We continue our celebration of 30 years of shots and our special feature, in which we ask one of our advertising icons to interview - and be interviewed by - a person of their choosing, with Indian directing legend Ram Madhvani.

Madhvani is the Co-founder of Equinox Films and behind some of the industry's most celebrated spots, most notably the Cannes Lions winning Happydent Palace. He has also directed many other award-winning spots alongside feature films [Neerja], TV series [Aarya] and short films [This Bloody Line]. Madhvani's creative correspondent is Equinox protege, Tanvi Gandhi, a trained classical pianist who found her way into film through music and realised that film was the medium through which she could express herself best. A director for the past four years, Gandhi signed to Equinox in January of this year.

In this particular instance of Creative Correspondence, Madhvani and Gandhi discuss whether radical ideas are now more difficult to pull off, the work that's closest to their hearts, and how they deal with failure. They have also taken the creatively bold step of answering their set of five questions in rhyme, so settle back for a lyrical journey through their directorial lives.

Happydent – Happydent Palace

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Above: Madhvani's multi-award-winning spot for Happydent.

TG: Ram, how did you decide to be a filmmaker, please tell?  

RM: Tanvi hi, how did I decide to be a filmmaker? Ah well...
The smell of burning film, the smell.
I’m in school, it's the school bell, 
It’s Saturday in the assembly hall.
The school kids are seeing a movie, that’s all.
That’s all? Hell, no! That’s not all.
There’s nothing like that feeling, EVER, big or small.
I see the film, I enter a world, I forget myself, 
Hell, no! I remember myself, better than the books on my book shelf.
But then... a gasp... the projector stops, the bulb has burnt the film, 
Us school kids all, a collective disappointed gasp of overwhelm. 
Hell, NO! Not now! Not at this point in the story, 
We are just getting to the hero’s glory. 
But wait ... the film splicer is out, 
The film is joint and the projector starts again, no doubt. 
But wait... again... what is that smell? That intoxicating smell in the air. 
Ah, it's the smell of burning film, but where?
That smell has crept into my bones, into my blood, into my very burning hair, I swear.
Hell, YES ! Now, it's in me, everywhere, 
I can’t escape this journey, this dream, this cinematic nightmare. 
It’s how I got to be a filmmaker, that intoxicating smell, that I smell sometimes even in my... you know where.

And you, Tanvi? What’s your story, your journey? 

Above: Tanvi Gandhi, top, as she was and is now. And Ram Madhvani, bottom. 

TG: Ram, it’s funny you ask if I’m getting anywhere,
Coz I’ve been cooped up at home from the coronavirus scare. 
I’ve got plenty of time to ponder my past, 
And think about this so-called 'journey' of which you ask.
When I think about my journey and where it all began, 
I think about almost failing my university exam. 
Mum and dad were sad, wondered if I gave a damn, 
About the bright future they’d told the relatives I’d have. 
I calmed them down and said “CHILL, I’ve got this plan, 
Gonna be someone creative just like Pete Mondrian”. 
As I uttered these words I guess I was stuck.
“What’ve you done, Tanvi? You’re now in deep muck”.
So I went to meet a pundit, recommended by a friend, 
He gave me magic pills, so my destiny I’d comprehend. 
I diligently took the said pills for a week,
And the answer “appeared before me”, so to speak. 
I marched to mom and dad and coolly proclaimed, 
“I’m going to make films!”. An awkward silence they gave.
“What?” said dad. “How did you figure that?” 
“I took some magic pills like a regular creative cat!” 
“Ok, very good”. They pat me on the back,
“Nothing wrong with a little magic, it’s a safe hack.
Now that you’re clear let's get you to the store 
Buy you a video camera, enable you some more”.
And with that camera came a responsibility,
To not disappoint mum and dad - illogically.
So I began to shoot, I shot the birds and the bees, 
And before I knew it, I was making short movies! 

Now, Ram, please tell me the difference that you see. After all this time spent in the industry. Do radical ideas get shelved more often, in a world where we have to always tread with caution?

Paper Boat – Paper Boat Presents Rizwan

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Above: Gandhi's work for Paper Boat.

RM: I like your choice of words, Tanvi,
This Gen XYZ I don’t envy.
As we know the shelf life of ads today is fast, 
But I do believe that the time of ideas is passed.
I call it the tyranny of the idea, the tyranny. 
People hiding behind it as if it’s honey.
(Tanvi, listen up, but forgive the advice, 
Am still struggling, not wise, don’t mean to patronise).
Instead of ideas find your self a Creative Director raging like an Elephant in Mast, 
Battle waging, enraging, engaging protector. 
On to their tail hold on and trust,
That’s what I did, and still do or else I’ll rust. 
I am where I am, 
Because of them I grew, 
Credit where credits due.
Forget the idea, instead build relationships, 
Invest in people, creative partnerships. 
It's them, these creative directors, copywriters you must woo,
Then treading with caution is of no matter, 
You’ll be able to embrace your own mad hatter.

And listen up Tanvi, yeah; where do you see yourself five years from here? This interaction is with you as the next pioneer.

Twitter – Hashtag Film

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Above: Madhvani's Twitter spot, #Hashtag Film.

TG: Ram, it seems you give some great advice, 
I’ll bug you henceforth on your mobile device. 
As for my dreams for five years from now,  
So glad you asked 2020 me, brah’.
Coz younger Tanvi was always in a rush,
Self-important, trying to impress very much. 
But alas, she forgot to prioritise the craft,
What we’re meant to hold on to - our life-raft.
So current Tanvi has kept her future plans loose, 
By 'doing' the paths will appear - then I'll choose.
I’ll find deep within me, the inspiration, perhaps, 
To write a show, a film, a book, till my fingers collapse.
Or maybe I’ll find myself an advertising niche, 
Fashion films! Agencies, are you listening please? 
Though one thing my 'plan' entails, of which I’m sure,  
It’s to meet the standard set by artists I adore! 
(PS - Do read with a pinch of salt, I implore,
Good chance I’ll wind up a hippie by the shore.)

Ram from your experiences of the ads you've made, what’s the closest to your heart? Which memories don’t fade? 

Paper Boat – Hope, The Boat

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Above: Hope, The Boat, another Paper Boat spot from Gandhi.

RM: Tanvi, the ads that stay with me,
Are those that didn’t work, you see.
Just yesterday, seven years later,
I apologised to a creative director,
For an ad that I could have made better.
Last week I apologised to another,
This time a decade , I did suffer.
“No no, it’s ok, Ram" they utter,
As I lie in this creative gutter, I mutter.
Ads are my passion, not just my bread and butter,
Save me from creative blame and non repeat purchase,
I cry into my metaphorical hand kerchief.
I know I know, it’s not just my fault,
But it does stop with me, if I’m worth my creative salt.
It’s these that haunt you,
The ones that didn’t work out,
From those that trusted you,
The ones that fill you with self doubt.

Whoa these wounds, these life long scars; how do you deal with failure, Tanvi, whats your behaviour, when they (and you) put you metaphorically, creatively, behind bars?

Ram Madhvani – This Bloody Line

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Above: Madhvani's short film, This Bloody Line, about the the boundary demarcation line between India and Pakistan, known as the Radcliffe Line.

TG: I’m well acquainted with failure’s sting,
To get through it I’ve tried many a thing.
I’ve tried, as they say, to “let it all out”,
Scream at the walls, throw things about.
I’ve stood in a corner for hours and hours, 
Regretting, repenting, my face to the wall. 
I’ve used swear words like “damn” and “fuck”,
But those sweet little slurs brought me no luck. 
I’ve tried to hang upside down from a tree, 
Hoping the failure would tumble out of me. 
I’ve sobbed dramatically while listening to a waltz,
But even Chopin couldn’t undo my faults! 
The thing that eventually made a difference, 
Was a journal - could it really be that simple?!
Writing down the story, it helped me assess, 
How my conscious mind got me into this mess. 
For two years now I’ve applied this route, 
And slowly my conscience it’s begun to soothe.
Or perhaps I speak too soon, a bit premature,
Will I fail bigger, and will my pages endure? 

Ram, let's talk about your artistic expression. If not for direction, what would be your main passion? A novelist? A painter? A designer of fashion? 

Above: Gandhi's work for Levi's.

RM: Tanvi, I’ve never asked my self this question,
From Standard 10 in school I was clear it was film direction. 
But given our sessions, this speaking in verse has left a big impression. 
If not for direction, rapping may be my next obsession.
Hello myself, Eminem’s brother, Raminem, how’s that?

And you Tanvi what else could you have been maybe ...acrobat?  

TG: Raminem, I like it, it’s catchy, it’s cool,
Will you wear a flashy get-up embellished with jewels?
As for me, I don’t think being an acrobat quite fits, 
To that kind of discipline Tanvi never commits. 
(Not yet, at least). 
Jokes apart, I think I’d write some prose, 
Nothing moves me more than words, I s’pose.
You’re right, Ram. These sessions may have ignited, in my brain a new passion, previously unsighted! 

Who were/are your mentors? Who showed you the path? Name some of your idols whose films you've devoured? 

Above: The trailer for Madhvani's 2016 feature film, Neerja.

RM: Tanvi, you say mentor or in our Indian context Guru, right?
It actually means one who takes you from darkness to light.
I’ve often wondered what would it be,
If we had a Guru Shisya tradition in advertising, you see.
I was fortunate I did have one, it was destiny.
Sumantra Ghosal, when I joint Equinox as a trainee.
Lineages are of two kinds,
Those of birth and those that knowledge and the heart binds.
My mother my father,
Amita’s mother and father.
Amita, my Co-Producer and wife, herself and SIddhanth, our son.
Oh gosh I’ve not yet begun, 
Our families and our friends, the Ghosal family and the team at Equinox are all God sent.
They all have formed my mind and heart one hundred percent.
Though if I was to be my own Guru/mentor,
I’d tell my self "laugh, don’t be a bore",
Laugh, go back though your school door,
Laugh, be playful.
Laugh, don’t loose your inner child.
Laugh, be grateful.
Laugh, ‘cause at times life can be painful.
Though the word Guru today has lost some of its currency,
We come from a generation that’s casual and informal you see.
And that’s fine because we don’t need devotees,
Today the word that has meaning is, we are all Co-Guru’s, Co-Mentors to each other, don’t you agree?
So you are my mentor,
As I am yours,
Learning from each other,
Opening each other’s minds doors.
Ah, but if you ask about cinema,
Then there are lots, too many to list,
So many in my memories mist.
But, if you insist,
Then my work would not exist,
I’m most influenced by Mike Leigh,
His work and methods I can’t resist.
There’s lots more to say,
So many film makers, Indian and international who continue to show me the way.
But for now, enough,
It’s been fun stuff,
We are very grateful to shots,
For giving us this opportunity.
To share this with our community. 
And PS: As we all continue with work and opportunity
Let’s hope we can all stay Covid-free.

Tanvi, who were/are your mentors? Who showed you the path? Name some of your idols whose films you've devoured.

Amazon – Paperwhite

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Above: Madhvani's branded short for Amazon's Paperwhite Kindle device.

TG: Like you, I have so many it’s hard to narrow down, 
I feel like I’m surrounded by the raddest dudes in town.
They blow my mind, daily, in their own special way,
“How’d I get so lucky?”, I wonder everyday.
My mother teaches strength and my dad curiosity, 
My sister - to be considerate of everybody around me.
From Nisha I learn kindness, to collaborate patiently, 
From Ani I get dedication, “gotta keep doing, constantly”. 
From Poonam comes bravery, Abhimanyu - fearlessness,
But these are a handful from a list that’s just endless. 
About mentors being friends, I wholeheartedly agree,
In my case it’s more literal, it’s my peers who mentor me. 
As for people I look up to in our beloved industry, 
Manoj - “producer extraordinaire” - never ceases to amaze me. 
I love the work of Ayappa - comic timing at it’s best, 
And Bharat Sikka’s visual poetry - I really find it timeless.  
I admire Shirsha, I imagine her journey was a fight, 
Let's talk about more women who fill my heart with light. 
Chimamanda Adichie - her books taught me,
That stories can empower with utmost simplicity. 
Arundhati Roy, Anuradha Roy, and Jhumpa Lahiri,
Their stories so evocative, so vivid, they still haunt me.
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, 
Made me feel feelings that I didn’t know could exist!
International filmmakers - I wouldn’t know where to start, 
But for sure David Simon holds a special place in my heart.  
And with that, Ramji, I’d like to bid you adieu,
 For this wonderful, inspiring tête-à-tête - thank you!