Prahlad Kakar shares with us his passion for filmmaking
Intensity. If any one word comes remotely close to encapsulating Prahlad Kakar, perhaps this is it. Intensity. It oozes out of every pore of his being…it shines in his piercing gaze boring mercilessly into you…it echoes in the devil-may-care candor that his biting words fling in the air. In fact, he comes across as genetically compulsive, anti-establishment anarchist. Which isn’t really the case.
Kakar in fact has his roots enmeshed in ‘the establishment’ what he calls ‘the respectable fringe of society.’ Yet he likes to see himself as a disrupter of the established norm and way of life.’ This, he believes is a positive statement of his personality, as ‘it is only by disrupting everybody’s life and their opinion of how things should be that I can even begin to create. In fact I can never claim to be a creator, but I can claim to start the process of creation because I disrupt everything. Later on, others may continue this process, as you can never ever complete a process of creation on your own. You can only lay the sees and be the catalyst. I think I am a catalyst.’
Those who have worked closely with him tend to hold him in awe…of his boundless energy, his ingenuity, and his insights into filmmaking. But Kakar would have nothing to with ‘labels’, Even flattering ones. ‘Who says I am all that?’ he demands. ‘My ideas work only because they irreverent. In our society, where everything is so pessimistic, one has to react to it.’ And the one thing he dislikes is raising expectations. ‘There are two things I am dead scared of. One is being taken seriously, and the other being put into the Hall of Fame. Both sound to be like an obituary. From the moment you start expecting something of me, I do something that is unpredictable…and contrary to that expectation. I don’t take myself seriously, which is why this interview scares the hell out of me.’
He joined advertising because he thought it was fun, not work
But what about his work? Well…to begin with, Kakar joined advertising solely because he didn’t think it was a serious business. ‘I decided to get into advertising because I didn’t want to work,’ he confesses. ‘I wanted to have a ball…be in a profession where somebody will pay me without me having to work too hard. But from then on, I have made all the wrong decisions in life. For you realise that in a advertising, you are working your butt off 18-19 hours a day. And everytime I make a decision not to work, I land up working.’
Now, really all this would go down well with a pinch of salt. For Kakar is a passionate man. Deeply involved in everything he does, whether it’s work or leisure.
Diving is another love
‘Diving is my religion. It’s the only religious experience that I have ever had. What I call the ‘Hand of God. When you see a reef which no human has seen before you, you feel so small….like a speck in the ocean. You stop breathing because it’s so stunningly beautiful And you know that all you can do eventually is to spoil it. For it is so perfect that you cannot improve on it.’
No compromises where work is concerned
He is a ‘perfectionist’ at work, he says. ‘When in a midst of making a film, I think of it all the time. It’s a constant process. Even if something is thought about, when you look through the camera you might feel ‘I don’t like this.’ For example, for a particular scene, we visualised it, tried out the various permutations and combinations…we tried a bush, we tried a boulder. Then we realised the bush works better, we chucked the boulder… The communication may have been pre-thought, but the execution has to be elastic. We have to see how best to communicate that message. If a boulder communicates the message, it must be there. If it is not, then you hang around and wait for it. No compromises like ‘the boulder is not available, so lets use something else.’ Bullshit!
Yes, he bites
What about his famous temper? Sure….when he feels someone has slipped up. ‘Yes, I yell and scream and bite. And that is because I feel that someone has not performed to his or her optimum. I will only scream at people who I know are capable of doing better work. When politeness does not get you understood, impoliteness does. To me, it’s not meaning of the word which is important. It’s the way you use it. If it shocks people into paying attention, so be it. Or into feeling abused, so be it. Most of the time when I abuse somebody, I mean that they should not take it lightly. Yet it is not at a personal level, but at a professional level. It is work related. I forget about it after the work. But at the time, I will not compromise on the capacity of the person to focus, and the vision that I have for him.’
And he says he doesn’t take things seriously!
Deny it as he might, his seriousness shows in his work, which has been greatly influenced by Shyam Benegal, with whom he worked closely in ASP (Advertising & Sales Promotion Company). He was his assistant in the film department. And Kakar isn’t sparing when it comes to giving credit to his mentor. ‘I inherited a lot of my attitude towards films and my work from him. I also inherited my style of teaching from him. He told us that you are the slaves of the medium…it is a privilege to be here and learn, and the minute you convince yourself that you know enough, you stop working…for that’s the day you stop learning.’ He told us not to have an opinion of ourselves. Shyam believed that first you have to actually make things difficult, as the ones who still hang around are the ones who genuinely want to learn. I myself am extremely difficult to work with, high unreasonable, extremely impractical. But if they tolerate all this shit, I know they are serious. It takes a lot to survive, to swallow your opinion of yourself, your pride.’
But how exactly did Benegal influence his work? ‘He influenced me not in the technique, but just in attitude. How to look at a film. To look at it as a passion. Not a job or money earning device, but as a mission. It is a means to an end…not a means by itself. Filmmaking by itself means nothing unless you can make a statement…touch people’s lives. It doesn’t matter what you make, features or ad films, eventually you have to touch people’s lives. In human terms, I was never a technology person….I was not interested in the technology. I was interested in the people who were involved in it, and the statement that I could make.’
Making Filmmaking human
So is this what film-making is all about? Delivering a message? ‘The business of film-making is all about storytelling. If you can actually verbalize a story, it makes it easier for you. Filmmaking has it’s own language, but I was lucky in the sense that I was articulate too. For I could tell the story long before I made it, and tell it convincingly. That is why I have so much latitude.’ However he admits that when the client or the agency doesn’t give him the latitude, he just ‘takes it.’ Does ‘taking it’ mean not following the script, something agencies often grudge Kakar?
‘If you ask clients an agencies, they’ll think I’m extremely exasperating. In a professional kind of way, ofcourse. I have an opinion which I am willing to see through, so I am not very malleable to opinions which I don’t think are right. So, because I have an opinion, I won’t do it in a particular way. I can be difficult, but I am willing to look at their opinion. If I still don’t’ agree with what you are saying, if I don’t believe in it implicitly, I won’t do the job. People thinking making a film is all about execution. But I don’t think I am an executor. For it takes so much more than a competent execution to make communication come alive. It must have a vision – it must mean something to the people who are seeing it. In advertising terms this is invaluable. Finally, the filmmaker is the deliverer of the message, and if the deliverer of the message does not believe in the message, it is always going to be unnis bees,’ he defends.
Yeah. Passion matters, always. ‘Viewers will realise, however accomplished, the execution might be, that the film lacks heart. For it is a non-cognizable value. You can’t calculate it, but it could be the difference between success and failure. Technically speaking, we have arrived at a stage where almost all execution is competent, but the difference between credibility and the lack of it is the belief of the team and the person who visualises the film. A totally professional process like ‘you have a job to do and I have a job to do,’ only gets you there 50% of the way. What makes the difference between connecting and not connecting with your audience is the belief in what you are doing.’
For Kakar the truth is important. ‘The only reason for good advertising is the truth. You might tell the truth in different ways, but it has to be the truth. If you tell lies, you cannot be convincing. Once you yourself are convinced, the sky is the limit. It it’s a lie, how much ever you use technology to soften the blow, it is still going to be an empty lie.’
Ego is not the thing
So would he walk the plank rather than succumb to a lie? ‘I do not make changes in the script to satisfy my ego, or to take control of everything around me. I do it so that the job turns out better, more convincing.’ This assessment tends to ring true. For he does not cite a single film of his as ‘an achievement.’ ‘My ego doesn’t stem from myself. It stems from a mission. The actual films that I have made – those are passé – they are time lapsed, because they are only as good as the time they were made in.’
But he does want immortality
‘What lasts longer as a body of work are the people whom you have trained to carry on with that work. I believe that to be immortal, I must live through the people who learn from me. And if they don’t do greater things than I have done, a part of my life will be wasted. If they do, it means a continuation of line and thought.’
His ultimate satisfaction? The knowledge that there are people whom he has nurtured and helped grow. But no ‘father figure’ image for him. ‘People think I’m a sort of mentor or guide. But finally, everybody does something for something. I enjoy doing what I do. But more important than this is the pleasure I get from the kids who learn in my office. I may give them an opportunity to perform and learn. But I learn from them how to be young. That’s more critical than anything else. In this business, you usually burn out by 35. If you can’t think as if you’re 20, half the work that you do is useless.’
He admits that he has ‘conveniently forgotten’ his age, and feels the reason he has not lost his juice is ‘because of a lust for life.’
(This article appeared in the Advertising and Marketing (A&M) Magazine under the title ‘The Art of Being Forever Young.’ The thumbnail photo is sourced from agencyfaqs.)
Prahlad Kakar of Genesis Features is a renowned ad filmmker based in Mumbai, and has made adfilms for major brands like Pepsi and 7Up.
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