The Passion of Appunni Nair

It is too early to review Appunni Nair’s work as an ad filmmaker. For his work, as he vehemently says, is still in formation. Which is why his studio is named Pupa. But the work draws your attention, and so does the man behind it.


Consider his work for bohemian boutique jewelry Kiora Amorez. A category unto itself, Kiora needed an ad that wasn’t really about fancy weddings or heart-warming father-daughter relationships. Who is Kiora speaking to then? What daydreams did its customers see? These are the key questions that Appunni asks.


‘I am…,’ answers his protagonist in the spectacular brand film, sweeping across verdant landscapes and rich interiors that appear almost fantastic, and fantasy-scapes that look almost real. Remember this in-between territory. With Appunni, we’ll be back here again and again.


The single woman at the centre of the Kiora story discovers herself, and her connection to the cosmos though rare stones that represent nature. Not nature as the Earth, but as the Universe itself. ‘I am the universe,’ she says, as she comes to a self definition that is independent of what others think of her. There, that’s the dream of Kiora and its customer.


The single woman continues her journey in other Appunni films as well. On foot. Exploring, discovering. The latest, for Cuticura talc, finds a young adventurer in the belly of an ancient Egyptian temple. She bravely overcomes a dangerous sun-light trap to get to the Cuticura talc, which has sun screen qualities. And off she goes on her next adventure, boldly into the sunlit desert landscape.


Previously, she appears in his ad for Bhima and Brother, asking herself where she will shine next, and again in a Marble Gallery ad, where she is a burglar who indulges herself in luxury bathware. It’s the experience of a bath that she steals, not any objects. These stories of the recurring woman protagonist tell us something about the way Appunni understands people and their relationship to brands.


His work is a statement that these products — jewelry, bath fittings, talcum powder — mean anything at all only when they’re part of stories that people tell themselves, especially their daydreams. These are autobiographical, sometimes picaresque fantasies. And they all take place in that in-between territory, half dream, half reality. They are what makes a person relate to a brand: their own life stories.


In Appunni’s work, these are journeys of self discovery, often bold and adventurous, or deeply sentimental. Stories of the possibilities of realizing the individual self or individual dreams — even through the mediation of consumer goods. This resonates with the changes in a family-centric society that is Kerala or India. And who better than a single young woman can tell you this story?


But then again, this is the very thread that runs through the life of a man who was once a professional athlete, an animator, and an electrician before he found his calling making ad films. And his own journey evokes in Appunni strong feelings. He is very aware of the connection between his work and life: Pupa/ Appu. In the process of formation.


Once, when a client suddenly cancelled a nearly finalized film project, and then offered him a compensation for his expenses, he grew angry: ‘The ideas I shared with them so passionately,’ he told us, ‘are an outcome of everything I have lived through. It’s who I am. So what are they going to compensate me for?’