This weekend gone by, I had the good fortune to participate in the India Music Summit at Fairmont Jaipur. What was special about the summit was that it was organized by a set of highly talented advertising folks: Prasoon Joshi (of McCann and Censor Board fame) was the Mentor of the Music Summit. Mala Sekhri (formerly of India Today/Music Today), Ambika Srivastava (ex-HTA, ex-Discovery and former Chairperson Zenith Optimedia) and Aparna Joshi (ex-Ogilvy) were the prime movers behind the event.
It has been ages since I saw professionals from the world of advertising step out to do stuff that excites them, enhances them. In the old days, Alyque Padamsee was known more to the world because of his stellar role in Indian theatre than perhaps advertising. Of course he was a stalwart of the profession, but his fame largely came from his pursuits outside of advertising. Ditto for Balki, or R. Balakrishnan, formerly Group Chairman of Lowe Lintas. Balki too owes his fame in the public domain more to his movies Cheeni Kum, Paa, English Vinglish, Shamitabh, Ki & Ka and Dear Zindagi than to his much decorated advertising career of perhaps 30 years. Prasoon Joshi, mentioned above, was much hailed earlier this year when he was elevated to the position of the Chairman of the CBFC (more commonly referred to as the Censor Board). But Joshi, CEO of McCann Worldgroup in India, has been in the limelight since 2001 when he wrote the lyrics for Rajkumar Santoshi’s Lajja. And is well known for his work in movies like Hum Tum, Rang De Basanti, Taare Zameen Par, Black, Delhi-6 and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Joshi is the recipient of the Padma Shri award too. All accolades earned outside of advertising.
Harsha Bhogle started his career in advertising at Rediffusion post his MBA at IIM Ahmedabad. It was his interest in cricket, outside of advertising, that has made him one of India’s top commentators today. Bharat Dabholkar, started out in advertising in 1977, more than 40 years ago, but earned all his visibility and fame in theatre and playing memorable roles in movies like Corporate, Ta Ra Rum Pum, One 2 Ka 4, Company, Sarkar 3 and Jagga Jasoos.
John Abraham started out as a media planner at Contract Advertising. I don’t have to tell you where he is today.
Advertising guys in the past earned their repute not just in theatre and films. My former boss, Diwan Arun Nanda, the first gold medalist from the first batch of IIM Ahmedabad (co-bracketed with the management guru CK Prahalad) was invited by the Government of India to sit on the Board of Air India way back in the mid-1980s. Nanda has over the years adorned the Boards of many large companies including Mastek, Eveready, Yes Bank and Kingfisher, amongst others. Mr. Nanda has also over the years played a prominent role at the RWITC, including being a races-steward for many years.
Ajit Balakrishnan who co-founded Rediffusion with Diwan Arun Nanda and Mohammed Khan when he was just 22, is today one of the tallest figures in the digital world. He was a trailblazer of sorts with his internet portal www.rediff.com which he listed on the NASDAQ in 2001, one of the first and most successful listings from India. Balakrishnan has been a two-term Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, a rare honour. What is more, this advertising professional has gone on to become the Chairman Emeritus of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).
Anjan Chatterjee who started Situations Advertising in 1985, started a restaurant Only Fish some years later. Today he has a listed company that owns well known restaurant brands Mainland China, Asia Kitchen, Oh! Calcutta, Sigree, Machaan and Sweet Bengal.
In the last few years, somehow fewer and fewer folks from advertising have been seen to be stepping out of the folds of the profession. While I have personally enjoyed every moment of being an advertising man, I have equally enjoyed my forays into doing other interesting stuff. My partnering the world’s best Indian chef, Sanjeev Kapoor, in setting up FoodFood, India’s first 24x7 food TV channel earned me the sobriquet of CTO … Chief Tasting Officer of the channel! More than 10 years ago, I set up a digital content company that pioneered the creation of momics (mobile comics) which could tell a story in pictures in just 12 frames on poor 2G mobile networks. It was hard work. I had over 100 illustrators working on the project. The telecom operators were difficult to work with. But I created a viable and profitable business out of the momics. Similarly, when I launched www.indianfantasyleague.com, India’s first fantasy cricket league, it earned me the ire of the BCCI, which took me to court. The fantasy league however zoomed to a world Top 100 Alexa ranking, giving me oodles of satisfaction and happiness.
Others in advertising, besides the more famous ones mentioned above, have excelled outside the profession. Mahesh Murthy, who was my colleague in Trikaya Grey, in the end 1980s blossomed into an angel investor and venture capitalist. Pradeep Sarkar who spent many years at Contract went on to produce Parineeta. Shashank Ghosh who was again a colleague of mine at HTA Delhi in the 1980s became famous for his Quick Gun Murugan at MTV, then went on to produce the hit Khoobsurat of ‘Abhi to party shuru hui hai’ fame. Juhi Chaturvedi who has been at Lintas for many years is the award-winning screenwriter of Vicky Donor and Piku, besides others. I have written in the past about Kamlesh Pandey, Rediffusion’s legendary creative chief of the 80s, who created television hits Antakshri, Sa Re Ga Ma and Aap ki Adalat as Zee’s first programming head besides being screenwriter of superhits Dil, Tezaab, Khalnayak, Jalwa, Chaal Baaz and Saudagar just to name a few.
Back to the India Music Summit, and to Prasoon Joshi, Mala Sekhri, Ambika Srivastava and Aparna Joshi. I am proud of what they have done, and created. The Summit attracted the likes of Pandit Jasraj, Shujaat Khan, Hariharan, Kaushiki Chakraborty, George Brooks, Ajay Prasanna, Lesle Lewis, TM Krishna, Ustaad Rashid Khan, Bianca Gomes, Jasbir Jassi, Sunanda Sharma and Sonu Nigam. Which is no mean achievement for a music festival in its very first year. But what I am even more proud of is the fact that all these busy advertising professionals found time out of their busy busy busy daily routines to work on something outside their daily domains. More in advertising should emulate them. Do interesting things. Advertising minds need broader stimulus every single day. It does wonders to their work. And to their stature.
(With this piece today, Sandeep Goyal’s Blog celebrates its silver milestone in Campaign India. Sandeep started writing for Campaign in June 2017, and has written almost every week ever since on a broad range of topics … raking up controversies, praising campaigns, focusing on issues others don’t often want to discuss.)