Seven long years after I quit the business, my old (he’s really old) and dear friend Lakshmipathy Bhat asks me to dust the cobwebs and speak about the heroes who in some way, shape or form, are responsible for where and what I am today.
Men who honed my writing skills, men who taught me to respect deadlines and yet deliver my best within seemingly impossible time-frames; men who taught me the power of the word. It’s because of these three men that I’ve learnt that our words must not necessarily fill volumes but must most definitely, speak volumes.
Today I’m in a field where excellence is not a virtue but a prerequisite. Where meeting a deadline can be career defining and skipping one, career ending. Where often 20 years must be compressed into 100 minutes, so every single word is precious and must be evaluated carefully. Over and over and over again.
Where would I be without these three men? It gladdens my heart that Bhatnaturally has given me the privilege to reminisce and express my gratitude.
They were heroes, they were gurus and above all, they were kind men. Men that were not insecure. They knew that knowledge is like the flame of a candle – that a single candle can light 1000 others and yet their original flame will not be diminished. They shared their knowledge, their “tricks of the trade” willingly, as I implore all “Creatives” to do the same.
Let’s meet these three extraordinary men:
He was the reason I joined advertising. Each time I’d read an ad in the papers and see one on TV that I loved, my trail would go back to this man. Why? Because I naively, stupidly thought I could write like him. See, in those days they had a thing called a key number – it’s a thing from the last millennium. So, the key number kept saying “Trikaya ” and each time I’d ask my friend (an AE at the agency) who the writer was, it was always the same answer – Chris.
So I took up a position in Trikaya as Trainee AE in Trikaya’s Direct Mail department (no way a 21 year old was going to get into the Creative department of the country’s hottest shop) with the sole, sly aim of sneaking into Chris’s copy department. A long shot I know, but it’s the only shot I had.
Luckily, the DM department folded. Now in 1991, the world was a much kinder place. You weren’t fired unless you stole or did some really bad shit. So they offered to move me as Junior AE in the “Agency” but I begged for a copy position. A deeply reluctant Chris put me on probation.
I felt cool wearing denim instead of a suffocating tie. My first ad was for an offshore oil company. Nervously I approached Chris with my handwritten copy (different era). He was kind and went over each word with me.
“Rewrite”, he said.
ROUND 2. Reads, says nothing except, “Rewrite.”
ROUND 3: See Round 2.
ROUND 4: Flares up. “Are you writing a Times of India editorial or copy??? Rewrite!”
ROUNDS 5 & 6: Please see Round 2.
ROUND 7: CHRIS: “It’s ready.”
ME: “Huh? But you haven’t read it.”
CHRIS: “I know it’s ready, give it to servicing.”
Now the ad goes through without a single word being changed. My first ad ever!!!!!!!!
To date I haven’t understood what happened between Chris and me but I know there was genius at work. (On his side, not mine obviously).
1991. Christopher D’Rozario leaves India and gets posted at Grey Singapore (a very, very big deal in those days). Indian advertising was confident that the giant, aching void left by Chris’s departure would remain, well, a giant, aching void.
Who could replace Tendulkar? Um, Virat Kohli? Enter Alok Nanda, gentle, unflappable, unruffled. It’s almost like he’d left his mojo, chutzpah or whatever you may call it for his ads. Actually I’m pretty sure he did. His amazing work for Mauritius Tourism, Ambuja Cement (Corporate) and Ceasefire remain the stuff of legend to this day.
But what I respected most about Alok was how he soaked the pressure; pressure that should’ve rightly been ours and allowed us to just — play. He was a true captain, a great one. I remember innumerable pitches where servicing would be sweating but he would stand like a wall between them and me.
ME: “Not yet.”
ALOK: (smiles and says nothing)
Now picture the owner and MD of the company pacing up and down outside the creative department. (“Why the hell aren’t you ready?”) Add to that the fact that the owner and MD of the company just happens to be Alok’s father-in-law, Ravi Gupta (Legend). No pressure.
Now I get even more personal. I’m about to get married to the love of my life and there are family problems. Typical, right? My work starts to suffer. Alok finds out. So what do Alok and his wife Ritu do? They throw a grand mehendi party for me at their apartment followed by a an even bigger party at a nightclub. All on their dime.
Now some of you may ask, “How the hell did this help your writing?” To which I have this to say: Alok took care of all other aspects of my life. His thing was, “you write, I’ll take care of the rest.” And yes, he also taught me how to write.
O Captain, My Captain!
Today Alok is CEO (Captain) of ANC. If you want to learn how to write, like really write, apply to Alok.
VIVEK KAMATH (not to be mistaken for the other Vivek Kamath, or the third guy with that name)
Now this was a friend. He was my polar opposite. He was soft spoken, I was brash. I smoked, drank and ate meat, Vivek had no “vices” (though he still was great fun to hang with). This guy could seriously write. People, he was Neil French good! (Do you even know who Neil French is? If you don’t , Google him. LEARN!!)
Flashback, 1992. So Alok, Captain, decides to throw me into the deep end. See, Ceasefire (fire extinguisher brand) was perhaps the country’s most prestigious account (for Creatives). Alok hands me and fellow 22-year-old art director Yayati Godbole, the campaign, much to the chagrin of the older award-winning teams @ Trikaya Grey.
Naturally I’m terrified. Days pass and I have no headline.( Approaching deadline, no headline – sorry couldn’t resist the rhyming couplet). And we were looking at 5 TVC’s and 5 half page ads in the TOI colour supplement (yes, kids, those were the days.)
I ask Vivek for help. He asks me to visit his place in Thane. I comply. He promptly takes me to a bar and plies me with rum. (Old Monk, lots of it).
Now I’m smiling, confident and drunk. So guess what? Vivek writes my lines for me!
The next morning I wake and had lines. I had lines! And more important, I had found my mojo!!!!!
I rewrote, modified, etc., and long story short, client was happy. Stuff got through.
CUT TO: AD Club Awards. Ceasefire wins Poster of the Year, Film of the Year, Campaign of the Year. Dudes, I’m a Superstar at 23!
Sounds great, huh? But would I have been where I was at 23 or where I am today without these three incredible men? Not a chance.
I thank my friend Lakshmipathy Bhat for this opportunity. It was cathartic and a fabulous platform for me to express my gratitude.
So in conclusion yeah, my heroes don’t wear spandex. They wear t-shirts, shirts and trousers. They don’t fly but they sure as hell have given me wings.
This is a guest post from my friend Manu Chopra. Manu and I were colleagues at Trikaya Advertising, Mumbai in the early 90s. Manu is a writer and producer, based in Canada. You can read more about him here and here.