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The Work That Made Me: Amitabh Bhattacharya



The founder of Never Ending Story on how Indian culture and films have inspired him, a year building up a cast study for a Fanta project and working with an NGO on a stop motion project during lockdown

The Work That Made Me: Amitabh Bhattacharya

Amitabh Bhattacharya began his advertising career in JWT as a trainee copywriter and then spent over a decade in advertising working on brands like Pepsi, KitKat, Reebok, Coca Cola, Levis and Bacardi, until he left his job as a creative director with McCann Worldwide India in 2002 to start Nomad Films, a full-service production house based in Mumbai.

Since then he has closely worked on brands from companies like Volkswagen, Nissan, Samsung, Coca-Cola Company, Titan, P&G, Cadburys, Unilever, Bajaj, Pernod Ricard, Godrej, Viacom18 among others producing over 300 commercials, contents and features. In 2017, Amitabh relinquished his share in Nomad Films and launched Never Ending Story.

Here he shares the creative work that shaped him and his career.

The ad/music video from my childhood that stays with me…

When I was growing up in India in the '70s I recall only one television station and hardly any adverts. Though we did get to watch good movies once in while, we spent most of our time reading books.

I do recall one ad, if it can be called one, was an animation released by the government of India on unity in diversity. It had a really catchy tune and each time we heard it we kids would rush to sing along.

The ad/music video/game/web platform that made me want to get into the industry…

It wasn’t any ad but a few young admen who inspired me to try my luck in advertising. This was late '80s and India was seeing the emergence of some absolutely amazing copywriters, Ali Shabaz was one of them. I was a lost school dropout with no career plan. Ali was kind enough to give me a xeroxed copy of The Craft of Copywriting by Alastair Crompton. By the time I finished reading the book I wanted to be a copywriter. 

Getting into commercial production was more planned. During my agency days I seldom got the opportunity to work with young directors, I thought these would be the ones who would bring a refreshing difference in the way we told brand stories.

We were getting to see interesting executions from across the world but somehow the visual storytelling in India wasn’t really evolving. Even when the ideas were great the final execution would often fall short. 

The creative work (film/album/game/ad/album/book/poem etc) that I keep revisiting…

Many, many, many. I love reading long copy ads as much as I love books. The book I read often is The Copy Book. 

I love Dr Seuss and Shel Silverstein’s poems. One book I go back to the most is Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig. The movie I can watch a million times is Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, a 1973 Hindi-language satirical black comedy.

My first professional project…

I started my career as a junior copywriter in JWT, Kolkata. My first project was a corporate brochure for Tata Steel, a Tata Group company. I wasn’t good at writing corporate stuff and had the hardest time of my life. According to my then boss, I was a disaster! I thought I would lose my job, but somehow, I survived. 

As a producer, my first project was a Metlife commercial for to the South Asian community in the US where I was both the writer and the producer. It was anything but eventful and I think I was the only one to be excited on the set.

The piece of work (ad/music video/ platform…) that made me so angry that I vowed to never make anything like *that*…

I have never judged my work by the output. I am a staunch believer of process and accountability. What really gets my goat is when stakeholders don’t respect the process and blame the production house when things go wrong. I have had a few experiences like that. In my younger days as a producer, I wouldn’t think twice before reminding people to get their act together, however with age and experience I have found more amicable ways to deal with such challenges. 

The piece of work (ad/music video/ platform…) that still makes me jealous…

The list is way too long! There are so many ads I wish I had produced. Among recent ads, I loved Diesel Keep it Flawed, Nike You Can’t Stop Us, Honda The Other Side. As I said, there are way too many ads I would have love to be associated with... I love some of the work on Nowness, though I feel it has lost the edge over the years. 

The creative project that changed my career…

None I can think of. But there a few projects that helped me discover my strengths as a producer and also zero in on the kind of work I enjoy more. 

Facebook – We were pleasantly surprised and excited when director Sarah Dunlop of Rattling Stick, London, invited us to participate in her creative process. It was a very refreshing experience. We were very excited to contribute in whatever way we could. 

Amazon Prime Day – I love working on the project because it comes with a lot of creative and execution challenges.

The work that I’m proudest of…

Volkswagen Flyboy is one of my favourites. It also won many international awards including a Clio.

But the project I am most proud of is for Fanta, where I spent a year building the case. I had to convince Coca Cola India that we too could create animated commercials for India at par with international animation companies. We were up against one of best animation companies in the world. Though the original characters were created in the US, we had to recreate them and also make it more Indian.

I was involved in this and it makes me cringe…

A job for Volkswagen India. It had nothing to do with the script, it was just the way things turned out. It reflected in the final film. When the process gets derailed the outcome is often a let-down and that’s what happened on that project. 

The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most…

As a producer I have always seen myself as a solution provider. It helps me stay true to the task at hand where in the script or in the execution. I recently did a project for an NGO in Mumbai. We were about to shoot a live action script when the country went into lockdown, we had very little budget and even lesser time. So we had to come up with an idea that could be shot remotely and with a small crew. We decided on stop motion, however communicating the concept of safe space was quite a challenge. Looking back, the entire process was not just exciting but also very rewarding. 

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Never Ending Story, Thu, 29 Apr 2021 07:40:00 GMT