The end of a genius: Nalesh Patil, a memoir

By Kiran Khalap , chlorophyll, Mumbai | In Advertising | September 13, 2016
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By chlorophyll's Kiran Khalap.

He was a youngster who bred fearlessness about the world at large by selling bhaji pav on the streets of Shaitan Chowki in the mill areas of Mumbai.

That made his individualism unwavering, but never insensitive.

Nalesh Patil

L to R - Manjunath Hegde, Madan Bahal, Gangadharan Menon, Anand Halve, Maria Pereira, Nalesh Patil, Kiran Khalap. Dated - 14th August 1999

He hated the idea of gurus, refusing to pose as one for youngsters who adored him.

Having got married with just Rs 27 in his bank, he hated wasteful weddings and refused to attend them.

He hated not living up to commitments.

He broke all hand-me-down norms of creative departments in ad agencies.

The advertising industry fuels adolescence, delays maturity: grey haired creative directors continue to play the game of 'mine-is-bigger-than-yours'. He gave a damn for awards: he loved the chlorophyll policy of not entering work.

No hankering for FB likes, no Twitter followers, just a quiet explosion of creativity every day.

Second, creative departments in agencies tend to ritualise inspiration.

'We need to consume sixteen mugs of coffee and three pegs of Old Monk, at least two weeks since briefing, and a hill-station trip ...before we excrete our turd of a big idea.'

He believed inspiration is for amateurs.

In Clarion advertising, he was famous for keeping an alarm clock on his table and asking the executives who briefed him how many ideas they needed in how much time.

I was in Goa on a family holiday once when a hyperventilating client called and said, "You have given us clear strategy for all our verticals, but I want to illustrate each with an evocative brand name...the meeting is in two!"

Superman to the rescue: 25 brand names in 15 minutes, all on brief, all memorable. Minimum fuss, maximum impact.

Last, old creative directors develop a crippling mental arthritis: they hate asking youngsters for opinions. He would stand around a screen displaying his work along with others, indulge in shared criticism and rejection of his own work.

And yet. And yet.

This ability to let his abundance flow like water was only one-fourth of his genius.

The second-fourth was the bone-dry minimalism of his visual solutions.

When chlorophyll started, we were acutely aware we were an untested brand compared to international consultancies. We needed to create our own intellectual property. So created two brand models and copyrighted the word 'ideantity'™ to mean a logo with an idea in it.

Instead of a meaningless squiggle with reams of pseudo-explanations of colour and shape, we announced we would only create 'one-second ads.'

Not one, not two, but more than fifty times over, between 1999 and 2016, he lived up to the idea of ideantity.™ It was easy to announce we would create one-second ads, but chlorophyll could live up to the promise because of his genius.

Here, have a taste.

The Lalit

The letter L combined with Lord Ganesh for a hospitality brand talking about great beginnings.


A mother and child in letter A for a realty brand that looked after its clients for life.


An ambigram for a stock market that catered equally to all stakeholders.


Two halves forming a whole for an engineering brand believing in relationships.


An archetypal symbol for a distressed assets specialist who had to be a skilled interpreter.


A folktale symbol for a finance company believing in 'slow and steady'.

And yet. And yet.

Not too many in the advertising field know that he was one of the most respected and prolific nature poets in Marathi. The poems had the same star-dusted lightness that his visual solutions had.

I believe the awe-inspiring poet Gulzar wanted to translate his poems into Hindi, and he got me to supplement the Marathi poems with English translations for Gulzar to read.

Here's a snatch from

The drifting mind of my sky

"Now blue wings
invite me
the blueness
of a known sky

while the
drifting mind
snuggles into the arms
of an unknown destiny"

I always felt his shorter poems had the hammering heft of a haiku. (He disagreed).

Here I have translated (unsuccessfully) a February 15, 2016, poem, WhatsApped to me in Marathi.

"The butterfly landed...
An open book
The flowers learn more
the more they look"

The fourth great talent was his ability to sing his poems.

His rough-hewn unschooled voice was mesmerising: the first time I heard him sing in Cochin in 1995 on the fringes of the Creative Directors' Club celebrations, I had goose-flesh.

He sang at over 120 locations in Maharashtra, and several outside.

And just when you feel envy or admiration about so much talent packed in one person, let me end with his most endearing trait: his mischievous sense of humour.

That quality created an air of popcorn bursting within chlorophyll: trilingual puns (English, Marathi, Hindi), paraprosdokians and syllepsis crackled and burst. We gave bizarre code names to our projects (Project Dhadki:-)) and names of rishis to each other (he named me Mungilya Rishi, the Ant Rishi, who meticulously gathered facts:-)). We spoke to each other in invented code languages, half-Sanskrit, half English, nobody else could understand. It was a riot.

Year after year, at our annual gatherings, when asked what he wanted from chlorophyll, all he said was, till I can do it, I want to come here, sit in a corner and work quietly. Before we started chlorophyll, Nalesh had worked in 17 different agencies. In chlorophyll, he worked cheerfully for 17 years. The day before he left for his 'unknown destiny' he was in the office in his favourite chair.

We plan to leave it unoccupied.

You see, genius is not a different breed.

It is a different species.

Nalesh Patil was one of the co-founders of chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy. He passed away on September 7, 2016, at 62.

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