Stage to Small Screen

Stage to Small Screen

With the focus in the ad world shifting to “real people”,casting directors are scanning the Mumbai stage for actors who can sell products and policies.

With the focus in the ad world shifting to “real people”,casting directors are scanning the Mumbai stage for actors who can sell products and policies.

Seated at the breakfast table,the husband is beaming,unaware of his wife’s unease. As the wife serves food to the family,she wordlessly conveys to him that something might have gone wrong the previous night. Before any “unplanned” incident can threaten their happiness,she discovers ‘i-Pill’. The 38-second television commercial ends with the wife grinning in her husband’s embrace. This 2007 television advertisement was part of a campaign that created awareness about the morning-after pills. It also made Mumbai-based theatre actor Shivani Tanksale a popular face in television commercials (TVCs).

Since then,Tanksale has featured in nearly 40 commercials,most recently,Bournvita and ads. Often seen as a young mother or wife,Tanksale believes her entry into the ad world coincided with the elimination of certain notions and an increased demand for “performers”. “Earlier,a young mother in ads looked a certain way. Now,she can wear short kurtis or trousers if she happens to be a working woman. So I found it easier to fit in,” she says.

However,it’s not the image makeover of TVC models that has made Tanksale a popular face of the modern Indian woman,be it a protective mother,worried wife or working woman. Instead,she is cast because of her ability to “emote” and “express”. This perhaps explains why the i-Pill campaign also starred theatre actors,Ratnabali Bhattacharjee and Geetika Tyagi,for two other ads. But then it is not a case in isolation. In the last few years,the number of theatre actors who moonlight as models in TVCs has increased substantially. The freshness they bring to the commercials,their acting skills and their ability to stand out in the crowd of models works to their advantage. “In ads,you need to make an impression in 30 seconds. If you have a face that stands out in the crowd,that works in favour of the ad. Theatre provides that along with the actors’ ability to give a perfect shot within a limited time span,” says Namita Roy Ghosh,director at Moving Picture Company,which often hires theatre actors for commercials.


The ad world has gradually shifted from featuring models to telling accessible and relevant stories. In 2010,theatre actor Anand Tiwari became the face of TATA Tea’s ‘Jaago Re campaign’. The ad not only delivered this message emphatically,but also made Tiwari a popular ambassador. “While travelling on local trains in Mumbai,I would be approached by strangers who wanted to know more about the voting registration process. I also appeared on news channels during their election debates,” he says.

Similarly,Namit Das acts as the funny young man in several ads. He has been seen charming a woman ticket checker in a train with his Colgate Max Fresh breath,pleasing a tribal chief with a Sprite and,most recently,as a cynical Bengali man in SBI Life Insurance policy ads. His comic timing and quicksilver expressions make him a suitable choice for TVCs. Theatre actor-turned-improv comedian Mukul Chadda has a more affable presence in TVCs and appears as a young husband or executive. Playwright-theatre director Manav Kaul,who was Bittu Mama in Kai Po Che,is the dashing investment adviser of Motilal Oswal as well as a beneficiary of Saffola oil. Amidst the commercials featuring theatre actors currently on air,one can also spot Sumeet Vyas in the Birla Sun Life ad and Faezeh Jalali in

While it is a common practice for theatre actors to attend auditions,many are now picked up directly by casting directors. “Most of the coordinators and casting agents for ads also watch plays,” says Kaul. Akarsh Khurana of Akvarious theatre group,which helps in casting,says,“Our group works with many theatre actors who are young and talented. They bring freshness and energy to ads. We make suggestions as per the brief we are given.” The final selection,according to Roy Ghosh,depends on the story the ad is telling and its demands.

The ad fraternity,however,agrees that an increase in the number of performance-oriented commercials has drawn them closer to theatre. A case in point is Tanksale in the Max New York Life ad. She scans the house looking for her husband,calling his name “Sanju”. Her expression changes from casual to tense to frantic when he does not respond. She is relieved when she finds him sleeping in an armchair with earplugs on. “Ads have a short format and actors need to convey a range of emotions during that time. This is something theatre actors can handle well,” says Tiwari,whose most recent ads include Tanishq,HDFC Life and Titan Eye. All four models in a recent Tanishq ad showing two friends fretting over their wives selecting pieces of jewellery are theatre actors. Apart from Tiwari,it stars Chadda,Rasika Duggal and Mansi Parekh.

Ads come with their own set of demands. “Since the ads give very little time,actors need to understand the script well and work on their expressions accordingly,” says Adhir Bhat,who has featured in ads for MTR,Godrej,Asian Paints and Axis Bank. With timing being crucial,Tanksale says,Rajesh Krishnan of Soda Films,which made the OLX ads,carries a stopwatch to the sets,to figure out when the actors should change their expressions.

With nearly 40 ads to his credit,Tiwari faces the risk of being overexposed. “There have been instances when ad agencies have wanted someone like me,but have hesitated to cast me,” he says. According to Bhat,the scope for actors in advertising is still limited. “Ad agencies often search for a specific look in the models and this is what makes the cut,” Bhat says.

In spite of being part of several successful ad campaigns,theatre actors’ remunerations still don’t match what those from films take home. They,however,get more than regular models. But the system of payment on a per day basis is not preferred by many. Since those with a theatre background deliver the desired shots quicker than regular models,they end up doing more work compared to others. A senior theatre actor,on condition of anonymity,says that when he acted in ads for a finance company nearly three years ago,the shots did not take much time to be canned. Being a novice in the ad world,he did not realise that his quick expressions and perfect timing had helped the agency collect enough material for five ads in a day. He,however,claims to have now grown wiser when it comes to quoting his price and finalising ad contracts.

Despite these drawbacks,several theatre actors aspire to work in ads as it fetches them quick money,ranging from Rs 10,000 to several lakhs. This gives many of them the freedom to pursue their “first love” — theatre. “Ads have given me the freedom to do theatre without being burdened by the thought of money,” says Tanksale,who also directs and produces plays apart from acting in them. Tiwari affirms,“Acting in theatre and films remain my priority. But because of ads,I am able to invest in theatre where the returns are slow.” Kaul,who made his directorial debut Hansa,last year,says that the remuneration he got from doing the Saffola ad helped him complete the movie. That apart,ads don’t take up much of their time unlike theatre or films.

The appeal of doing ads,for many,also lies in the exposure it provides. “Ads have opened a window of opportunities for me,” says Tanksale,who has acted in recent movies such as Talaash and Inkaar and will soon appear in the television series 24.

When Das first met Raj Kumar Gupta for a role in his next film Ghanchakkar,the film’s director instantly recognised him thanks to the ads. “At a time when we are fighting to grab eyeballs,commercials make actors visible to a very large audience. When an ad is done cleverly,it leaves an impression for long,” Das says.