Handcrafted in Chennai will make you crave the hipster Harley

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Hands down as emotively powerful as the epic Impossible Dream commercial for Honda by Weiden+Kennedy’s London office, Royal Enfield’s Indian-produced Handcrafted in Chennai is a visual masterpiece of storytelling in slow motion. Seriously, I got goosebumps watching this thing. Every scene is so perfectly framed that I had to edit down my shots for the gallery. If it sounds like I’m smitten, that’s because I am.

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Usually, when discussing a motorcycle commercial, it’s easy to develop talking points that play off the strengths and weaknesses of what generally contains one of the following: cheesy soundtrack with bad rock, Eurotrash techno, flashy graphics, the perfect road, the baritone voice-over demanding to get to the dealer now, woman as accessory, man as ape, old people acting inappropriate for their age, all of the above.

The Chennai commercial doesn’t use a single one of these tactics, instead playing like a multifaceted narrative with the lens naturally capturing the daily rituals of an assembly worker at the Royal Enfield plant in Chennai, weaving in scenes from surrounding community. The roads are narrow and gritty, the elderly crowd the sidewalks. There is no voiceover, no overt call to action. The music matches the pacing and plays like a film score for a Satyajit Ray film.

We’ve all seen a similarly dramatic day-in-the-life slant in advertising, usually from some innocuous insurance company or bank, shot on multi-million dollar budgets that always fail the second the cute old couple looks at the camera and smiles while fading off to their utopian retirement golfing community and the faceless gentle voice tells us to empower our lives with their products. That a tiny company like Royal Enfield was willing to let their agency create a story so visually dense Ridley Scott would be proud, without any compromises by nagging brand managers, is incredibly refreshing.

As a result, Royal Enfield’s Bullet 500 may not be the bike for me now, but stories like this make me think it could be.

  • paul

    Stunning cinematography and score. wow

  • seanslides

    I hear that people make hot-rod parts for the motor that enable easy freeway speeding.

  • JT Nesbitt

    As a principal of an emerging third world manufacturing company (New Orleans, Louisiana) , It speaks to my aspirations for a corporate culture. It is in fact, a model for 21st century hand craft. Refreshingly honest and lean. This is what we as Americans were doing in the 1930′s. Perhaps it is time for Enfield to go to the next stage of evolution, a Dusenberg motorcycle. When labor is cheap, and technology is expensive, dreams should take flight.– JT

    • http://www.amarokconsultants.com michael uhlarik

      I wholeheartedly agree.

    • JT Nesbitt

      After watching this for the fifth time, I can honestly say that this is the best motorcycle short film that I have ever seen. Compelling, emotive, and dramatic. Utterly without pretense. I am going to copy this. — JT

    • JT Nesbitt

      brilliant, perfect, Who did this?!! — JT

      • JT Nesbitt

        an utter rejection of cynicism, an embrace and celebration of innocence. Compare and contrast to a Harley/Ducati ad. It’s Anti-Top Gear, Totally yen. — JT

  • Vinicio

    Anybody know who did the music? A YouTube commenter said Sattyananda, but I’m not so sure. Anybody?

  • Gregory

    I’m making a collection now. I already had that Taiwanese bank commercial with the old men saying, “Let’s ride!” Now I got the “Made In Chennai” (Madras?) video, too. I hope the collection gets bigger, with more YouTube motorcycle clips. Eventually, I’ll probably make a mix tape of them all for non-riding days & whiskey.

    If you want some other good videos/ documentaries/ movies, check out Dirt Track Productions’s two films “Riding Solo To The Top Of The World” and “One Crazy Ride”. Very impressive.

    Portland, OR
    2008 KLR 650 w. milkcrate

  • Your_Mom

    Simply exquisite….thanks for posting.

  • pavinguire

    tasteful, moving, sincere… in a motorcycle commercial…

  • clickeye

    J.T. is speaking my language. I will add that it is also Art produced to elevate the human spirit to experience and/or participate in a journey…of either the freedom that machines give us or the fulfillment of creating them. Sure beats the Rave like cheapness of one second edits and the insulting “Life style” packaging of modern marketing. If this becomes the future of Indian Aesthetic I will pack my bags and sell my house.

  • Dumptruckfoxtrot

    This is absolutely incredible. I wish Harley could show this much restraint and class.

    • JonB

      Ditto. Well said.

  • http://theprojectbeta.com/ andehans

    Its great.

  • Xenophya

    Funny you should say it’s as ‘emotively powerful’ as W+Ks impossible dream for Honda, as Royal Enfield work with W+K Delhi. They’ve been doing a fantastic job in upping Royal Enfield’s profile and it’s a credit to the management in Chennai who facilitate good people doing what they do best.

    Lots of exciting things are happening in Chennai.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      I assumed it was W+K Dehli since they developed the “Trip” campaign as well, but they haven’t responded to my request for confirmation, so I left the agency out of the article.

      • http://www.xenophya.com Xenophya

        I believe the photographer Bharat Sikka was involved in this as well as the ‘trip’ ads so would make sense.

        It would be interesting to see what W+K could do for their export marketing rather than just the domestic Indian promotion.

  • JonB

    Nothing will displace my love for the W650/W800 but this is a great video.

    And the Fury is damn near a-ok in my book.

  • Keith

    What a pleasure to see a well crafted commercial that is an “experience” to watch.

  • Jim

    Wow – I was entranced. Good emotive stuff.

  • Kerry

    Just a wonderful piece of advertising and film making. Had no plans on owning a Royal Enfield (still don’t) but really see how this gem would appeal to many people on man levels.
    Thank you for posting it

  • Miles Prower
    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray


      • Terry

        So Vulgar and Stupid is in, I guess. Who are these mythical sexy young Harley Riders? I’ve never seen anybody on a Harley that looks like that. Maybe that’s what their target buyer WISHES their life was like?

        I’m a little sheltered, and I don’t have the greatest understanding of the media world, but I’m thinking that any idiot can make an ad with “rock, drink, and fuck” as the hook. I hope Harley didn’t pay too much for that commercial.

    • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

      I think that Harley ad gave me a seizure. There is a jump cut approx every .3 seconds. Contrast that to the lovely lingering shots of pin-striping detail (or, for that matter, women who are more than a 1 dimensional sex symbols).


    • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

      Christ that HD ad was a punishment. ‘Tough’ guys, fresh ink, headbands – HD is a caricature of itself. The only thing I loathe more than HD motorcycles is HD ‘culture’. Barf.

  • Dean

    Happened to notice the movie poster that he rides past at 1:00.

    Most bizarre and insane action film on the planet. Do yourself a favor and check out this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yysbbPStfWw

  • Robert

    Beautiful piece of advertising and film Grant – strikes a deep chord with the quality of work enjoyed from HFL and your readers. Thank you gentlemen and ladies.

  • Mattro

    falcon released a similarly craft-driven and understated promo recently. the response was less warm on whatever site i saw it posted.

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    That was great. It made me want to ride a Royal Enfield. In re: comment from Mattro, I don’t think comparing Falcon and Royal Enfield marketing videos is fair to either party. Royal Enfield actually has to sell their motorcycles (plural) to customers, for starters.

    • Mattro

      not comparing the companies, comparing the style and presentation of the two videos. if people are intending to say that they’re impressed with the royal enfield ad’s style in light of the fact that RE’s a large, multi-national corporation vs a small, one-off builder in the case of falcon, then i failed to pick up on the implication.

      what it looks like, though, is that this video makes people feel good and the other one makes them feel angry — because one is full of earnest indian people and the other has someone they’ve decided is a pretentious hipster in it. taken at face value, i’d say the videos are pretty similar in feel and theme.

      • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

        I get what you’re saying here. There is some overlap in style and presentation w/ the falcon video. I was impressed with this video because of the style, and I like the idea that there are people behind the bike that you buy.

        It may be that the crowd rejected the falcon video because the company is so narrowly focused. They advertise on bikeexif, but they sell one bike per year. So they’re marketing t-shirts. Are they a bike builder, or an apparel company?

  • tomwito

    A couple friends of mine just toured India on Royal Enfields, they absolutely hated them. The bikes not the people…