KV Sridhar on his guru Alyque Padamsee, who passed away on November 17, 2018. An Obituary.
In 1992, Alyque hired Chax (KS Chakravarthy) and me. This was my first stint at Lintas – during my second stint at Lintas, Alyque had retired already. At the time, people would hire art and copy professionals together... no one would call on us as individuals. We were famous as teams – Chax and I, Piyush (Pandey) and Sonal (Dabral), Neville (D'Souza) and Josy (Paul), and the fourth team was Freddie (Birdy) and Naved (Akhtar). These were the four famous teams back then. We were very hot – we were also very expensive... in those days, going by the standards back then!
Kersy Katrak, who was the creative head at Lintas then, called us, with a message saying 'I don't know who you guys are but Alyque is very impressed with you. So we fixed a date. Chax and I went to Lintas thinking we're going to meet Alyque again... We were taken into a conference room – people used to present their portfolios on slides back then – and, to our surprise, found around 14 people sitting there. We thought we'd come to the wrong place, that we'd walked into some high level meeting. We came out, but were told to go back in... it was the right place. We were introduced to everybody and he asked us to carry on and present our work to the room – the HR head, finance head, some board members, some clients, the corporate communications team... everyone was there.
Lintas at the time was divided into five teams – Bombay One, Bombay Two, Bombay Three, Bombay Four, and Bombay Five. All five unit heads were there. We presented all our work like case studies. It felt like we were an agency presenting to clients! It took us around two hours. Then they asked us questions about our presentation... after which Alyque announced, “Now it's up to you gentlemen to woo them to come to Lintas, and join your unit!”
So over lunch, all the unit heads and general managers kept talking to Chax and me, trying to sell their unit, discussing how good their business is. It was an amazing experience for us. Alyque made sure we were publicly auctioned! Then they had a private meeting and Alyque came back saying, “You guys are too expensive; no one unit can afford you two. They want you to work in two different units. But that can't happen – you both should work in one unit. So I am over-ruling everything and putting you in the most creative unit – Bombay Three.” He joked and asked us if we'd like to be paid as a team or whether we'd prefer separate salaries!
A lot of people used to say 'Alyque Padamsee has a larger than life ego; he feels he's God...', but on the contrary, that day, he made us feel like Gods. That kind of recruitment had never happened, and will never happen in advertising again. Just imagine what the rest of the agency must have thought at the time... 'Who are these two guys?' they all must have wondered. Alyque wanted to make a big impact, as always.
I remember the time A&M, a magazine that used to present an 'Agency Report' based on revenue – not awards – ranked Lintas at No.2. Alyque was furious. More so, because Mike Khanna of HTA (now JWT) released an ad about the rank his agency got – No.1. Mike did a lot of PR around it. Alyque was angry because HTA had included the revenue figures of its second agencies. Had Lintas done the same, and added the revenue numbers of its second agencies like Karishma Lintas, then it would have been ranked No.1. Alyque then put up a huge banner – the largest one had seen in those days – outside Express Towers, which is a huge building next to the Air India building in Bombay, that said: 'Lintas – No.1 brand building agency'. That banner was visible from the governor's house, from Malabar Hill, from all across the Queen's Necklace (Marine Drive). That ended the argument. Every newspaper took a picture of it and printed it. Alyque never spoke to the press, he didn't accuse HTA about the revenue figures... none of that. That's the kind of person he was. Huge vision, big impact.
He was very disciplined. He took everything seriously. He was extremely punctual; he'd turn up an hour before client meetings to pre-check the projector lights, bulbs, decide who would sit where. Today, no one has any respect for timing – people run late for client presentations and say 'We're stuck in traffic; we'll come 40 minutes late'... Alyque was always on time.
What's more – he would present to clients like it were a theatre performance! In fact, he would always send two servicing guys to conduct a 'recce' of the conference room, to understand the kind of space he'd have to move around when presenting. He'd want to know things like... whether the room has windows, curtains, how noisy the room is, how high the ceiling is – Alyque was a very tall man – he wanted to know whether his hand movements would be restricted while presenting... he'd go to the extent of finding out whether the client is short or tall... that way, he could decide before hand how much eye contact he would make, whether he would sit or stand during the presentation. It was like a play and the client's team was the audience.
He never compromised. When Kamasutra was launched to rival the other existing condom brand at the time -Nirodh- he created what was then a very sexy campaign with Pooja Bedi and Marc Robinson. When the client saw the campaign, they said it was too sexy. “That's the whole point,” Alyque said. In those days we had to send the storyboard to Doordarshan to get approval before shooting, but Lintas went ahead and shot the campaign. When DD objected saying the campaign was too sexy to run, Alyque went and explained to them why a sexy campaign like that would help the government meet its own objective of promoting family planning. Most of his ideas were audacious and he would go to any extent to champion the ideas. He would take both, the glory and the blame.
There were many debates between Lintas and Unilever because Alyque refused to make any changes to his campaigns. If the client didn't like it, he would burn the films in office and say to clients: “Fine, we'll make another commercial... since you're party to this, should we split it, will you pay or do you want me to pay for the next one?” If the client said no, he'd spend his own money and re-do the campaign.
Every creative champion must have an ego. From Alyque, I've learnt the importance of being dogged about one's ideas. That's how he brought creative people to centre-stage. Before him, suits ruled agencies. The next generation owed it to him... whether it's Piyush, Prasoon, Balki, me, Agnello, Josy, Ravi Deshpande... it's all thanks to Alyque... he put creative people at the centre of the agency business.
Alyque believed every creative person must 'finish' his own ads. I recall a time when Alyque reprimanded Chax and me for hiring a couple of 'finishing artistes'. There was no place to make them sit. I made them sit just outside our cabins. Alyque was furious; he said “Who the hell put these chairs and tables here? What is this nonsense! Someone will bump into them...” It was obstructing the path. It was only when Chax met him and insisted that we needed these people there, did Alyque go with it, grudgingly. “Pops is a control freak like you, Alyque...” Chax made the case.
Today, commerce has become too important to creative people. Today, creative professionals are responsible for both the creative product as well as revenue. This has made them far more caring about the business. Previously, when creatives had to focus only on their work, they were far more careless. I remember, around the early '90s, when I argued with Cadbury's then marketing head Rajiv Bakshi regarding a campaign for Overtures (today the brand is called Celebrations). The client had a 3 lakh media budget; I went and asked him for a 5 lakh production budget. It was for print! Not even for television. I was adamant. I said: “Who asked you to make such expensive chocolates? You cannot have cheap advertising for premium chocolates...” I put up huge, expensive sets at Famous (Studios). It had to be grand. Alyque supported me completely. “If you need me, I'll come along...” he said to me.
That was the kind of freedom we had. But when creative people became answerable on the money front, the equation changed... creative got diluted, agencies became insecure. That's why, today, media heads are bigger stars than creative people.
But people like Mohammad Khan, Frank Simoes, Subhas Ghosal, and Alyque Padamsee, never cared what people said. These were the real mavericks. Today's mavericks are a lot saner.
(As told to Ashwini Gangal. KV Sridhar is fondly known as Pops in the ad industry and runs an agency called HyperCollective).