In conversation with Kopal Naithani: “As a woman in the advertising industry, you chase your own tail”


Commercials in India have had a curious relationship with women ever since television became an everyday reality in the country. While women have appeared frequently on camera, sometimes outnumbering men in some genres, it’s rare for a woman to make the decisions behind the lens.

Come on, Kopal Naithani. Over a career spanning more than two decades, Naithani has helped invent the role of women as directors capable of crafting subtle yet powerful commercials that combine commercial appeal with artistic vision. Currently running her own production house, Superfly Films, which she launched in 2016, Naithani has worked with brands such as Tanishq, Axis Bank, HUL, Flipkart, among others.

Over a career spanning more than two decades, Kopal Naithani has helped invent the role of women as directors capable of crafting subtle yet powerful commercials that combine commercial appeal with artistic vision. Currently running her own production house, Superfly Films, which she launched in 2016, Naithani has worked with brands such as Tanishq, Axis Bank, HUL, Flipkart, among others.

In exclusive interaction with FIIKopal Naithani spoke about his early days in the commercials industry, the creative process behind some of his most popular commercials, the glass ceiling that still exists for female directors, his motivations and aspirations, and much more .

How did you get into the advertising world? How were your early years?

Kopal Naithani: I started working in 1999, after completing my undergraduate degree in English Literature in Delhi. I worked with Nagesh Kukunoor in Bollywood Appeal in Mumbai and returned to Delhi. A friend of mine put me in touch with this ad agency called Red Eyes and that’s where I started working with Shoojit Sircar. My association with him ultimately lasted 16 years, during which time I began directing at his company, Rising Sun Films.

In my early days, I was always juggling multiple roles on set. I came on board as a costume designer and worked in several departments. I learned everything on the job.

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What’s the hardest part of creating ads?

Kopal Naithani: Crack the script. How can I nuance the script to my liking? What makes me unique, what is the tone of the film? Since a story can be told in a million ways, how can I translate the story to its highest potential? What also matters a lot to me are the performances, since I have been a director for a long time.

Your recent ad Tanishq, Marriage talks, beautifully depicts what must bind a couple before marriage. Would it be fair to say that this ad displays your vision of love and unity?

Kopal Naithani: Tanishq is an incredible story, both in front and behind the scenes. When the agency called me and told me about the concept, I thought about how I got married 11 years ago. I delayed my own wedding because I was a little scared of the prospect. With my future husband, I had a conversation about marriage (similar to the ones shown in the ad) – a nice, honest conversation.

We talked about what it really means to have a partnership, to get through the tough times, because things are never going to be hunky-dory all the time. We gave ourselves scenarios and wondered what would happen if that were to happen. Would you leave me or would you still love me?

Romance is beautiful, but after a while the practicality of life sets in and we both realize that. At the end of the conversation with him, I told my partner that we should get married.

So Tanishq was very personal to me. We were very clear about how we wanted these conversations to sound. We measured each word, wondering if we were perceived as insensitive. But we also just wanted to let the characters speak, express their anxieties, and vent their fears and worries out of their systems.

Read also : “She was ahead of her time”: conversation with Kajri Akhtar, director of “Kamala Bhasin – A Woman, By Choice”

There are two Flipkart commercials you did, one about the idea of choose your age and the other on raise girls and boys equally, both of which carry very powerful social messages. Do you think this kind of social commentary works better in an ad format, because the truncated nature doesn’t come across as judgmental?

Kopal Naithani: It is certainly much easier. Brands have nailed 30-second posts in the past, but the conversation is getting broader and more open these days.

It used to be that you knew of some brands that would always have some sort of social messaging, but now more and more brands are following suit. If you are talking about young India, no one is waiting for a TV commercial break. So you have to connect and talk through the media that young people watch and that provides a field for the kind of conversations that we need to have as a society.

you led an advertisement for Boroplus on what the brand calls a “healthy white fairness cream.” We all know how the fairness cream industry has glorified a specific idea of ​​beauty for women for decades. When making this ad, did you want to counter the fairness talk or did you feel it would undermine the appeal and identity of the brand?

Kopal Naithani: In this particular commercial, we were very clear in wanting to show strong and independent women.

Yes, the concept was beauty and fairness, but it was also about female independence.

When it comes to fairness, almost every brand is marketing fairness (in how they portray women onscreen). Some just sell it. As an individual director, I alone cannot change the perception of an industry that is all about lightening, whitening, whitening, lightening.

But as much as possible, I tried to show women as women with free will, in charge of their lives.

Kopal Naithani

What kinds of structural barriers do female commercial directors have to overcome in India?

Kopal Naithani: I started 20 years ago. I didn’t have any female role models at the time. Are there many more female directors today? Yes there is. But how many can you name? Are they as efficient as men? They are not. Why not? This is because of the nature of opportunities.

For me to grow in my job, I need to grow in terms of what I do as well as what I get. This kind of growth doesn’t happen for many women.

As a woman in the commercial industry, you chase your own tail. Without the right opportunities, how will you show your merit?

It’s not as simple as saying there is sexism or there isn’t. It’s much more complicated than that.

You mentioned in your TEDx Conference that even after so many years in the industry, you still end up getting ads from certain genres that are considered more of a female domain. How do you respond to that?

Kopal Naithani: I do not receive advertisements for cars. But I have a scooty ad! In commercials, you are usually placed as the director. The perception that I am very good with children was there at the start of my career. It was a little frustrating. Beyond a point, it was too much. I tried very hard for automotive and sports commercials, but things rarely worked out.

Now I’m more known for my performances, which I’m quite happy with.

Read also : FII interviews: Mae Mariyam Thomas, founder of the Maed In India podcast

Where do you see yourself in five years? What are the goals that motivate you every day?

Kopal Naithani: If you had asked me 15 years ago, I would have said that I would now be sitting on a farm, retired. But I’m not retired, I’m still working. For me, my whole career has been about proving something to myself.

After a long journey, I feel a semblance of fertility. I want to own my successes as well as my failures. The day I’m happy with what I’m doing, that day I’ll be done.

I now have a business of my own filled with sincere people. They are a big part of my motivation, along with my family.

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