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Tata Steel’s new digital film ‘The Washout’ reminds us that regularly washing hands comes with another big responsibility

Wet hands, apply soap, lather it, rub palm to palm, don’t forget the back, interlace fingers, rinse and done — by now, we all know how to wash our hands properly. As per UNICEF’s recommendation, to reduce the risk of coronavirus, “You should wash your hands for at least 20-30 seconds. An easy way to time it is by singing the full happy birthday song, twice.” The activity has become such a necessity that music streaming apps are now recommending new hand-washing playlists and some singers have also composed fresh tunes. All fun and games aside, a key step that many forget in the process of washing their hands is turning off the tap. With its new digital film, that has no over-the-top music, Tata Steel is trying to change this very careless attitude.

In a country like India, where water bodies are drying up and groundwater levels are depleting, every drop counts. And at a time when a battle is raging against COVID-19, the last thing the country wants is a water scarcity problem. “Driven by our commitment to the environment, we wanted this film to bring to the forefront a problem that we may be collectively catalysing if we are not careful,” says Sanjiv Paul, vice president - safety, health and sustainability, Tata Steel.

But, getting this message across amid a plethora of home-filmed ads was the real challenge. “We had to make our creative look completely different. That’s when we hit on the idea of a social experiment,” says Arjun Mukherjee, VP and executive creative director, Wunderman Thompson South Asia. With raw authenticity, the film shows people sharing their perfectly crafted hand-washing regimens while water from the taps continues to run.

After meticulous pre-production planning over calls and emails with production house Little Lamb Films, the agency zeroed in on people who are related to filmmaking — DOPs, directors, assistant directors — who knew how to make the frame look good. “We asked their family members to show us their hand-washing process without revealing our real intent. Each and every shot and angle was remotely directed,” explains Mukherjee.

From idea to the final film, the entire process took 10 days. The black-and-white film aptly drives home a simple message ‘Don’t let one crisis give rise to another’. But, the film does not end there. Before fading to black, it shows how no water was wasted in the filming process and it was all collected in buckets. “While trying to show how we can care for the planet, Tata Steel and us could not afford to be seen as careless. We decided in the pre-production stage itself to collect all the water from the hand washes and use it later for household chores,” says Mukherjee.

The film has already garnered close to 12,000 organic views across all social media platforms. It gained traction after the backlash faced by WHO’s #SafeHands challenge video on Twitter. Right through that video, which was meant to be a step-by-step hand-washing guide, the water kept running from the faucet resulting in social media outcry. This just shows that all of us, including the organisation responsible for international public health, should know and act better.

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