A theatre personality who, once in a while, acts in movies as well? Well, there is more to Bharat Dabholkar. He was also the man behind many an Amul Butter ad and billboards. Before he slipped into these roles, Dabholkar, a management graduate who studied law, started his career as a trainee in Philips.
During his time in Philips, Dabholkar always felt that he could do better than the campaigns created by the brand's agency. As it was, his first defining moment came when he quit (after sending applications to many agencies) and joined DaCunha Associates in 1977. The agency's head, Sylvester DaCunha aka Sylvie, took him on in the client servicing team and also matched Dabholkar's existing salary at Philips.
"Sylvie could recognise creativity," reminisces Dabholkar. With the freedom that he enjoyed, Dabholkar launched himself into working on numerous brands. These included most of the Tata brands, Bank of India, Videocon, Frooti, Appy and the mineral water, Bailey.
Dabholkar is grateful that he encountered great visionary entrepreneurs and not just managers during his career. "They chose people not layouts and put their trust in those people," says Dabholkar with nostalgia. One particular incident stands out in his mind. It happened over dinner with R Mohan and Ravindran, the duo behind the brand, Good Knight (the rights were later sold off to Godrej) when they were discussing an upcoming campaign that Baygon was to launch (for the brand HIT), which included eight ads done by its agency, Trikaya.
Mohan and Ravindran wanted a campaign to tackle competition and wanted it quickly. DaCunha Associates had been the agency for Good Knight for a long time and Dabholkar had to think on his feet. In between drinks, Dabholkar, a teetotaler, found the line. On the back of a paper napkin Dabholkar wrote what became the idea of the campaign. It was: '…HIT Cockroach. No Cockroach.'
Dabholkar's serious interaction with theatre grew while he was at DaCunha Associates. The DaCunha brothers (Gerson and Sylvie) were much involved in theatre as were their peers who included Alyque Padamsee. Knowing Dabholkar and his penchant for Hinglish, Sylvie asked for his help in a couple of plays. Dabholkar started writing plays and has since written and directed 29 plays.
In 1991, after 14 years at DaCunha Associates (the last seven as president) Dabholkar - along with two colleagues - quit to start Zen Advertising. Ten years later, Zen was merged with the Publicis Groupe in India and Dabholkar headed the Publicis India office until 2003.