Ashwini Gangal

"Ranjan gave me the freedom to fly": Piyush Pandey

A quick chat with Ogilvy’s Piyush Pandey about Ranjan Kapur, who passed away earlier this week.

Over a quick phone call, Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director, Ogilvy & Mather, India and South Asia, spoke to me about his colleague and dear friend Ranjan Kapur, chairman, WPP India and ex-managing director, Ogilvy India, who passed away few days back.

About his memorable partnership with Kapur, a much talked about one especially in the context of native language advertising copy, Pandey says, “I don’t think we ever indulged in ‘Hinglish’ – you know, this thing has been attached to my name – but we believed in advertising that was culturally relevant to India, be it Pongal for Asian Paints in Tamil Nadu, or Onam in Kerala or ‘Kuch khaas hai hum sabhi mein’ on Hindi channels for Cadbury’s. We believed in India and did work that is relevant to our people... we didn’t follow the kind of advertising which borrowed very heavily from the West. We believed in the language of the people. There are certain emotions you’ll never be able to translate from your own language into English and that is what we followed. When it hurts, the cry from within is always in your own language. That is what we – Ranjan and I – were busy doing. He encouraged me to do this kind of advertising.”

"Ranjan gave me the freedom to fly": Piyush Pandey
Piyush Pandey

Pandey goes on about his famous partnership with Kapur, “You see, partnerships are always initiated by the senior partner. You don’t go and act too familiar with somebody who is senior to you. So Ranjan was the initiator of our partnership and I grabbed it with both hands. Thereafter, he gave me the freedom to fly. He was the wind beneath my wings. We were inseparable. He didn’t behave as if he was my boss, but I always remembered that he was. It turned into a friendship, a family friendship, mutual respect... even after he retired from Ogilvy and went on to do the country head job at WPP, our relationship continued as though we were still working together. Words of guidance, encouragement and appreciation were always welcome from him and he was very liberal in giving me all three.”

Pandey concedes that for a creative mind like his to reach its full potential, a professional partnership with a senior like Kapur is essential. “Taali ek haath se nahi bajti,” he says, adding, “You need a person who can be a sounding board. My best sounding board was Ranjan because he had the ability to think business as well as the ability to appreciate creative. He understood my side of the business... and he made me understand the ‘business’ side of business... it was a jugalbandhi that went on for 10 solid years – that happens when two people are good at their respective instruments and yet motivate one another. Jugalbandhi happens when one instrument complements another.”

He elaborates on this professional camaraderie, “At one point in time, we used to stay very close by. On Sundays he used to tell his wife Jimi, ‘I’m just going to the tailor around the corner...’ His work at the tailor’s would end in a minute, after which he used to come to my house; we’d drink beer and write campaigns. As I’d write them, he’d sit there with me and say, ‘Ah! This is fantastic!’ or ‘Ah, this is not good... why don’t you look at it this way?’”

In fact, Kapur even wrote an entire commercial for Titan. It was a film about a thief who robs a sleeping old couple of their things, but decides not to take the watch because he sees an anniversary card near it. “Ranjan wrote that one!” laughs Pandey, “That day he played the instrument himself... and I liked it.”

Kapur was someone whom creative folks could trust easily. Recalls Pandey, “There aren’t many client servicing people I’ve met in my life to whom I could say, ‘Here’s my work... go and sell it’. But if I wasn’t available and Ranjan said, ‘I’ll go and sell it’ it was as good as me going and selling it. That only comes when you’re passionate about the work. He never thought advertising was a job. That’s why we got along like a house on fire.”

Among other things, Pandey will remember Kapur most as “a person with great wisdom and a complete absence of insecurity. He did the kind of things he did because he had nothing to fear.” At work, Pandey now makes it a point not to miss an opportunity to narrate anecdotes and stories about Kapur, especially to the youngsters at Ogilvy who may not have had the chance to work with him. He’s mindful about not letting these sessions sound like discourses, though.

On a lighter note, towards the end of our conversation, Pandey recalls some fun moments from the past. “Ranjan was very cool with doing the stupidest things,” he reminisces fondly, “like eating at dhabas, eating matar from the guy who sells it on a cycle. He was never scared of whether the water used was in good condition. Ranjan would say, ‘The world is eating it, so can we...’ On our travels to Delhi, we knew all the chola bhatura places along the way – places that half the advertising people would say ‘No!’ to because tap water was used! I think Ranjan and I were brought up on tap water. He loved it and I also came from a small town. He was game from anything – things other managing directors would’ve thought stupid. That’s where the depth of a caption is understood. He was willing to get his hands dirty. He never made us feel there was any ‘distance’ between him and us. It was up to us to maintain the decorum, but he never asked for it. He commanded – not demanded – respect.”

I read somewhere that Kapur was the one who ‘spotted’ Pandey and discovered him within the Ogilvy system. I ask him to what extent that is true. Pandey clarifies, “When I was asked to move from servicing to creative, Ranjan was in Singapore working on worldwide brands. But he used to visit very often. Suresh Malik and Mani Iyer may have probably bounced it off him, as friends. That time he had no intention of coming back; he was kind of persuaded to come and take the India head job. But he knew what I was doing. When he came back, he gave me the momentum I required. So Suresh and Mani gave me the transfer... Ranjan gave me the momentum."

Have news to share? Write to us