The flying choon paan – A masterpiece in the time of curfew courtesy of Colombo Creative Union

By Dimithri Wijesinghe

The Government-imposed curfew, amongst many things, has been dull. Most of us have been lounging around at home, slowly losing our minds to the all-consuming numbness of monotony and endless social media scrolling.

However, recently, while going about your daily exploration of the internet, you may have come across an oddly endearing piece of content – the ridiculously cuckoo but somehow incredibly relevant “choon paan” video.

If you’ve not been blessed with the glorious visual that is the flying choon paan across Sri Lanka’s suburbs, then let us briefly set the scene: You hear the electronic monotone version of Beethoven’s Für Elise – something all Sri Lankans are most familiar with – and then you witness the majestic three-wheeler steer its way amidst the high-rise buildings of the city, flying over rooftops into the distance. Simple yet satisfying.

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The few-seconds-long video clip, which soon went viral, was created and uploaded on Instagram by the collective known as the Colombo Creative Union (CCU). The CCU was founded by a once ad agency creative which noticed the shift from mainstream media to digital and social media, believing Instagram, TikTok, and Behance to be the new galleries for Sri Lanka’s next generation of creatives.

The workings of CCU

The Sunday Morning Brunch spoke to Johann Latiff from CCU, who shared that the CCU’s mission is to showcase the work of talented Sri Lankan creatives and harness this talent on behalf of brands trying to connect with consumers in this digital age.

CCU is a collective of persons from varying artistic fields, such as illustrators, animators, photographers, and content creators. According to Johann, the way they function is, to their belief, the ideal way for creatives to function. “The way people work is changing and this is especially true for creative people who do their best work outside your typical office environment,” he said.

He shared that through their Instagram page, they have been able to identify a pool of talent that’s been able to take on any project from branding to packaging, illustration, video, and drone footage to animation and photography. Most of the work is done remotely, but they do have a physical office where creatives can come in and work side by side with the collective to develop content for brands.

The CCU is said to have started in 2018. However, Johann shared that their first year was spent identifying creative talent and building the CCU brand. In the latter half of 2019, they had partnered with a production house from India and begun developing content for the Indian market.

Notably, they’ve done some work with McDowell’s whiskey and they’re also working on a menswear brand for the Indian market. Furthermore, they hope to launch a new brand of tea in the Russian market soon.

Currently, CCU operates with a five-member team which includes graphic designers, content writers, and an editor/animator who is currently in Italy – all of whom have multiple skills; they shoot videos and stills and are also able to do their own edits and animations as necessary.

Johann shared that the way the CCU works is that upon taking on a project, they would spend a lot of time trying to understand the brand and its competitors. What makes the brand unique? What is its tone of voice? What makes it appealing to a potential customer? Having answered these questions, they then define an idea true to the brand and execute the content accordingly.

Content creators during a crisis

As he took us through the machinery of the whole thing, he touched a little on how content creators should act in a time of global crisis, especially when all eyes are on them. “Creatives and content creators need to be sensitive to what’s going on around them. In a global survey of 35,000 consumers, 74% believed that brands should not exploit the current situation. It’s okay to entertain and engage the consumer, just don’t push the sale too hard,” he said.

Of course, we brought up the now-famous choon paan video and had to ask the rationale behind it. According to Johann, the video was a hit because of the irony of the situation. “The choon paan guys usually ruin your Sunday afternoon nap, but these days people are chasing them down the street just to get a maalu paan,” he said, adding that while in this scenario, the CCU is simply showcasing the talent of one of their content creators; it could easily have been turned into a great piece of content for a local bakery brand.

Finally, since the CCU is fairly new and is looking to get its footing in the creative industry, we asked Johann what their plans are for the future moving forward; luckily too their current model appears to work perfectly with the situation we are all in right now.

“Luckily, the work-from-home concept really works for us and brands have increased their presence on social media platforms as a result of the crisis,” he said. He also shared that they are working with some new brands that hope to launch once the crisis is over, and so the CCU definitely has their hands full.

Instagram: @colombo.creative.union