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  • Yesterday, I met a set of European musicians, they were interested in documenting music with local musicians in India. The conversation spanned forward and led to the film we finished in Ranthambore, its people and music. They were excited about our film.  They came over. They saw it. We spoke. They thought it was wonderful. People should do something about causes.

    I felt nauseous. I've heard this story. I am tired of the word 'causes'. It sounds like there's a revolution going on somewhere, gives me images of Earth Day, lights out, some GreenPeace volunteers throwing down a banner over a large government building in a 'developing' country somewhere, makes you think of young men with big rimmed spectacles, and long hair singing slogans..usually, in the way the world operates today, one discovers the revolution's main platform is twitter, and seeded solely by 12 people on the same list.

    That revolution, unfortunately, hasn't reached India yet, not the coffee shop Indian in any case, not at the moment, not with the mass hysteria currently surrounding the middle class' new found fascination with procuring objects. Through the last 15 years, with the entry of innumerable multinational companies, the contruction of malls, bowling alleys, demolition and acquistion of most Indian made brands by competing new entrants into the market, and the blitzkrieg marketing strategies which systematically started chewing their way into the media, through films, music, the arts, we Indians, in a short span have started looking at ourselves as exotic.

    I have a habit, of getting directly to what it is I have to say, so let me draw out a little context since I wouldn't want to pass myself off as a general, passive viewer of a larger ecosystem I can never know the complexities of...

    I'll start with a story to explain,.. I saw a video recently, well shot, poised sound, I got started watching because it was about music, Indonesian musicians taking off from traditional music and rapping, mixing it down through laptops to get the sound synced and spread across the internet. I was surprised, happy to get a glimpse of Indonesia, to see these faces, how they made videos of their songs by carrying cameras wherever they went out in the streets. I wondered why Intel would fund this, did they have a charity? I checked out the Intel India page on Facebook and found them releasing their newest show in India, tracking local sound with a cute songwriter through the old city of Benaras. She said it wouldn't have been possible without her Intel laptop. Of course. She needs to 'process' Indian sound, so the music can reach its audience, the Indians!

    Marketing profiles of the average Indian draw a strange picture of the coffee shop Indian, he's male, they like calling him Nikhil, likes having a vehicle, instantly uploads pictures of any products he's acquired, is concerned about how he looks, has a blog (!) and works at an MNC. Nikhil likes going off to the beach for the weekend with his girlfriend and friends. Creatives are asked to produce scripts, and write communications directly targetting this man, this lends itself directly onto the copy of ads, and then inevitably onto the Bollywood films. The only way anyone can keep selling, is if they sell to Nikhil, that, or they target more people who want to be Nikhil, and pretend to be him hoping they'll get there some day. Anyone who doesn't think Nikhil is the only audience we should be creating content for, are said to have causes. 85% of our country is actually a cause. If the old men of marketing are to be believed, they must become Nikhil, or they'll remain a cause.

    As a story teller, a narrative picker, I've seen a dozen stories which shoud be elaborated on while walking through the alleyways of the 85% . I'd have to fund them myself, or piece together the story with a little help from my friends. When neck deep in a project, we tend to even get a little subversive, we try not being too clear about the exact locations of our stories, we create channels directly to the person who needs the story told, if you hang around long enough to find out more. We're keen on not letting only the products chalk out the way for a story to go forward. We look out for sponsors, we don't ever approach the JP Morgans of the world ( here's a project they sponsor), we know how deep their strategy was in the recent economic meltdown (we hope people read more than one newspaper).

    The process has turned out to be quite like something I read about Werner Herzog saying once. He started one of his films showing the landings in entirety of nine airplanes, before he went ahead with his story. He figured the ones who sat through the first 4 land, would manage watching the next 5 land and were the exact people his film was meant for.

    The economic divide in India, has very obviously also affected the attention spans of the audience,  one has to take into consideration the 10 second attention span of Nikhil (yes, we were told 10 seconds) and communication broken down into text, dialect, print, animations, and films to reach out to the rest of the 85% of the country's people.

    I hope to be able to talk to Nikhil in my 85% voice sometime soon, once he's over this object driven phase of his, when he stops hunting for himself in all the objects and people around him, when he comes face to face with the oldest ideology we have had in India, the belief that there is no identity. And there can never be one which can be found, and traced out, you are what you are.

    Setting out on that journey is the challenge.
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