Unerasable creator

Remembrance: Five decades in the field of advertising and over 100 campaigns! Alyque Padamsee is the genius whose creations continue to stay in Indians' heart

Alyque Padamsee

When you have walked the Earth for 90 years, spending almost all your waking hours as a creative person, a moniker as the Brand Father of Indian Advertising may just about do justice to you. Still, Alyque Padamsee is known not just as that. His contemporary, the powerful ad-man Mohammed Khan, was assumedly the first to call him God!

Legend goes that Mohammed was waiting outside Alyque’s office just like everyone else and had apparently commented, “Even Mohammed has to wait for God!” When the curtains came down last week on this God, it brought back memories of his fruitful decades in not just advertising but also in theatre.

Five decades in the field of advertising and over 100 campaigns! Remember Lalitaji pushing Surf as a penny-saving Indian housewife? Her use-your-brains-and-handle-your-budget-well logic cut across classes and Lalitaji remained an ad icon for years. There was also Cherry Charlie, the character Alyque created for Cherry Blossom shoe polish. Wordless ads and the simplicity of Charlie Chaplin, Alyque won over every single person, user or non-user of shoe wax, with these series of ads.

Then there was the Hamara Bajaj advert and the jingle that played with it. And the Bajaj television commercial mirrored the aspirations of the rising middle class magically.

Little-known fact

But not many know that one of India’s wackiest detectives on television — Karamchand — was supported by Alyque, too. Director Pankaj Parashar had gone to Alyque with the concept of a detective, but the latter thought it would not connect with the masses. He still gave him Rs 20,000 to go ahead and shoot it. When it was shot, Alyque really liked what he saw and pushed it to Doordarshan. The rest, as they say, is history.

Alyque courted controversy with the Kamasutra ad campaign featuring Pooja Bedi, the sex symbol of the 90s, and model Marc Robinson. The sizzling ad took the Indian TV space by storm, and created a new benchmark for ad professionals. But what possibly led to an unprecedented following  for Alyque Padamsee and made him a ‘household’ name was the Liril girl. The jingle was often hummed in many a bathroom in India back then, and Karen Lunel frolicking under a waterfall in a pretty lime green bikini — a two-piece, no less — hitherto unheard of in India and certainly not seen on national television, gained popularity instantly. 

Alyque, who usually worked on his experience and instinct to create new ads, for the first time ever had commissioned a survey to figure out what the Indian woman wanted out of a soap. When he found out that the me-time a woman gets is when she is at a 10-15 minute bath, out came an idea for a waterfall bath that didn’t portray the woman as sensuous but as fun-loving.

In another space

Alyque contributed richly to other performing arts as well. His plays Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Tughlaq — English-language productions all — were all born out of his creativity and because he believed that it was just the right time for theatre in India. Obviously none of it conformed to what the society wanted or expected — just like Alyque’s style.

What also distinguished him from his peers was his acting prowess, which he first showcased to the world at the age of seven, when he starred in his brother’s Shakespearean production Merchant of Venice. Alyque himself enjoyed the works of Shakespeare, and after directing the Taming of the Shrew, he went on to direct five more of Shakespeare’s plays.

His adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar ran uninterrupted, in spite of all the controversy around it, for over a year to packed audiences. Then there was Anita. Whether the play was based on the Argentinian first lady Evita Peron or was a veiled reference to an Indian politician is anybody’s guess. He finally went on to act in his daughter Raell Padamsee’s Death of a Salesman in 2012. What remains his most remembered act is that of Jinnah in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi.

Did awards matter to this man, who some revered as God while others thought was highly egoistic? Nobody knows the answer to that, but the Indian government did confer the Padma Shri on the 72-year-old in 2000. The Sangeet Natak Akademi Tagore Ratna also came rather late, in 2012, when he was 84.

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