Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXIII No. 12, October 1-15, 2023
Remember the famous ad film of yore with the jingle Chottu neelam doi ….Regal chottu neelam doi for Regal liquid blue? How about the Home, but not alone TV spot for the BPL range of products? Or the iconic I love you Rasna commercial for the soft drink mixes? Those memorable brand-building ad films were made by Chennai-based J.S. Films founded by two schoolmates – Jayendra Panchapakesan and P.C. Sriram, the award-winning Cinematographer.
After producing over 600 films, winning several awards, and opening the Bombay ad film market to other Chennai-based ad producers, Jayendra decided to join hands with another friend Senthil Kumar – this time, by merging JS films with Real Image, a leading provider of technology in the film, video and audio domains.
I have known Jayendra for nearly 35 years,since the time he produced a TV commercial for MRF Tractor Tyres, then a client of my employer, the agency Grant Kenyon Eckhardt. His team had produced more than a dozen films for my own ad agency Anugrah Madison over the years.
A man of few words, soft-spoken and self-effacing, Jayendra has a penchant for experimenting with new ideas in whatever he does. He is also a perfectionist who never compromises on the quality of the job he is doing. I remember when he was doing a commercial for Shriram Chits, he was not happy with the final output of a particular sequence in a film. He reshot the entire sequence at his own cost.
Sixty-five years old Jayendra is one hundred per cent a Chennai boy. He comes from a well-respected, well-to-do family. He did his schooling at Vidya Mandir where he won many art competitions at inter-school and national levels. He received his B.Sc degree in Chemistry from Vivekananda College. While in college he dabbled in staging plays with Madhu Balaji with scripts written by Madhu’s celebrity brother Crazy Mohan. He was the Secretary of the Fine Arts Club during his final year in college. Clearly, the creative spark on him was alive and thriving right from his student days. No wonder the boy with a degree in Chemistry switched to advertising. How did it happen?
Jayendra says, “While seeing movies in theaters, I would keenly watch the ads. I felt I could do a better job than what I saw. One day my friend Chakravarthy (Chax) and I walked into the Carborundum Universal office in Chennai because we thought we had an excellent slogan for Exide batteries. The manager who met us told us that, that was not the way it works and that all their advertising was handled by an advertising agency based out of Mumbai.” This motivated Jayendra to think of advertising as a career.
Armed with a PG Diploma in advertising from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Jayendra started his advertising career as a trainee at Inter Publicity in Chennai. Realising that the real action was in Bombay, he packed his bags and left for Mumbai. He joined Clarion McCann Advertising, where his friend Chax was already employed. As budding copywriters, he and Chax began working on all the national accounts of Clarion. They soon became the talk of the town. People spoke of the two young writers from Chennai who were making a difference in Clarion’s creativity.
Jayendra is a restless, creative guy. He says, “I was a writer for 8 years. I switched 14 jobs. If the environment was not congenial for good creative output, I left. Once, I joined a national ad agency as creative group head. It was my fourth day in office. Sitting in my cabin, I was reading a book as I had not yet been assigned any work. An elderly man with a grey beard walked through the room. He saw me reading a book. I looked at him and went back to reading the book. After he left, a lady rushed into my room and blurted with urgency, “He is our Chairman, even if you are not busy, pretend to be busy.” I stared at her, packed my bags, and left. I sent a crisp two-word resignation letter. “Previously, yours – Jayendra.”
This is the point when Jayendra, bored with merely writing scripts for ads, decided to make ad films because he felt he could communicate better. On his return to Chennai, he had the unique distinction of consulting with three top agencies in Chennai at the same time – HTA, Mudra, and Sistas. As already mentioned, he joined hands with his schoolmate PC to start JS Films in Chennai in 1986 which got its first project from Mudra Communications to do a film for a national brand. Soon, Mudra’s chairman Mr. A.G. Krishnamurthy – by now impressed with all the good work – decided to give all the film jobs from the Ahmedabad, Mumbai, and Delhi offices of Mudra to JS Films.
This included projects for brands like Rasna, Vimal, Apollo Tyres, and many more. Based on the success of the films for Mudra, Balki, the creative director from Lintas (Lowe) started giving film assignments for Lever brands. Pretty soon, the JS team was doing ads for many Mumbai agencies. The tables had been turned. From Chennai agencies going to Mumbai for their films, Mumbai agencies started coming to Chennai for their films. There was no looking back for the JS team.
What made Jayendra merge a successful JS Films with Real Image?
Jayendra says, “When I started doing ads, Senthil – who was in college then – was doing graphics for me on a computer that he had built. We were pushing technology to do impossible things at that time. When Avid Technology asked him to distribute their products in India, he invited me to join him. In 1993, I teamed up with Senthil to set up Real Image, introducing non-linear editing with Avid and digital cinema sound with DTS. I was a reluctant starter as I was more creative than a businessman. But soon we started enjoying introducing new technologies into the country like Avid, which did to editing what word processing did to typewriting – DTS brought back audiences to movies with 6-track sound, and digital cinema changed the economics of a movie release; it made very wide release possible, bringing enormous collections right up front.”.
Once Real Image (now called Qube Cinema) hired a CEO, Jayendra went back to making films. But not ad films. He made two feature films titled 180 in Tamil and Telugu, and later, another Telugu film titled Na Nuvve. He made two experimental Carnatic music films titled Margazhi Raagam and One.
Jayendra says, “For Margazhi Raagam I came up with the idea to shoot a concert with 13 red cameras synched with each other (for the first time in the world) and recorded the sound live and mixed it in 6-track surround sound. For the first time, people watching this in the theatres got a glimpse of how much was possible for the presentation of our concerts. Bombay Jayashri and T.M. Krishna partnered my friend Srikanth (Aghal films) and me in this initiative.”
For One, Jayendra got T.M. Krishna to sing amidst nature without any accompaniments. This was not a concert but a musician exploring his music. Again, Srikanth of Aghal Films produced this film as well.
Recently, Qube Cinema set up a Virtual production stage in partnership with Annapurna Studios in Hyderabad. This will help films to be made in controlled conditions. Be it a location in the Alps or a busy stand in Koyambedu, the image is created on a LED wall, and when the camera moves, the background moves in sync as if the actors are actually at the location. This avoids complex post-production and VFX, which are time-consuming and expensive.
Jayendra is also well-known in the industry for his deep involvement in social work. What inspired him to take social causes?
“I have always been interested in helping people. On the spur of the moment, I started Bhoomika Trust in 2001 with my wife Sudha and some friends as our response to the Gujarat earthquake.” Over the years Bhoomika Trust has worked extensively with victims of disasters like the earthquake in Gujarat, the Tsunami in South India, the Uttarakhand floods, the Jammu & Kashmir floods, the Chennai floods of Dec 2015, Cyclone Vardah, Odisha floods, Floods in Assam, Bihar, Kerala and Cyclone Gaja, providing immediate relief such as ration kits and vessels, as well as helping with long term rehabilitation such as building houses, schools and helping people restart their livelihoods.
During the pandemic, when the film industry came to a standstill, Qube had zero business for two years with about 1,000 employees to support. At the same time, film industry workers who depend on daily wages faced the risk of starving with their families. With Mani Ratnam, Jayendra conceived the anthology Navarasa for Netflix. Everyone in the industry came together to do the project pro bono. A sum of Rs. 17 crores was raised through this initiative and given to the workers in the industry. Each worker was provided a preloaded credit card which could be used in grocery stores and was topped up with Rs. 1,500 every month for 6 months. The initiative covered 12,000 workers and the distribution of the cards was handled by Bhoomika.
Besides providing help during disasters, Bhoomika also offers scholarships and assistance to deserving students. Its initiative Let’s Learn is a Remote Learning Program for Government School Children. It also has a learning platform for maths called “I Wanna Learn” in partnership with Altius Foundation. Bhoomika also has a division called True Gifts which provides a gifting alternative to celebrate weddings or other occasions – instead of material presents, you can gift a True Gift Certificate that informs the recipient that their special day was celebrated with the funding of a worthy cause such as a child’s education or an eye surgery for a villager. The giftee is thrilled, of course, and a deserving cause is supported.
Jayendra is on the board of the Altius Foundation, which runs computer math labs in government schools; Jeevan, earlier a blood bank and now a public stem cell bank, crucial for treating blood cancer; and Sankara Eye Foundation, which performs free eye surgeries for the rural poor and runs ten hospitals across the country.
Friends mean a lot to Jayendra. His very close friend and classmate Sriram, married and settled in Canada, died in a car accident on a visit to India. It shook Jayendra and disturbed him very much. Unable to see Sriram’s wife Sudha and 2-year-old son Ashwin go through agony, he decided to visit them in Canada and see how he could help. During the visit, he ended up proposing to Sudha. The couple got married to her in February 1990, and the family returned to India. That was one of the best personal decisions Jayendra has ever taken in his life because not only are they happily married, but Sudha has also been a pillar of strength to him both in his professional and social activities. Sudha managed JS films, and later moved on to head Human Resources at Qube Cinema. She is a co-founder of Bhoomika Trust. She is equally involved in all social initiatives of Jayendra.
Another example relates to his dear friend Mahesh, a music director who had worked on many of his films. Mahesh died of cancer at a young age, leaving behind a will in which he had expressed a desire to help Adyar Cancer Institute. Jayendra and his friends started Mahesh Memorial Trust in 2002 and conducted a mega fundraising event with A.R Rahman offering his services for free. With the money thus raised, the Trust built the Paediatric Ward at the Cancer Institute, which it continues to support.
I have always admired Jayendra for his constant endeavor to innovate and also for his limitless energy for serving society. God bless him!