Veteran filmmaker Ram Madhvani first decided to make films when he was in his teenage years and Equinox Films gave him that chance to prove his passion and desire.
The journey at Equinox has been special for Madhvani, Co-Founder and Director of Equinox Films, who says, “Equinox and advertising has made me who I am today.”
Madhvani did a course at New York University, and worked for a while with his elder brother in America. He came back and formed Equinox. And two years later, Sumantra (Ghosal) offered him a partnership.
In an interview with BestMediaInfo.com on completion of more than two decades of Equinox films in India, Madhvani shared his journey with the advertising and film production house, which has hand-crafted some of India's most path-breaking and memorable commercials, ranging from Hamara Bajaj anthem, Happydent White film, Hippo campaign and the Airtel blockbuster campaigns. And Madhvani holds major credit for some of them.
In 2006, Madhvani won a bronze and a silver Lion at Cannes for the Happy Dent White commercial. In 2011, an advertisement he directed for Hippo Baked Munchies won Silver for best Direction in the Film Craft awards at Adfest Bangkok.
He said the key milestones for Equinox’s success are its constant work.
Madhvani said that becoming ‘has been’ in the industry fears him a lot, hence he always practises to constantly re-invent his craft and be on top of the game. “I would hate it if people said, ‘Ram used to make great films’ at one time,” said Madhvani.
According to Madhvani, Equinox Films easily adapted to the changing times and managed to meet the demand in reduced budgets.
How did you enter the world of advertising? Would it be right to say that your first love is ad filmmaking then come web series and commercial movies?
I was very clear from the age of 16 that I wanted to be a filmmaker. Actually, there’s an interesting story. My school friend tells me it happened because of the smell of burning film. We used to watch all kinds of movies when I was at school in Panchgani. This used to be on Saturdays in the assembly hall. There was this old projector, and the film would tear and burn. Maybe that’s how it started! My father expired early, and I had to earn a living. I sold carpets, I sold diamonds, I sold milk. In fact, I even worked as a peon for a while. But in the evenings, I would either do a theatre or catch up with international cinema. Later, I did a course at NYU, when I worked for a while with my elder brother who was in America. I came back and joined Equinox. And two years later, Sumantra (Ghosal) offered me a partnership. I love making all kinds of films. As long as I can keep working in cinema, I’m happy.
It's been two decades of Equinox now. How would you describe this journey of yours?
The journey has been special. Equinox and advertising made me who I am today. Equinox is how I met my wife, Amita Madhvani, who is also now the co-partner and producer. But I will always fear that I will become a has-been. Hence the only thing that I have practised all these years is to constantly re-invent my craft and be on top of the game. I would hate it if people said, “Ram used to make great films at one time.”
What are the things that you miss from your earlier days of ad film making and wish it still existed?
The state of not knowing; now I feel like I know and want to go back to unknowing.
Are there times when Equinox doesn't have dates to give to the agencies? Now that you also produce films and not just direct them, how do you find a balance between ad film making and the rest?
I’m juggling both all the time. To those in advertising, I say I only make ads. To those in films and series, I say I only make those. It’s important to keep making ads or else people may think I only want to make features/ series. I want to make all sorts of films all the time. Next, I want to do VR.
How has Covid treated Equinox? Did you also have to work for less? Has the situation improved? Was there any job or salary cut at Equinox?
Touchwood, we have been okay. Thankfully, we are easy to adapt to changing times and this one too has been good. Budgets have reduced but we are managing to meet them.
What are your plans and focus areas for Equinox in 2020? What are the key milestones of Equinox success?
Just work, work and work.
Asking this question because you are an advertising veteran and a thought leader in our industry. Would you agree or disagree that advertisers should not support toxic news content these days in any way? Brand safety and purpose-driven brands are being compromised on news channels these days. What is your say here?
That’s the sort of question which is best addressed to clients.
According to you, how has the relationship between agencies and production houses evolved over the years?
Yes, they have in general. Thankfully for us, we have tried to maintain the relationships with our agencies and clients and they like to work with us once again and again.
We haven't seen amazing viral pieces of ads being produced in recent times. Either everyone has become so good that it's difficult for any ad to stand out or the level of creativity has gone down that none is able to leave a mark. What is your say here?
Things that are going viral are more real, non-branded content. People seem to be sharing those more. So, there’s more competition for eyeballs.
From where do you get your inspiration?
I get inspired by other people’s work in art / literature / films / dance / music/ theatre / food. I use their work and connect it to my work. The more I see, the more I read, the more I hear, the more I experience, the more I’m inspired.
What would be your tips to the young talent joining the ad world, especially ad production houses?
Make films. Make a show reel. It doesn’t cost much to go out there and make your own work. This is a craft that becomes better with practice.
Why do people aspire to move on to commercial or feature film making and not stick around ad production houses? Is working in ad production houses less appealing?
I’m not one of those moving on so I’d be the wrong person to ask. But I feel more and more people are doing everything.
What is the one thing that you don't compromise with while shooting ad films?
Doing things on time, even if its lunch or dinner breaks. It’s important to look after your team.
What is your take on brands working directly with ad production houses and not including agencies in between? Does it impact creativity at all? In this case, would you charge more?
These are compulsions and needs the client may have.