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July 2, 1998


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Vande mataram!

Suparn Verma

Bharat Bala, A R Rahman and Kannika Mayer. Click for bigger pic!
After 10 years of making ad films, Bharat Bala decided he'd had enough.

The shift came about two years ago while he was chatting with his father V Ganapathy, a freedom fighter who, in Bharat's words, is a "very difficult man to deal with". Ganapathy suggested that instead of pushing some trite line for some fly-by-night product, the ad man should sell a national slogan -- Vande Mataram, meaning, "I bow to you, my mother".

"My father said we gave away our youth for the country. Why don't you do something for the country now? When you can sell ideas, why can't you push your country as a brand?"

Maybe it was his father's words that got him going; or maybe Bharat was just tired of touting megabrands as solutions to all of life's problems. But two years ago he stopped making ad films and involved himself completely in the grand plan to brand India.

"It is a multi-faceted idea. We used the 50 years of Indian Independence as the springboard to launch this concept. Music being the popular platform, and since our project was a mass project, we decided to use music and films to get a wider reach.

"The whole project was skeletal. We only knew that we had to project the idea as a young, dynamic and aggressive medium."

Click for bigger pic!
Bharat and wife Kannika Mayer made 250 short films, in which actors, politicians, sportsmen, the common man, all talked about what India meant to them. The project has reached a record audience of 53.7 million homes via Doordarshan and 13.5 million homes via satellite television

After making those short films, he produced a music album called Vande Mataram in which A R Rahman made his debut as a pop singer. Incidentally, Rahman and Bharat are schoolmates and have worked together in over a 100 jingles.

But before Bharat started on the music, he worked on the look with well-known painter Thota Tharani.

"Our main objective was, one, to make Vande Mataram a new slogan for India and second, to bring back the glory of the three colours of the national flag."

Still from the video of Vande Mataram. Click for bigger pic!
"We used three songs to reflect the three colours of the Indian flag. Saffron is the colour of passion. The song was Ma tujhe salaam. We used a much bigger canvas and real people in the video. No sequence was choreographed; even the landscape used is real. We had several thousand people participating. We shot the video in Kutch, Rajasthan, Ladakh, using the flag as the visual icon throughout. For the finale, we had a 70 foot flag air borne by several helicopters."

The second song -- white -- was Vande Mataram. The new version is an upbeat contemporary tune, with Dominic Miller on the acoustic guitar. "The song celebrates 100 years of Vande Matatam. It is a national song. We made the music more contemporary so that it could be enjoyed by the new generation. Dominic Miller who plays the acoustic guitar in the album, plays for Clapton and Sting." And the third song is set to signify green, the last colour on the flag.

Click for bigger pic!
"The biggest contribution of the world in this century was from Mahatma, the guru of peace. This song is attributed to him.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sang along with Rahman for this song. To make the thought more meaningful we decided to talk to all the gurus of peace, peacemakers all over the world who have won the Nobel prize."

Bharat divided job into three parts. The first part involved lugging around a six-foot flag on which all the 10 leaders picked would sign. The second part had these leaders stating their philosophy of peace.

The final bit involved making a 20-part documentary on the ten leaders, each part lasting 30 minutes.

Still from the video of Vande Mataram. Click for bigger pic!
"We discover why each one of them is a real guru of peace though they all come from such different backgrounds. The series has been hosted by Riz Khan of CNN. We have a profile of all the leaders, conducting a conversation with them at a human level."

The secret that brought together these men to participate in the project " We described the concept to the them that it is saluting Mother Earth and its relationship between humankind and nature."

The documentary features Nobel Peace prize winners Yasser Arafat, the Dalai Lama, Shimon Peres, Lech Walesa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, De Clerk, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger and Aung San Suu Kyi.

According to Bharat, like Mahatma Gandhi, "the most common element that binds all these great gurus of peace is their simplicity."

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