“Is there an IPL match on today? I was really hoping he could see one of the ads," says Sneha Iype. Her husband Prakash Varma shot the now quasi-cult Zoozoo campaign for Vodafone. "It's been a busy two months. I just about handed over the ads (to Vodafone's creative agency Ogilvy and Mather whose concept he worked on) and headed for another assignment in London," says Varma, on a day's stopover at home in Whitefield, Bangalore. The couple and their two-and-a-half-year-old twin sons could do with a break, but before that there's some steadily rising fame to check into.
ALL IN A MONTHIt took a month's work in Cape Town, South Africa, where he “would shoot three ads in the day, work on the sound in the night" to come up with the 30 short films. He Zoozoo characters are played by women and sometimes children, in thick fabric costumes. Blogs, news reports, and email forwards have been circulating in plenty about how the ads got made, and in case most of your friends don't already have the Zoozoo as their status tag on Gtalk, there's even Varma's detailed account about the 'making' in the Facebook community for Zoozoo. "It's basic editing and post-production otherwise, but it was the planning and the actual filming that was tricky, creative and absolutely entertaining," says Varma.
Of course, Varma has been through such highs before. There was Hutch's campaign that saw prices of pugs shoot. When he shot an ad in Morocco for Airtel (agency Rediffusion) with two boys crossing over barbed borders for a game of football, an almost possessive Hutch and O&M reined in his genius to themselves alone.
LEARNING THE ROPESVarma's taste in aesthetics, something that's been credited for the brand he's building himself into, has had a long time refining itself. From the ten years ago when Varma was only finding his foothold in the advertising industry, making way from hometown Alleppey to Bangalore. His learning ground was Trends, the agency run by ad filmmaker V K Prakash in the city. "The basics, the grammar of film making, creating a beautiful structure and yet keeping things simple, I learnt it all there. And it still influences the way I do things," says Varma.
Much before that, in 1994, Varma was assisting director Lohita Das in the Malayalam film industry. A fact he also calls his "biggest plus point". "But film budgets are small in Kerala and beyond a stage, there's nothing happening as far as technique is concerned. I knew a better scope lay in the ad world and made my move," says Varma.
It takes some probing for the 36-year-old to take the story further back. To home and family, where artists abound. "May be it's my background. My father taught physics but loved his art. So did his four brothers with 'regular' careers but equally passionate about art." He gently throws in the missing piece in the puzzle, "I have always known we are related to Raja Ravi Varma but have no clue how."
If his aesthetics bring in the flavour, Varma's sense of opportunity has brought in the meat. Three years into assisting V K Prakash at Trends, where he also met Sneha, the two opted out to set up Nirvana Films in 2001. Their aspirations with the production house now see a Mumbai office with three assistant directors and a producer stationed there. Years earlier, it also took some discretion for Varma to be sure he was not doing what he wanted to do to chuck the job with Pfizer making presentations to doctors. "Sure enough it's been being with the right people at the right time but I think it's larger than that, like fate."