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Interview: Ashim Ahluwalia, Director-Producer, Future East

Neha Saraiya digs out the code of brilliance in Ashim’s work who specializes making ads with Bollywood stars; read the full interview.

For one who has always been at the helm of precision and innovation, his track record of excellence has to be extensive enough. A product of Bard College in New York, Ashim has been among the lucky lot that laid off their hands on to iconic brands such as Givenchy and Absolut Vodka at a very early stage in their carrier. Known among the ad-fiestas for his edgy approach in his commercials, Ashim has a long-standing list of cadre’s to him- Toyota, Visa, Kinetic, Lakmé, Tata Photon, LIC Nomura, Coca Cola, Visa, Sony, LG, Wrigley’s and the latest Yamaha commercial.

A multi faceted personality that has an even success rate in commercials as well as films and documentaries, (His first feature-length film JOHN & JANE was premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in late 2005!), Ashim is busy juggling between all these and simultaneously managing his boutique film production company.  In a candid conversation with Neha Saraiya of BestMediaInfo.com he reveals the code of brilliance in his work and his collaborative outlook for his clients...

Q)  Future East has in the past featured a brigade of Bollywood stars in its commercials like Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar, Saif Ali Khan, John Abraham, Priyanka Chopra and Bipasha Basu. Will you consider it as your forte as compared to any other production house in the country?

I would say that our forte is making work that stands out. We prefer to take on projects with Bollywood stars that are creatively satisfying instead of just the usual testimonial-style advertising. For example, we made a Lux commercial with Priyanka Chopra where we inserted her in a song from the film "Chalti ka Naam Gaadi", replacing Madhubala in post production. So you now have Priyanka interacting with Kishore Kumar and them singing to each other. We also pick the right director for shooting stars - we chose to work with Erick Ifergan on Sunsilk because of his experience working with Penelope Cruise and Scarlett Johansson on Loreal. Similarly we chose to work with Andrew Hardaway on the new Yamaha commercial with John Abraham because of his involvement with directors such as David Fincher and Ang Lee. So we just take the trouble to get the right fit and, as a result, the commercial also becomes something special.

Q) As a boutique film production company, what kind of multitude of operations do you provide to your clients in terms of service availability? How do you accommodate all the production needs, no matter how strict and stringent they are?

The first thing that separates us from many other production companies is the volume of work we take on. We aren't greedy - we like to carefully focus on just one or two projects at a time and make them really beautifully. We don't work like a factory - we are more like a workshop where we make things by hand. Obviously, this then allows us to provide the right opportunities for the director and creates the best environment we can to get great things made. It is important to pick the right situations for a director. We also want enough time to work with the agency and the creatives to get the best out of a script. You obviously can't do all this if you have five commercials you are delivering for the IPL simultaneously. At Future East, we take a lot of pride in making things well. I really enjoy seeing everyone motivated, excited and satisfied by what they are doing. That comes from being put in the right situations with the right people.  When you give enough attention to that then a lot of other things take care of themselves.

Q) You are currently working on ‘MISS LOVELY’. Kindly elaborate on the same… And when can we see it on the big screen?

MISS LOVELY is a feature film set in the Bombay of the mid-1980s. It’s the story of two brothers, Vicky and Sonu, who produce sleazy C grade films - basically sex and horror films for small town India. This is an interesting project because even though the content is very local, the project is essentially international with co-producers from France, Japan, the US and India involved. The film will be completed by 2012.

Q) Along with commercials you have also made international TV documentaries for channels such as the Discovery Channel, Arte and MCM. How easy or difficult is the production of commercials as compared to documentaries?

Commercials are very time-bound. They are almost always needed immediately. International TV documentaries are the opposite - you need to take time to gather interesting material. We made a film for the Discovery Channel that took almost a year to shoot and edit. Unfortunately, due to our prior commitments, Future East has had to turn down some really interesting projects both from the BBC as well as HBO just because we don't have the time between commercials, developing features and having a life outside of all of this.

Q) Being a director-led company (as opposed to a producer-led one), what benefits do you draw from the same?

Future East has always focused its energies on the creative and visually-challenging aspects of film-making rather than having a purely operational outlook. This means more sensitive production support for the director, a closer relationship with key agency creatives and a more open, collaborative approach.  As a director myself, I get great joy from seeing other directors not pigeon holed within specific genres. It’s great when an agency awards a script to a director based on taste, skill and talent rather than seeing something identical on the reel.  That’s something that I feel that Future East should focus on - mining for interesting opportunities, opening up new ways of thinking about how commercials can be made.

Q) You have a knack of focusing rigorously on the creative aspects of TV commercial production.. What advantages do you draw from it?

As someone who enjoys good work, I feel that Future East functions best when it is creatively engaging a project, not just executing something or problem solving. We are not a logistics company, we are a creative production house and even though this originality goes against the grain in today's industry, it is something we all feel is worth pursuing. We have to make work we care about, even though it is tough sometimes. You have to be thick-skinned but it is worth every minute of it.

Neha@BestMediaInfo.com

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