The UK-based wine retailer Laithwaite has released a new ad campaign made by the ad agency RAPP. There are 3 ads in the series and all of them use the same basic narrative device geared towards communicating the ‘Get the wine cellar feeling’ message.
Considering a cellar is something that underground, the quirky and amusing narrative device is that of a person creating the effect of walking down the steps to a cellar that’s behind a kitchen counter or a sofa, to fetch a bottle of wine. When they walk behind the sofa or a kitchen counter, they completely vanish (as if there was a real cellar there) and then they emerge with a bottle of wine!
It’s a nice, humorous device and works contextually well to make you remember the ‘cellar’ feeling for an otherwise functional communication that could have been rather plain and simple.
While watching this ad, I was reminded of some other place where I had seen someone walk ‘down’ like this. After a bit of mental wrestling, I figured it out!
It was an Indian movie – a Tamil movie, to be specific!!
Remember Apoorva Sagodharargal (Appu Raja, in Hindi)? That film released in 1989, but Kamal Haasan got the idea to explore a full-length film where he plays a dwarf from another movie he did in 1986!
In the 1986 Tamil film by director K.Balachandar, Punnagai Mannan, Kamal Haasan plays 2 roles (he has been multitasking for a very long time!) – one, the main hero, and another, a quirky character named Chaplin Chellappa (who is the hero’s uncle; to explain the similarity) – a comedian of sorts, modeled on Charlie Chaplin. It’s more like he has carved a niche out of imitating Chaplin for a living, in the film.
In a scene that was a precursor to 1989’s Apoorva Sagodharargal, Kamal does the Laithwaite move (in retrospect), at a departmental store, behind a set of suitcases. The context is that he is looking for a new walking stick and one of the sticks he tries to remove from the wrapping, gets out of his hands and falls on a little girl. Chaplin Chellappa apologizes to the child and asks for that walking stick back, but she refuses to give it to him.
When he requests again, she asks him to do an impossible task – to turn into a child like her, of her height, and only then can he have the walking stick back.
Kamal Haasan walks behind the stack of suitcases just like the Laithwaite ads, and instead of fetching wine, he walks out from the other side as a dwarf, for the sake of a little girl’s whim!
The narrative device is exactly the same, but used in a completely different context! And both contexts are perfectly appropriate for what they aim to achieve.
In the Laithwaite ads, the step-by-step vanishing behind a sofa or kitchen counter actually has a specific meaning, given the ‘walking down the steps’ (to the cellar) context.
Where director K.Balachandar’s creative brilliance shines is that he need not have shown Kamal Haasan vanishing step-by-step at all – he could have simply shown him walking behind a screen/covering/pillar and reappearing on the other side as a dwarf.
But making him vanish step-by-step heightens the impact of the final outcome that was completely unexpected in a movie back in 1986. Of course, given the mid-80s period, the change of scene after Kamal Haasan fully vanishes, to appearing again is very obvious – there’s a visible transition. Yet, the sheer idea was brilliant.
There was no indication that Kamal Haasan played a dwarf in that film for a few seconds, and this made big news even back then… so much that he was inspired enough to explore that as a full-fledged role 3 years later.
This is not to imply that Laithwaite’s idea is inspired or copied – both ideas have total relevance in their respective contexts and it seems completely unlikely that even if someone has seen the Tamil scene (which, given the UK-based agency and client, seems stupendously unlikely), they may not have connected it to walking-down-the-cellar context. The starting point for the ad campaign is most definitely imagining the walking-down-the-imaginary-cellar literally and extending it as an amusing narrative device.
PS 1: As pointed out on a Facebook comment, a scene from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) has Mike Myers performing the vanish-behind-the-sofa in imaginary stairs idea!
PS 2: A couple of comments on LinkedIn pointed out that this fake-stairs idea was also used in The Office, in 2006 – Season 3, Episode 4!
PS 3: A comment on LinkedIn indicates that there is a similar scene in the 1919 film Back Stage, starring Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle! This is most interesting because it wasn’t done to intentionally fool either fellow actors or the audiences. The guy who performed it simply did it on his own because there were steps above his head that obstruct his walk in that area – and he does it naturally without any intention to deceive someone or use it as a party trick. So, I don’t think this fits as a precursor.