Nakka Mukka: the taste and smell of culture in advertising

22 August 2009

‘A Day in the life of Chennai’ is an advertising spot for the Times of India newspaper, created by JWT Mumbai and filmed in my home town Chennai. Released to coincide with the 369th anniversary of the city of Chennai (and the introduction of a Times of India Chennai edition) the film won multiple awards, including 2 Gold Lions at Cannes. This astonishes me. Not because the ad isn’t fantastically good but because it is so specific and local in its narrative, music, and visual storytelling, yet manages to be successful and relevant to audiences elsewhere. I mention it as a reference here for this very reason.

Chennai is a city where politics is visible on the street in a variety of different marks ranging from particular semiology to giant cutouts that are nearly 100 feet tall. The cutouts are usually of film actors, many of whom use the medium of the masses (cinema) to launch their political careers.

The ad, uses very localised ‘insider’ language including graphic handpainted cutouts, Tamil folk music and dappankoothu dance to tell its story. As the creative director Senthil Kumar explains, the ad presents a short satire on the life of a giant cardboard cutout character through the course of one day in the life of the city of Chennai. It acts as a visual metaphor for the rise and fall of actor-turned-politicians.

Naaka Mukka (‘naaka’ meaning tongue, and ‘mukka’ meaning nose) is the title of the ancient Tamil folk track that was rewritten for the video, with the new lyrics sung by a folk singer Madurai Chinna Ponnu.

The video is well edited. There are several ‘gaps’ in the narrative that only someone who is familiar with Chennai and the social/cultural/political context could fill. The Times of India is a national rather than local newspaper, and by this film content and narrative shows very specific local knowledge and culture, that is both historic and contemporary. It gives the newspaper a credibility, but also signifies empathy, as if to say: Chennai, I know you, heart and soul.

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