is a quite other-worldly with it’s ‘water’ sounds, in keeping with the mood of the film, and also augments the seductive feel of the film. ‘We had arrived at water as an element of sound during the shooting process,’ says Subir. As a visual element, water was part of the film at the start, in the first frame itself.
The first shot
In fact the first scene in the film is striking. The old, rambling fort appears hazy to the eye, almost as if surrounded by mist. But if one looks carefully, one can see that the fort’s reflection in the lake is clearer than the fort itself! What comes next is even stranger. A glowing object (a meteorite?) falls from the sky on top of a section of the fort, melting it away mysteriously. How in the world does this melt-down occur and what exactly comes down from the sky?
Well, it was a special- effect achieved by ‘inverting the shot so that the reflection lay on top of the frame.’ That is why the reflection was clearer… it wasn’t really the reflection. It was the fort itself. And the melt-down? ‘A large rock falls at a hundred frames a second into the water, and meets it’s reflection in reverse,’ says Subir. Seems simple enough to him. A halo was later painted around the rock to give it the ‘heavenly object from the sky’ effect.
Ethereal woman
Another interesting shot is the one where the woman’s face is shown for the first time. To make her seem slightly unreal, and very mysterious, ‘the woman’s face has been shot at two different speeds,’ explains Subir. ‘So, while her head appears to be turning quite fast, her hand which is moving towards her face, is much slower. The hand also has an overlapped image. As her hand moves slowly towards her head, there is a sudden gust of wind.’ All these effects – the out-of-sync movements, the overlapped images, the sudden wind – add to the unearthly atmosphere. To achieve these effects, various ‘layers’ had to be used.
The Sci-fi portal and the rest
How did Subir make this watery wall-like structure? Also, the wall appears gradually, almost as if bubbling up from the ground. Well, it’s translucency is achieved as it’s actually a gate made of fiber glass. Post production work took care of the rest.
And the veil emerging from the mirror? To make it appear as if the veil were coming out of a mirror, a cloth was pulled off a mirror…
For the shot where the woman puts her hand through the shimmering portal, the emerging hand was shot against a blue background. The wall’s effect – combination of water and light – was added during post-production. As the woman passes through the wall, the interior of the fort reflects the rays of light and water. ‘This effect could only be created during the post,’ says Subir. Thus Romy was shot entering the fort against a blue background. The final composition has as many as five layers.
The lead motif – the mirror with the ‘ripples’ – makes it’s appearance every now and then. In fact, this happens at crucial stages of the film. Almost symbolic of the transition from one state to another. Again, a lot of post-production work.
A film that shows style, not clothes
Garden wanted a film which would stand out from the clutter. Ofcourse, it had to showcase the dress material, but it would do it in a way far removed from the formulaic films on air. That is why they chose this unusual theme…and the right director.

(This was published in the Advertising & Marketing Magazine (A&M))

For more on ad film-making click here: how a film maker adds value to an idea

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