#KetchupTalks: Ankur Suman, the adman behind 'Kaagaz 2', talks to us about his passion for storytelling, the behind-the-scenes of this film and more

Karishma Jangid
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Ankur Suman

Explore scriptwriter, Ankur Suman's intriguing journey from advertising to filmmaking as he talks about his latest project 'Kaagaz 2' and creativity in today's world. 

With over twenty years in advertising, Ankur Suman has only shaped India's ad world but also made a name for himself as a scriptwriter and theater enthusiast. Known for his engaging storytelling, Suman's journey is both varied and inspiring. He has worked with top brands, received praise for his short films and is now contributing to 'Kaagaz 2.' In this interview, Suman talks about how his advertising experience has shaped his filmmaking, his work with industry legends, and the challenges and messages in his latest project.

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Check it out!

With over two decades of experience in advertising, how has your background influenced your approach to filmmaking?

Almost 25 years of my life have been spent churning out stories of 30 seconds. In other words, 25 years of my life were measured by what I did in 30 seconds! But these 30 seconds of storytelling made me a better storyteller. I got trained for the economy of words, which reflects a lot in my dialogue and screenplay writing now. Delivering lines loaded with punches or undercurrents of emotion comes more easily to me. Ad writing also teaches you how to achieve efficacy in the moment. In films, the audience watches your stories voluntarily. They have themselves decided to listen to you. But no one voluntarily sits in front of the screen to watch an ad. It’s the foot-in-the-door kind of scenario where you have to be engaging and convincing enough to make your audience listen to you and buy whatever you are selling. So, your writing should be relevant, logical, and engaging. That is why you get better equipped to manage the audience’s responses in the ad world. Your filmmaking has to be more contemporary and crispier. Now, if you analyze all of this, it is needed to make a great film too. 

Can you share how you got involved in Kaagaz 2 and what drew you to it?

I met Mr. Satish Kaushik, the creator of the Kaagaz franchise, when he was about to shoot the first Kaagaz during an ad campaign that paired him with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and was directed by Mr. Shoojit Sircar. Impressed by the humor in my writing, Mr. Kaushik asked me to join him as a screenplay and dialogue writer for Kaagaz. My work was appreciated by everyone, including the lead actor, Pankaj Tripathi. So, I officially became Mr. Kaushik’s in-house writer, and we started working on multiple scripts, including one for Mr. Bachchan. We developed a wide variety of subjects across genres and formats. Kaagaz 2 was one such script. Mr. Kaushik asked me what I thought about this subject (traffic jams caused by processions, dharnaas, rallies, and more). I told him it is a problem that is the sad reality of urban India. Most of us have been through such situations, and therefore, a large section of the audience would relate to them. I have always been a great believer in stories with a message—after all, we live in the land of Panchtantra. So, I was quite happy to pick up a pen and paper for this touching story. 

What were some of the challenges you faced during the making of 'Kaagaz 2', especially considering the sensitive nature of the film's subject?

It was quite a demanding film for Mr. Kaushik because he was not only playing one of the lead characters but also producing the film and working as the creative director. We shot it in the peak summer of 2022 in Lucknow. The pivotal rally scene was the most challenging to shoot. It was a real location, and the weather was not favoring us. There was a huge crowd and a large number of vehicles to be managed. In fact, the actor playing the cop fainted due to the heat! But eventually, it all augmented the mood of the scene, and I think Mr. Kaushik was brilliant in the scene. As we were writing this film, some roadblocks were already happening in Delhi-NCR due to some protests. But we decided to convey our message fearlessly. Unfortunately, such instances keep getting reported in the media every now and then. The idea was not to sensationalize the issue but to raise a voice to create awareness about it. 

The film tackles the emotional and legal battle of a father seeking justice for his deceased daughter. What message do you hope the audience takes away from this film?

Compassion and sensitivity are the virtues that the world needs the most and in heavy doses. Through Kaagaz 2, we hope to make people realize how important it is to be sensitive to the needs of those around you. You can’t block the path for others to create new avenues for your own growth. I wrote a dialogue for Raj Narain, the character played by Mr. Anupam Kher: “Yeh duniya chal hee isliye rahi hai kyonki koi na koi kisi doosre ki madad karne, uski ladaai ladne ke liye aage aata hai. Jis din yeh chain toot gayi na, the world will collapse.” This is one of the key messages which translates to, "Our world has been moving along only because someone or another comes forward to fight someone else’s battle." In the film, the victim could have been saved if even one person had thought of coming forward to help her hapless father. But everyone turned a blind eye because the girl was a stranger to them. This is also the tragic reality in today’s world: people immediately take out their phones on seeing an accident victim—not to call an ambulance, but to make a video. 

Apart from filmmaking, you have a background in theater. How does your work in theater influence your approach to filmmaking?

Theatre is the ultimate test of your prowess as an actor and a storyteller because there are no camera angles, retakes heavy-duty VFX, or technology to support you. Since I used to do a lot of comedies and satires on stage, I have a good understanding of how humor works. Laughter is the instant receipt of your investment in a good line. If you don’t get it, you know you boarded the wrong bus. On the contrary, in films, you can get carried away by your own indulgences and get distant from the audience in the process. We must remember that, at the end of the day, it is a form of art created for the audience. So, keeping the audience in mind while making a film is something one can learn better with some experience in theater. 

Are there any upcoming projects you are particularly excited about that you can share with us?

There are two or three very interesting projects that are at different stages of production, but I am not supposed to reveal much about them yet. Some exciting new ad campaigns will be released very soon. I am also going to look at acting more seriously now and try my luck as an actor too. 

What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers and storytellers who are looking to make their mark in the industry?

This is a very different world. You are not only competing with your fellow filmmakers but also with thousands of Reel makers on the Internet. With people spending more than a couple of hours on platforms like Instagram each day, we are losing our share of the time they had allotted to entertainment in a day faster than before. So, there is virtually no scope to be indulgent. Pick up the story you believe in, but make it entertaining, engaging, and endearing. Most importantly, look at life and the real world around you to discover the story you want to tell, instead of looking at references to work that has already been done by somebody else. This reference culture can get us projects but not films. Please remember, there were no references or internet access available to Shakespeare, Premchand, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, or even Ruskin Bond! Yet they wrote stuff that became worthy of PhD degrees. 

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Kaagaz 2 Ankur Suman