Creative couple Sohini Mitra and Abhishek De unravel the phenomenal journey of “Avant Garde Films”

Avant Garde Films founder Sohini Mitra with her husband and Avant Garde director Abhishek De
Welcome to Avant Garde films, a creative boutique company operating successfully in the digital and media space which continues to make huge strides. Barely four and a half years into operation, it already boasts of a glittering portfolio having worked with some stellar names of the industry. It boasts  of advertisement production with the likes of Idee Eyewear (Alia, Varun, Sidharth), UNICEF Fair Start promoted by Priyanka Chopra, Image Eyewear starring Saif Ali Khan and Esha Gupta, Welspun Hygro Cotton , content creatives for Wow Kidz Rhymes for Cosmos Maya,Tata Chemicals, Digene,Elmach’s Blister, Gitanjali G Divas starring Neha Dhupia , Gitanjali’s Envi and D’Damas starring Sonakshi Sinha, Gitanjali’s Shuddhi starring Mugdha Godse,Dano Milk TVC, Metro shoes starring Kareena and Saif Ali Khan. It has also collaborated with TV channels for promo production like Star Plus’s Siya Ke Ram, Life Ok’s  Har Mard ka Dard and post work for Star Plus’s Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon Launch Campaign, Jat ki Jugni and Super Dancer 2 and Sankatmochan Mahabali Hanuman for Sony. It also has recently  delivered projects for Zee TV like Judwaa and Bhutu’s launch promo and many more. To add to its bulging resume, Avant Garde recently partnered with Jabong in association with TAP (The Artists Project) and Starstruck for producing and creating the music video for Jabong, Tujhse na Jyada Koi Tu Hai  (Be You) featuring Punjabi heart-throb Diljit Dosanjh that released on 5 August 2017 and is winning hearts everywhere. Avant Garde Films(AGF) are storytellers, producers and digital specialist who look at each brand or project as a chance to nurture great ideas from ideation, execution to completion and pride themselves on solving any challenges thrown on their way. The company’s roster of directors and producers ranges from award-winning veterans to emerging filmmakers and digital gurus, all sharing extraordinary visual style, strategies and the storytelling or execution ability to transform creative or digital potential into compelling viewer experiences across advertising, digital, media and entertainment. Some of its areas of expertise are concept development, copy-writing, shoot production, creative designs, visual effects and CG supervision, digital analysts, digital marketing for digital content. Animation Xpress spoke to Avant Garde founder and CEO, and content creator and producer Sohini Mitra and her husband and director Abhishek De who is also the founder of Futureworks Media Ltd along with Gaurav Gupta. Producers like Gururaj Vasudeva and Sukankan Roy are the key members of the company. With a lot of enthusiasm and passion, they described their remarkable journey in the industry and their quest for innovation and excellence in content creation. Why did you think of naming it “Avant Garde” which is undoubtedly a beautiful name? Sohini: We do a lot of experimental work when it comes to developing creative content. So we thought of coming up with a unique name. After a lot of introspection, we decided on Avant Garde Films. It is derived from a French word which means experimental filmmaking.  Tell us about your latest music video with Diljit that released recently. How did you get him aboard? Sohini: We got the deal from TAP (The Artist Project) CEO, Debjoy Ray . We also had Kanicka Bhardwaj and Kaetki Bhatia from Starstruck. They got in touch with us with a linear brief and that was when we were connected to Jabong. Coming to the directorial and production part, Abhishek was the director while I and Gururaj were the producers. We had Khalid Shaikh (BOB) as the choreographer alongwith Llyod and his dancers, brand model Aradhana Nayar along with other models like Rizwan Sikander who is also brother to Shama Sikander. It got released on 5 August, that too being our ninth wedding anniversary which was another celebration for us. The video has got a very good response by now and it is growing rapidly. We really loved working with Jabong as well as with Diljit.
Could you tell us about your company? Who were the founders and what was the vision? Sohini: It was founded by me, almost four and a half years back. The main aim was to create and produce good quality derived content. As I used to create content for other people for around three to four years before starting this company, I thought I should start something of my own. Abhishek: The basic idea is to create content at different levels and to different people. The digital sector has opened up and they are giving us a lot of scope to do an experiment. So considering that and also given that ours is a young company we are looking at making that kind of content. Also the creative boutique helps you to turnaround a project at 360 degree level. For example, if you consider whom we cater to they give us an idea which is nurtured by us, take it at a concept level, brainstorm the execution, put it all together and finally producing the end product. That’s the whole cycle that we take care of. We are also looking at how to distribute that content, whether to theatres, television, internet, social media and so on. That is where our company really forms a niche. Can you tell us about your career journey? Sohini: When I took up arts that is when I decided that I will get into media. I started doing emceeing at a very early age for Star Sports for Formula One. I also did a lot of launch campaigns in my twelfth grade for  Maruti Suzuki’s Treasure Hunt Show, Radio Mirchi’s Launch Roadshow in Kolkata and many more. Later on, I pursued a course in advanced cinematics in animation and special effects and got an offer from Maya where I worked as a VFX co-ordinator under Wilson Louis. My first film was Kalyug with Mohit Suri which happened to be his first film too. Then I did Gangster with Anurag Basu. Later, I moved on and joined TataElxi’s VCL where I worked under Pankaj and Sherry. There I worked for projects like Spiderman 2, One night with the King, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and a lot of Yash Raj movies like Roadside Romeo, Dhoom2 etc. Next, I joined Planman where I got an exposure to the creative side of works and started ideating on concepts. From Planman I jumped to FutureWorks, which was just starting at that time. But I had a change of heart there as well, so I joined Network 18 (commercial department) where I worked in ads. Then I joined Maya again and eventually started on my own.
Avant Garde Films CEO Sohini Mitra
Abhishek: I am a Fine Arts student but did a quick, short course on graphical concepts from Maya. I was lucky enough to get a job there. After six beautiful years and working in different departments, I quit from office as the GM of Maya Digital Studios. Then I formed FutureWorks in 2006 alongwith Gaurav Gupta and I have been there since then. But for the next six to seven years, I have also been working independently, directing my own commercials, digital content videos etc. You have a very young team. How is the brainstorming done at the office? What is the work culture? Sohini: Firstly, we don’t have a nine to five kind of job. We are working round the clock. However one major thing that we do is we nurture kids. Lot of people have come to our office from Banasthali University and we have trained them in terms of understanding or ideating a concept to executing and delivering the same. We have direct clients and agency based clients too. When we get a script from a client or an agency, they ask us to visualise a film and that is where the content comes into picture. Abhishek: Basically, keeping things young and fresh is our mantra. Mainly, we believe in fresh ideas and thoughts that are conventional but are executed in a new way. We like that because we have experience from our side but the young talent is the one that brings freshness to it. This amalgamation is very important and the idea of keeping it very simple is what works really well. you People don’t have to come and leave at a certain time in our office. It is not like a fixed 9 to 5 job. But we always train people and make them understand the importance of certain things at vital times. There are certain projects which need to be delivered on a fixed deadline, so we teach them to work accordingly. How do you discipline them? Sohini: Discipline wise, we are not strict at all. We treat them as family because we are a very small unit. We are not a unit of 500-600 people. We take care of their medical insurance, send them to movies (but not parties) so we try to create a family-like atmosphere. Regularly they attend various events and seminars too. Abhishek: Most of the kids here are themselves motivated and try to deliver projects on time, which they do.
Avant Garde Films Producer Gururaj Vasudeva
Do you get cinematographers and directors externally or do you have a team of our own? Sohini: We have Abhishek De as our in-house director. We have our in-house producers who are Guru Raj Vasudeva and Sukankan Roy.  Apart from that, we do hire directors. But right now we are working with Abhishek and a budding director, Mohan Rawat and me too. How’s the working style of the directors? Sohini and Abhishek: We follow the typical methods of the industry. The directors get all the creative freedom to explore themselves. They keep a balance of creativity and professionalism.
Avant Garde Films Director Abhishek De
 How is it working with your husband? Sohini: While working at AGF, I don’t see him as a husband! He’s my director. We do have a lot of arguments, but we don’t let it affect our personal relationship. Work and personal relationships are two different verticals and we maintain that differentiation. However, it is always fun working with him. Is every work a learning experience for you? Can you tell us any major work of yours recently? Sohini: Work has always been a learning experience for me irrespective of it being big or small. We are always evolving in terms of the work that we do for all kinds of content production. I believe, If you stop evolving then you are dead in any field. And that is where, the freshness added by our young team really works for us. We just finished something for Jabong which was a music video with Diljit Singh titled as Tujhse na Jyada koi tu hai who has given a good song. We did another landmark project titled as with Linteractive for UNICEF’s Fair Start, that was launched by Priyanka Chopra as she is their brand ambassador. It had almost all the kids from NGOs as we travelled all around Mumbai for the same. The concept was a story written by the NGO kids and we were the mentors who helped them  execute it into their dream film alongwith the help of Parag Sahane from the agency Linteractive.We also have a wonderful making video of the same project. Abhishek: The kids were so wonderful to work with. With the thought process they came up with while the concept of working and mentoring the kids itself was amazing. We had also produced two-three launch campaigns for Star Plus, one was Siya Ke Ram, while the other was for Life Ok’s Har Mard ka Dard, which is a live show right now.
Tell us about some of the content you have created for kids. Sohini: We create a lot of content for kids. We have been creating content for Cosmos Maya’s WowKidz Rhymes. What’s the company strength? Are you more into production, execution, conceptualisation? Sohini: We are into conceptualisation and production both. As far as the company strength is concerned, it is within ten. But in terms of our work, our two key strength are creating and producing content. You have worked with numerous Bollywood personalities such as Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhat, Anushka Sharma etc. How was the experience of working with all the celebrities? Sohini: Alia Bhat, Varun Dhawan,Siddharth Malhotra, Kriti Sanon were very cute and humble. They had no tantrums. Both Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan were very professional. Kareena, Sonakshi, Saif Ali Khan, Salman Khan featured in a creative directorial work by Abhishek and  all were terrific.
Tell us about your work in the digital medium? What do you think will be the scope in future? Sohini: We worked in the digital medium for Jabong, Welspun, Wow Kidz Rhymes. The scope is huge. We are creating IPs and have a big vision for our future. We always sit and brainstorm together. There are a lot of execution that we are doing in terms of hardware. This is reducing the time required for production and post-production. Then there’s a lot of  work in VR that we are into as well. In fact, we are trying to get our own hardware that we can use to develop content. Do you have plans to do a web series? Sohini: There is a small project that we are currently brainstorming around right now.The project is for kids and we have used elements like live action, real kids, arts, crafts etc. to experiment about what kids like. Abhishek: So there are a few ideas that we are working on right now. We have investors coming in but  we are waiting for the right one. Once that happens, we are planning to start the work by the end of this year.
Can you tell us about the animation done in the Wellspun Hygro cotton Towel advertisement? Sohini: For starters, we did that with FutureWorks. That came as a brief from Wellspun and I, Abhishek, Gautam and Smith were involved in it. It showcased the technology of Hygro cotton which soakes water ten times faster and grows softer and softer after every wash. The entire process was completely monitored by us using an experimental filmmaking method.The ad got a very good response. It was loved by public as well as our client. Abhishek: So we actually created 6×4 miniature sets by about four or five. Then we used 250 real towels to make real miniature sets. We also animated the characters with the same texture and finally, the video came out really nice. It started out as an AV but then we used as a commercial and released it with the movie Spiderman in the the theatres. It also came along with Ranbir Kapoor’s Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani. That ad was in collaboration with FutureWorks for which we were nominated for few awards as well. What are the major broadcasters with whom you have worked with and how was the experience? Sohini: We majorly work with Star Plus, Life Ok, Sony, Zee TV, &TV and Colors as well. Working experience with each of them has been brilliant so far. Are you more into developing or creating concepts or production? Sohini: We are more into concept ideation along with execution and that is our USP .  What are the recent TV promos you are taking up? Sohini: Har Mard ka Dard, Siya Ke Ram are the recent TV promos production we have done. However, we are a part of most of the recent campaigns. We did the entire campaign (post production) for Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon as we completely conceptualised and also designed the same. Then, we also did the latest show promo post for Bhutu which was on zee Tv. Abhishek: So basically we specialise on launch campaigns. We are doing one with Sonakshi Sinha  and Ranveer Singh currently. Then another one with Vidya Balan and Kriti Sanon whose name again we cannot disclose as of now. With whom would you like to work with in future? Sohini: We would like to work with FMCG brands or even automobile, real estate, pharma or any field for that matter. Someone who is looking for innovative ideas to get executed. Do you plan to get into TV serials, web series, print media? Sohini: We don’t want to enter into the print media, we will only stick only to visuals. Yes, we have plans for other mediums. Where do you see your company in the next five years? Sohini: In the next five years, I see a bigger set up and also reach a stage where we are sufficient to create our own content with the innovation that we want, such as hardware innovation. Abhishek: But five years down the line we also plan to have a partner, a financer with whom we can collaborate and work. It was amazing talking to the super creative couple Sohini Mitra and Abhishek De and also interacting with producer Gururaj Vasudeva. They have a lovely team which is like a family and a wonderful office which brims with creativity and positive energy. Undoubtedly they are all set to create more benchmarks in the industry with their enthusiasm and passion for their work. Animation Xpress wishes them all the best!