‘Hum Hain Happy’ with Nishant Nayak & Mithun Gangopadhyay
It’s vibrant, quirky and is spreading happiness everywhere. The Brooke Bond Red Label ‘6 Pack’ band’s first ever music video has become quite the rage and very rightly so owing to its foot-tapping music and flawless visual treatment. Launched by Y-Films, it is India’s first ever transgender band that has got the nation grooving. The men responsible for his brilliant video are none other than Nishant Nayak and Mithun Gangopadhyay a.k.a Mitch who have wowed us with music shows like Coke Studio, Sound Trippin and more in the past.
Sought – after names in the world of advertising, music videos and shows, it was their love for the music video format and determination to stay away from cliches that has brought and kept this inimitable Director-Cinematographer duo together. We caught up with them to learn about their partnership, get a low-down on the making of the ‘Hum Hain Happy’ video and more.
To begin with how did your association with each other begin? What was it that made you’ll click as a team?
Nishant – Mitch (Mithun Gangopadhyay) and I met when I was hunting for a team of DoPs for ‘Sound Trippin Season 1’. I went in there as an experienced TV director who wanted to change my comfortable content – driven style and develop a better visual language, while working within a genre that I love – music. I had met with and shot a few pilots with a number of DoPs while deciding the look I wanted for the show. I was clear that I wanted people who were way better than me yet people who wanted to collaborate in the truest sense – leaving their egos at the door and sharing an experience. And Mitch became part of the core DoP team on that season of ‘Sound Trippin’.
We worked together over a number of projects post ‘Sound Trippin’ – digital ads and music videos mostly, and realized that, besides a common obsessive love for the music video format, we had a similar interest in design-driven work.
I have been an independent director – producer for a while now and Mitch, although very sought – after in advertising, was also looking to grow his contribution beyond just a DP’s. So we decided to partner up and form ‘Baraka’ that functions as a boutique studio for branded content. As Baraka, we’re in the business of music videos, ad films, television shows, concert properties and whatever else we can think of, that would excite a brand and keep social conversations alive. At Baraka, Mitch plays the operations-obsessed bad cop, while I’ve conveniently chosen the creative good cop role for myself. We spent a better part of last year meeting clients. Many failed pitches / ridiculous budgets later, the good people of Y Films came knocking.
Mithun Gangopadhyay (Mitch) – Nishant and I clicked because we both obsess about how to challenge the form of filmmaking while also not losing sight of the content. Over the course of many shoots together, we realized we have the same influences and are always looking to challenge ourselves and stay away from visual clichés wherever possible. Most importantly the fact that our first love has been music videos and documentaries, where there are no rules, allows us to let our imaginations run wild.
It also helps that we compliment each other in our temperament and approach when it comes to work ethic. We both (either individually or as a team) stay clear of taking on a project where we feel that we can’t deliver if we’re overstretched or the budget doesn’t allow us to do what creative has signed off on. We’ve had to say no to a lot of projects where either the turnaround times or the budgets were not workable because the last thing either of us want to do is deliver a shabby product.
How did Y Films approach you for the ‘Hum Hain Happy’ video?
N – I’ve known Nikhil (Taneja, the creative producer at Y-Films) from my work on ‘Sound Trippin’, ‘Coke Studio’ and ‘Unplugged’ at MTV – his ex-workplace. He seemed to like what we did with ‘Sound Trippin’ and when he moved to Y-Films last year, I sent him a mail that we’re open to doing work as an independent production company now. We heard back a few months later after we put out an indie video ‘Crush’ for Abhishek Arora. He called me in and Ashish Patil (who heads Y-Films) played me the scratch for ‘Hum Hain Happy’ on his car stereo system and asked me my general view on the song. The next thing I asked him was ‘When do we shoot this?’ Thematically, it seemed like the best thing we could be doing.
M – ‘Crush’ was a real passion project for us as we both fell in love with the song and wanted to create an atmospheric piece. We even put in some of our own money so that we could rent Anamorphic lenses and get a really kadak grade. After the video released we got a lot of calls and messages from people saying how different the video looked because it was really saturated with vivid colors and lovely Anamorphic flares along with a very minimalist production design. When Nishant called me and told me the concept behind 6 Pack I flipped and asked him how quickly could we shoot the video. I’d been dreaming for a gig like this for a while where we could hopefully have some sort of social impact as well as riff on the iconic original video as well.
I loved the quirky and fun approach that the video takes. How did you’ll go about conceptualizing the shoot? Was there a set brief from Y Films?
N – Ashish is someone who is very clear about what he wants, yet doesn’t dictate the creative, so we were pretty much left to our own devices. We didn’t want to do yet another ‘me too’ on Pharell’s iconic video….tracking camera, montage of different people dancing, lip-syncing / being ‘happy’. Given the theme, the video needed to make the transgender group the heroes and portray them in a sensitive light, yet bring out their color and quirky vibe. And, being a Yash Raj project, it seemed only apt to have a signature dance step (smiles). We thrashed about a couple of ideas and then hit upon this one. I wanted to pun on the ‘6 Pack’ phrase and also do some cool stuff with biceps moving to the beat. After an extensive search for bodybuilders / contortionists who had rhythm in them we found these two – Amit and Farhan and a yoga exponent Deepak…who dedicatedly practiced shaking their body parts to the opening music ‘til I felt they’d got the arrangement right. That segues into the music video featuring the band and the events that follow.
So what is the process that you’ll generally follow while working on a music video?
N – We listen to the song over and over ‘til something speaks to us. It could be an instrument or a phrase or just the overall mood. In the videos we’ve done there’s always been some amount of character physicality. Once we like the idea, we sit with the artiste / client and share it. Very often they add their bits (or not) and then we go about costing it and assembling a crack team. Most of what we’ve done has been possible because we’ve managed to attract some really talented people to come and work with us. They’ve been a huge asset.
On the execution side, since we’re pretty sure about what we want to do with a video in post, we design and shoot accordingly.
Coming back to ‘Hum Hain Happy’. As a Director-DOP duo what was the visual treatment adopted for the video? Did you’ll need to do any referencing?
N – As I said earlier, we wanted to start out with a bang on a quirky note with the muscle music. We did look up some of the Old Spice films to see how this would be executed. But that seemed largely VFX-driven. We wanted it to be organic, which is why the arduous casting process and the practicing. We were keen to use a bit of steadicam because of the added dynamism and freedom. The steadicam particularly enhances the choreography bits. For the choreography, we didn’t reference anything. I just pulled in one of the best guys I know (Nishant Bhat) and gave him a very basic brief…something that anyone can do that communicates the chorus. Also, using the taxi cab as a visual motif was something we thought would be cool, since that’s (unfortunately) from where we most often encounter transgenders – while stuck in a vehicle in traffic. For the look and feel, we did pull up a few references to see how we’d grade and therefore, how we’d need to light it. The online work that we did through jitter frames came in once every thing was done, to add an extra tadka to the video.
M – The budget for the video was quite tight and shooting in Bombay is mad expensive but we put it together to start casting for the roles. The locations where we were shooting were not that accessible so most of the outdoor sequences were scheduled to make the best use of natural light. Our look ref was largely location-dependent and our lighting and lensing aimed at getting the best texture and utilizing each location’s geography to the best.
Going with the theme of the song, the video has a happy and bright vibe. Was there a color palette that you’ll consciously worked with?
N – The great thing about associating with Yash Raj Films is that they always manage to get some great talent on-board. For the costumes, National Award-winner and all-round cool person Niharika Bhasin-Khan came on board. Being entrusted with the look of the band across the campaign, she really got into the skin of their characters when designing the looks for each video. Since I personally like to dig into styling details as well, we got along like a house on fire with the ideas. The endeavor was to keep their outfits front and centre and support the environment around them with a more realistic color palette. We chose locations where we already had some interestingly painted walls. For propping, we seeded in the brand’s (Red Label) motifs via heart-shaped balloons, red teacups, an aged shop shutter with branding and … as a throwback to the original video – the happy face. You will also see an abundance of red in scenes, seeding in the brand color. Since the mood and vibe is bright, none of these jarred yet came together as a whole.
Tell us about the experience of working with the ‘6 Pack’ band.
N – There was this great curiosity to meet with the band after hearing their voices and after meeting them we realized that they were completely fresh. While they’re all good singers, they hadn’t acted before and had their own preconceived notion of dancing styles. Nishant (the choreographer), while rehearsing with them, had to work hard to make them unlearn their typical moves and teach them simplicity and grace. They’re more used to free styling and carefree hip-shaking. Then they’d never been on camera before (leave alone a big film camera, smiles). So initially they were very conscious and couldn’t understand why takes were repeated many times over. But through talking to them gently and explaining the need for re-takes calmly, they gradually became a part of the process.
Where was the video shot and what factors determined your choice of places? Also what camera did you’ll shoot on?
N – The opening sequence (that is voiced by Anushka Sharma, another brilliant casting coup from Yash Raj Films) was shot in the bylances of Worli Village that features in a large chunk of the video. It was chosen because while it did look real and lived in, it also had some spectacular color swatches on the walls. There was a hut on the fort strip that is framed by the sea link, that was already painted in marvelous colors. It’s rare to find such a combination. This being not a very high budget video, we wanted to avail of as much ‘ready’ art as was possible. The ‘muscle music’ sequence was shot in a one-of-a-kind akhada that we were very lucky to chance upon. After multiple recces, nothing afforded us the kind of character we found there. The office and stairs sequence was done at the Grey Worldwide office in Parel.
M – We shot on Alexa using Superspeed lenses, which are amongst my favorite lenses for the way they render skin tones as well as the soft focus roll off. Modern lenses are quite sharp and contrasty, which I don’t really like whenever I’m going for a naturalistic feel.
What are the challenges faced while working on music videos of this sort?
N – When shooting outdoors and in Bombay, it usually is phenomenally expensive and that’s a drawback when working with limited budgets. Then to add to it, our main talent was a group of transgenders that drew attention wherever we went. But in controlling the attention, a large part of the credit goes to the production management team as well as the local support wherever we shot.
M – Money. Bollywood item numbers have a lot of money and get days to shoot. For indie music videos if you manage to get two days to shoot you’re lucky because most of the videos are shot in one day and it’s really tough to get your shots. The expectations are always Bollywood level but we have to work on a fraction of those budgets. So we’ve learnt to be smart and not try to compete on the scale or the number of dancers but rather come up with a clever design – driven approach.
Be it ‘Coke Studio’, ‘Sound Trippin’ or ‘Hum Hai Happy’, you’ll have been associated with unique videos. What is it that draws you towards them?
N – It’s the music first. I know it sounds clichéd, but the track needs to say something to you. The tone, arrangement, vibe… they create ideas in your head which then develop into more-fleshed out pieces. Personally, it’s sound that drives image. The brand association, artistes involved all follow. The creative approach is always determined by us and in that respect, we like to be cutting-edge and quirky. Fortunately we’ve had the good fortune of associating with clients who also want that.
M – I’m actually tone deaf and wouldn’t know one note from another but my response to music has always been on a very visceral level. The song just has to resonate with me emotionally. I love music videos because there are really no mistakes, just failed attempts to try something new. I’ve been dying to shoot a music video completely out of focus as an attempt to play with perceptions of imagery but you can imagine how well that pitch goes down to bands or clients (laughs)
Also how different is the approach towards a music show like Coke Studio, independent music videos and ad films?
N – Technically, very different. Coke Studio is a format that employs a multi-camera approach (at least 10-13 cameras capturing the recording at the same time) so you need to light for every possible angle once and for all. Editorially, a multi-cam shoot like Coke Studio is almost always edited live. If there are sonic additions/edits in post, then we go into post to fine-tune it. But otherwise it’s largely a live cut. Music videos and ad films involve structuring everything in post, for which you storyboard in advance (so you know exactly what you’re shooting on set) an then, hopefully, shoot to board. A lot of people tell me that television lacks detail or doesn’t call for the kind of detailing that film does. I beg to differ. In either format (multi-cam or single-cam) visualizing for me requires the same amount of detailing. You learn to decide the importance of every little aspect to the overall scheme of things because that, in turn, impacts your budget.
I’ve personally preferred themes around music, lifestyle and fashion, when it comes to creative work. This year I’m making a conscious effort to go after narrative storytelling with performance involved. Directing actors is major head-rush.
M – I work mostly in advertising and I really do enjoy it because you have access to the best gear, locations and support. Attention to detail and a strong sense of the dramatic are key attributes you need to cultivate when shooting commercials as the time frame is so compressed. You need to know how to create evocative imagery from scratch, most of the times. That sort of training really helps in music videos because you approach it with the mindset that I have limited tools and money so how do I get the most bang for the buck. When I’m shooting documentaries or narrative it’s the opposite approach where you have to make sure that the camera is serving the story and not distracting from the content.
Would you be shooting any more videos for the ‘6 Pack’ Band? Please tell us about your other upcoming ventures as well.
N – Yes we’ve shot two more videos, which are currently in post-production. We’re on a 3-video contract and if that gets extended then we’ll certainly do more with them.
While Mitch and I will continue our own freelance pursuits as director and DoP, this year we’re developing a fiction series for which we want to partner with a brand. Being sticklers for detail, we’re waiting for the right partner to support this. We strongly believe that our expertise lies in executing with rich detail (as one client told us…’you make things look sexy’) so we aren’t willing to compromise on budgets as much as some clients would have us do.
There’s also an indie music video in the form of a narrative short that we’re very excited about along with some non-fiction work. Other than that, we’re hoping we’ll get some commercial work off the success of ‘Hum Hain Happy’.
M – I’m back to shooting commercials and the occasional short form documentary just to keep my non-fiction chops going. I really want to do more narrative stuff this year as the last short that I did (The Wives) got a lot of acclaim and I realized that short films are now finally an accepted format in India after being treated as a stepchild for so many years. As a team there is a food show we’ve been brainstorming on (as we’re both massive foodies) as well as a few fiction projects in various stages of development.
CHECK OUT THE ‘HUM HAIN HAPPY’ VIDEO