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Facebook's 'Pooja Milk Centre' short film wasn't even a part of the brief: Neeraj Kanitkar of Taproot Dentsu

The heart-warming Diwali film by Facebook without even being a part of the brief is an example of the magic created by agency-brand relationship. caught up with the man behind the film, Neeraj Kanitkar, Senior Creative Director, Taproot Dentsu

Neeraj Kanitkar

Be it Discovery Plus’ ‘app interesting to aap interesting’ released earlier this year or the iconic ‘Change the game’ campaign for Pepsi — time and again, Taproot Dentsu has given extraordinary ad films known for their out-of-the-box and quirky ideas.

This time, again, the agency’s short film for Facebook is winning hearts. Although the film talks about the lockdown and pandemic like many brands have done so in the past few months, it does not tire the viewers.

Speaking to about the campaign, Neeraj Kanitkar, Senior Creative Director, Taproot Dentsu, revealing an interesting fact, said the idea wasn’t even a part of the brief given by the brand.

“Well, the brief was actually to cap off the series of our four IPL films — Jersey, Band, Flowers and Carpenter with a 60 seconder. But with Diwali, the ultimate festival of prosperity upon us, we knew we had an opportunity to tell an extraordinary story that spoke to the moment. After all, 2020 and prosperity simply don’t sit well together. So, we thought why not try and bring alive the old maxim that ‘prosperity too grows only when we share it with others. What better time to inspire people to do so than the current difficult one we all find ourselves in the midst of.”

He said the idea behind the campaign was that many people have faced difficulties in this period in different ways. However, that has not taken away people’s spirit to do good for others, which is why people relate to the film. “Almost everybody has endured varying degrees of struggle this year. And yet, a lot of us have also managed to do good for others. So to see that aspect reflected in Pooja and her actions is probably what draws people in. The humour and all is, of course, important but secondary. To see a story of selflessness in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds play out to such a deeply satisfying end, is what we think made it resonate with so many,” he added.

Kanitkar said one of the challenges faced in making the film was the time constraints as the festival of Diwali cannot be pushed, and setting up the feeling of lockdown near the festive season.

“We even had to push the shoot dates since Anshul, who plays the lead, had a previous commitment. Amit Sharma’s team did an incredible job to pull off a mega-production without any hiccups. Including almost insane-sounding things like recreating the lockdown in one of Amritsar’s busiest (and currently unlocked) bazaars. While not quite a film execution challenge, the lack of in-person face time with the client continues to be a challenge this year. You just cannot recreate the energy, the vibes and the feels on a Zoom /BlueJeans call. But we are very lucky to have worked with Facebook and Vyom, Sheel, Priya, Richa and Avinash for a while now. So the equations, the trust, and a certain amount of camaraderie are all in place. It all helps and we hope it shows in the quality of work, as well.”

He said one of the reasons the ad is set in Amritsar is because they wanted to showcase the possibilities available on Facebook to the non-users of the platform. “A certain part of the country has almost grown up with how Facebook has evolved. But for the vast majority of our country who’ve been introduced to Facebook recently, thanks to the data revolution, the power of Facebook remains to be experienced first-hand. We hope to keep inspiring those who are new-to-the-internet with the wonderful possibilities and power of Facebook.”

“Facebook has always believed in the power of people and connections at scale. That power, we continue to believe, can be leveraged for a variety of reasons. We will keep telling stories of the multi-faceted ways in which people use Facebook for both the greater good and their own progress,” he added.

Apart from the message of the advertisement, people are also talking about the music and the execution of the film, which makes it very real and relatable. Speaking about it, Kanitkar said they wanted to be as authentic as possible with the film.

“Once we decided to base the story in Amritsar, all other elements started getting processed through that very lens. We wanted to be as authentic as possible to the local sensibilities. Amit Sharma was very keen to make sure the actors were cast as locally as possible. His insertion of a little Punjabi into the dialogues really gives an incredible level of authenticity to the characters. The incredible track by Sidhant Mago and Mikelal almost transports the viewers to Amritsar. Interestingly, Manmeet Singh, who plays the brother, is from Amritsar and this is his first time in front of the camera for an ad,” he added.

The film shows a young woman named Pooja, who is concerned about the job losses due to the pandemic and decides to employ people in her milk centre despite having limited resources herself. She uploads a Facebook status to let people know about the opportunity and soon, a bunch of people are employed at the centre. Later, as survival becomes difficult near Diwali, her new employees upload a short video appealing people to buy from Pooja Milk Centre, which leads to a swarm of customers at the shop.

“The opening sets up both the gravity and the largeness of what Pooja is trying to accomplish. She isn’t a mega-rich business owner. But she believes she can do some good, even if it means stretching herself and her resources that get much thinner and she goes all in. It’s this selflessness even in the face of adversity and even at the cost of losing a lot is what sets up the story for the viewer,” Kanitkar explained.

The film has been produced by filmmaker Amit R Sharma’s Chrome Picture. Speaking about the making of the film, Sharma said, “When the creatives Pallavi Chakravarti and Neeraj Kanitkar from Taproot Dentsu approached me with this beautiful concept, I thought I have to do this film. The virtue of service and unconditional love with no expectation in return is as timeless as human existence. It is one of the basic values and principles that we learn as we grow in a society, helping and nurturing each other building a strong foundation for the future, and that has kept us going for so long. Because it is just so relevant today. 

“Character is a virtue of hard times, and I believe that to be true, it is the storms that make trees take deeper roots. I know how people feel and what they are going through, I understand this because I have been working closely with them through the Phool Versha Foundation. All I have done is implemented my learning to the film. I truly believe we can do more together.”

Abhik Santara

Many industry leaders have appreciated the film. Abhik Santara, Director and CEO at Atom Network, said, “This is fresh out of Bollywood. It ticks all the boxes of a great film. A sound strategy. FB would want to increase its franchisee and get new kinds of users in its fold given that the platform has been losing its popularity among the youth. In fact, just like Levi's, it started to lose its mojo when your mom started to wear one. So going after new users by demonstrating relevant use and experiences are so apt. It is also responsible communication- Showing the powerful and positive use of social networking is a much-needed step. This is reminiscent of the Google reunion ad, which was done many years back with a similar strategic objective.”

“It is brilliantly scripted, sound designed, and cast. Showing a Sikh family (and not popular faces from the ad world) who are known to have a big heart deserves special points. The narration is beautiful and engaging. The never-ending duration is worth every second.”

He said the film couldn't have come at a better time when social media is abused by trolls for wrong reasons. “Where the faceless, unidentified people are just exploiting platforms to vent their own frustrations on people and brands. I only wish that FB is as responsible and genuine with their platform as they are being with this ad. Include KYC for users. Get real people with names and faces and help build genuine human, personal connections to their advantage. FB equals the internet for many and it must leverage this power to bring real difference to the world, even if it comes at the cost of a short-term dip in its user base.”

Samit Sinha

Samit Sinha, Founder, Managing Partner, ‎Alchemist Brand Consulting, said, “While it’s well made and is heart-warming and all that, it leaves me wondering if it would have been more effective if the story could have been conveyed more effectively in a third of the time taken, instead of it being almost feature-length at nearly seven-and-a-half minutes. I noticed that it has an impressive 15 lakh views, but I’m quite sure only a fraction of them would have watched it from beginning to end. My verdict: Nice, but too self-indulgent.”

The ad:

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