When Piyush Pandey did VO from his walk-in closet: Neha Kaul on virtual direction

Asian Paints’ campaigns under the #StayHomeStaySafe series, titled ‘Har Ghar Chup Chaap Se Kehta Hai’, has been tracing the journey of creating beautiful memories at home during the COVID-19 lockdown phase. In its first instalment, the recreated version of the iconic commercial gave us a reason to smile and appreciate what we have during the current uncertain times. The second instalment, conceptualised by Ogilvy Mumbai, showcases individuals and families taking care of their homes in the current quarantine period.

Voiced by the inimitable Piyush Pandey, Neha Kaul of Corcoise Films holds the director’s mantle. Kaul is no stranger to memorable ad films, having worked for several marquee brands like Fevicol, Cadbury Gems, Bournvita, Fevikwik, Licious and Fortune Oils in the course of her career.

Kaul has been with Corcoise Films since 2011 and calls Prasoon Pandey and Cyrus Pagdiwala as her mentors.

In conversation with Adgully, Kaul talks about these #WFH initiatives amidst the lockdown. She takes a deep dive into the process of these films, a look back on her career and some of her favourite films through the years

In a span of just 3 years you rose to a formidable director, directing films for many reputed brands. Tell us more about your career and your journey in achieving it.

I interned and then joined Corcoise full-time back in 2011. Prasoon Pandey and Cyrus Pagdiwala became my mentors. Very quickly I figured there could be no better place to learn the craft as well as the trade than from them. Over the next 7 years, I grew from being an intern to a 1st AD within Corcoise, and then honed my skills in direction, learning from Prasoon about the fine nuances of storytelling, performance and the art of people management. After 7 years under their wings, I was given my 1st opportunity to direct a digital film by Sukesh Nayak of Ogilvy for Asian Paints. I was also given the new magic ingredient by Prasoon that ‘films are made with your gut’.

There onwards, over the last 3 years, I have been fortunate to be trusted by none other than Piyush Pandey and then by Kainaz Karmakar and Harshad Rajadhyaksha for films for various brands like Fevicol A+, Cadbury Gems, Bournvita, Fevikwik, Taaza, Licious, Fortune oils and internationally for Brawl Stars (Supercell) and the likes.

What are your favourite films when it comes to brands? Please share some of your best experiences directing these films.

Fevicol A+ “Craft”, Licious “Chicken” & “Shorshe Maachh”, Fortune “Bhabisa” Bournvita lil Champs are some of my favourites.

Fevicol A+ “Craft Class” was great fun. It’s really the best example of how when clients trust the creative agency and the creative trusts the director to grow the film from the script onwards. It’s a perfect relay race.

The brief from the client was to make the film simple and demonstrate usage of product on various strata, the kids use in craft class. The script was to the brief, and yet I felt if it was done that way, it would somehow not excite the target audience. So, we went about converting the script into a poetry, which in-effect is the demo. That was the 1st big battle won.

After this I still felt that the kid sticking the material while walking through class would seem too straightforward and there was no graph to the film. So, we were brainstorming in office and while bouncing off ideas with each other, we chanced upon a video of someone solving the Rubic Cube with their hands behind their back. This was the Eureka moment and I said we need to incorporate this into our film. Below is the end product.

What are the different steps and processes a director should follow to produce good films? What is the secret of becoming a successful film director?

I think it would be too naïve for me to consider myself successful as yet. Having worked in this industry for years, I can tell you that there are no processes or formulae for any of this. You just have to believe in yourself and the decisions you make – small or big – and hopefully it should be the right one. At least, the right one in the circumstances you find yourself in.

You have shot quite a few films during the lockdown period. Could you tell us how you managed the shoots? 

We shot 4 films in April alone. Two were for the Prime Minister’s Office, called the “Team Mask force”, and two were for Asian Paints’ “Har Ghar Chup Chaap Se Kehta Hai” campaign.

The “Har Ghar Chup Chaap Se Kehta Hai” 1.0 campaign was the 1st film by anyone during the lockdown. Piyush Pandey and Sukesh Nayak wrote the script. They sent us the voiceover as recorded by Piyush Pandey in his walk-in closet in Goa, and asked us to make a collage of some of the earlier films done for Asian Paints.

When I did this exercise, I realised the voice-over had so much emotion and depth that the visuals just didn’t match-up. So, I discussed this with Sukesh and Cyrus and we decided to ask our friends and family to shoot some specific moments, which would be more appropriate for those lines. We started putting these together piece by piece and found that the VO and film was taking an amazing turn and was coming alive. It started as an experiment and it became so exciting that it grew from strength to strength till we had a finished film with our own virtually directed visuals, and voila we had a film we were all excited with.

In this lockdown period, some interesting reinventions of ourselves and debuts happened; one of them roping in 14-year old Brad Pagdiwala as the music composer for the Asian Paints films.

We were fortunate to be trusted by Piyush Pandey, Kainaz Karmakar, Harshad Rajadhyaksha, Talha Mohsin and Mahesh Parab to do 2 prestigious public service films for the Prime Minister’s Office. The 1st one was called “Team Mask Force”, which shows Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Harmanpreet Kaur, Mithali Raj, Smriti Mandhana, Virendra Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Harbhajjan, Sachin Tendulkar encouraging people to wear masks, follow social distancing and wash hands.

The 2nd film of the series featured Harbhajjan Singh and his wife Geeta Basra making masks and promoting the Aarogya Setu App. Since we couldn’t be present at the shoot, the couple shot the video in their home, keep the light-hearted banter on between them to give it a personal touch that people could relate to.

The BCCI was also joined the cause and helped in bringing the cricketers on board and procuring their time.

I had a great time directing this virtually. All the cricketers were very cooperative. We made more than a 100 Zoom calls, WhatsApp calls over 24 hours with all the cricketers to explain each shot. I had to be very specific and give each cricketer not just his line to shoot, but also explain what was to happen in the entire film and specifically what they were reacting to before and after their performance bits. We did this with the help of storyboard frames. We talked to them about the kind of angles needed, the backgrounds that they could have, the look from left to right for continuity, the technical specifications for video and audio quality and so on. A lot of them re-shot bits which had some technical errors. Finally when approved, they uploaded high-resolution files. Once we got all the clips with desired performances and tech specs, we were able to do an edit and introduce the music remotely and seek approvals from Piyush, Harshad, Kainaz, Talha, Mahesh and the PMO, who were all available on WhatsApp. The film was done and released in 5 days. It was overall an awesome experience and it helped me immensely in garnering confidence for virtual direction.

The agency creatives and clients are now much more confident about what we can achieve.

Asian Paints’ “Har Ghar Chup Chaap Se Kehta Hai” 2.0 came with a new brief. The client wanted to pull up the house quotient, but Piyush and Sukesh wanted to dial up the emotional quotient. They also wanted it to be pan-India. So, this time we had to push ourselves to achieve much more.

I started approaching this project differently. I drew out a storyboard thinking what I would have done in normal circumstances (without restrictions). Hence, I drew out the visuals and sequences that I would be most happy with. Then my team and I started contacting new friends and friends of friends and families of friends and asking them for their willingness to participate. Once we got them involved, we were able to push them slowly and steadily to show us pictures of their houses. We were able to ask them to re-prop and beautify a certain section of the house that we believed would work for the shot. We would get them to shoot and re-shoot at different hours of the day for better sunlight and better performances. In effect, we transformed the whole virtual direction into a belief that we were live on floor. We had to teach each family new technical specifications as the shots were high-speed. Once we got the clips in, we could do the rest seamlessly over remote. Since the music of the 1st film was well appreciated, we decided to go with Brad as the music composure for the 2nd campaign as well. The result was a film that the agency and client were thrilled with.

We were happy that our films could bring about awareness, smiles and warm their hearts in these trying times of isolation.


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