Shreyas Kulkarni

“Interviewing Ruskin Bond was the greatest thing for The English Nut”: Sumanto Chattopadhyay

It’s a story of that time when The English Nut had his fanboy moment at The Savoy in Mussoorie with a certain Bond.

There’s Bond and there’s Bond. This story is about the latter for whom the pen has always proven mightier than any exploding car or bespoke suit. This is the story about Ruskin Bond, one of India's most-loved English writers, and his time with an endearing nut.

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, during the day and some nights, helms the role of a chief creative and chairman at 82.5 Communications, a creative agency from the house of Ogilvy. When he removes his creative cape, he transforms into ‘The English Nut’, India’s most popular online destination for anything English, the Queen’s English in particular. The American English isn’t welcome here.

Also Read: Meet adman Sumo, aka 'The English Nut'

The English Nut, in a nutshell, is your go-to destination to learn about the English language in all its aspects. It grew to a crescendo last year when Member of Parliament (MP) Shashi Tharoor, the don of English for most Indians, appeared on its YouTube channel. This very interview proved the catalyst for Chattopadhyay’s tryst with one of his childhood literary heroes.

Chattopadhyay reveals it was his friend and former colleague Jitendra Patel, co-founder of Arthat Studio, who was his human link to Ruskin Bond.

Patel was working on the logo of what’s a Ruskin Bond collection (it sells a lot of memorabilia) which was the idea of Siddarth Bond, the writer’s grandson who along with Patel had seen the Shashi Tharoor interview.

Patel called Chattopadhyay last year (2021) and asked if he’d like to do a similar thing with Mr Bond? “Interviewing Ruskin Bond would be the greatest thing for the English Nut…”

The first thought for Chattopadhyay was to “do a Zoom call because Covid was in full swing" but Siddharth told him it would not have the same impact as doing it face to face and asked him to come to Mussoorie. “Great, give me a date,” was Chattopadhyay’s instant reply.

You must realise The English Nut is not a person who sways easily but when he first spoke to Ruskin Bond over the phone, “I had a fanboy moment when I heard his familiar voice and I am not that kind of a person. I usually don't get carried away but it was exciting.”

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Chattopadhyay and he did not want to peddle the same questions that Ruskin Bond had been asked on other interviews and TV panels. “I've to ask questions which are different and will be able to bring this person’s true self out and get him to open up,” he remarks.

The interview happened at the famous luxury hotel Welcomhotel by ITC Hotels The Savoy, Mussoorie, where “Ruskin Bond has set some of his stories.”

Chattopadhyay was worried about how much time Mr Bond would be able to give to him and if he’d answer all the questions… “I was nervous, he put me at my ease from the start, he answered all my questions.”

The English Nut’s nervousness is evident from the way he sits, his backbone a stiff 90 degrees that’d make any math teacher shed a tear of pride. "I was on my chair but figuratively speaking I was on my toes because I wanted to make sure I get it right,” he reveals.

Never meet your heroes

There’s this adage about never meeting your heroes because if you do and they don’t turn out to be the way your pictured them, you will hurt, a lot. “My biggest concern in the time leading up to the interview was that I should not mess it up and I was too focused on not making any mistakes,” admits Chattopadhyay and said he had no other thought.

From his YouTube channel where you could and can learn all there is to the English language to interviewing the likes Shashi Tharoor and Ruskin Bond, it’s been quite the journey for The English Nut.

“There was an American comedian who quizzed Tharoor on American slang terms and he couldn't answer them… I put out a little video saying for the English Nut, Shashi Tharoor is the ideal guest and of course, I wouldn't be asking him about American slang,” he tells us this was the starting point for the Tharoor interview.

Chattopadhyay’s colleague saw this video and told him he wants to work with him and they hunted down Tharoor’s manager to make this happen. When he flew to Delhi for the interview, he was nervous because Tharoor, considering his job as an MP, could be called away anytime and The English Nut, ladies and gentleman, is a bootstrapped project. Luckily, it all went well.

“My learning is that if you're thoroughly prepared as an interviewer then the interview goes well and the person being interviewed also warms up to it and if you have a stock set of questions and it doesn't go the essence of the person, it becomes superficial.”

I had to rethink my career when The English Nut said these words.

The creative education

Chattopadhyay’s work in advertising matters. He’s an old hat but not worn out, he’s in touch with times but not too much to get distracted from the core work. It makes him the perfect candidate to understand the state of copywriting in India’s advertising world.

Someone had once told me about a finishing school of sorts before he joined his agency; he spent a few months in a home where all he and a few other young joiners did was read and watch movies and get their creative juices moving. It doesn’t happen anymore.

“What has happened today is that margins in advertising have become so wafer-thin that nobody has the money to invest in things like this,” admits Chattopadhyay.

The business, he tells us, has “splintered into so many mediums and as a result, the brand's budget is spread across so many different things so somewhere that investment in this kind of thing is less.”

He goes on to say that it is important for any creative person or an advertising person regardless of department, to understand what is an insight, what is going to appeal to a consumer and what's going to make them tick and make my brand appeal to them.

“I've noticed people who've attended MICA have a thorough grounding in all of this and I've come across several writers who've been there and I find their approach to be thorough.”

Readers, it's simple. There are creatives and creatives. Be the latter.

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