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‘Hamara’ Alyque

Sunil Vishnu K (sunilvishnuk@trainingsideways.in) is the co-founder and artistic director of theatre enterprise ‘evam’ and theatre-based training company Training Sideways. He has directed over 20 plays, written five plays, and acted in over 30 theatre productions.

A theatre artiste and entrepreneur looks back at the influence Alyque Padamsee (1928­–2018) has had on his life and career.

Back in 1995, I was studying in Class 12. I had been failing miserably at understanding integration–differentiation and barely had any interest in atomic values or chemical equations, but had taken up maths and science as my main subjects. Back then, I used to ask myself, “I may not be so great at science and maths, but I am good at singing, debating, and making plays; when will this double life end?”

Little did I know that much later in life I would ask myself the same question all through graduation and my marketing communications post-graduation, where I would end up having another kind of double life: juggling theatre and brand management. No wonder I relate so much to the “god of advertising” and theatre icon Alyque Padamsee (Alyque’s autobiography is titled A Double Life).

I grew up in the 1990s, when advertising was always exciting and enticing. We used to have a Weston TV, which my dad bought during the Asiad, and our favourite programmes were Chitrahaar, the Sunday film, and advertisements. In fact, the dialogues of “Lalitaji” and the jingle “Hamara Bajaj” (Lalitaji was the famous protagonist of the Surf advertisement created by him, and Hamara Bajaj was, of course, his most famous ad for the scooter) were my favourite “go-to” hacks for Mad Ads competitions, which I have won many a time spoofing these ads. Of course, I didn’t know then that the man behind my success was a certain Mr Padamsee, but that was soon to change.

I studied commerce during my graduation, but spent more time doing street theatre and wondering what my career would look like. As I thought about what I wanted to do next, I started doing research (which meant going through old magazines and books in library in the pre-Google days), and the two names that repeatedly popped up were “Jesus Christ Alyque” (Alyque most famously staged the play Jesus Christ Superstar) and “Hamara Bajaj Alyque.” Here was a man known for telling stories on stage and on screen with the same creativity and boldness. He had done it all. After that, whenever someone asked me about my career plans, I would say, “advertising, theatre, you know…”

When I joined the Mudra Institute of Communication, Ahmedabad in 1999, I started a theatre group with my classmate Karthik Kumar and started performing plays regularly. However, we had to find the time to do theatre while also attending classes on advertising, brand management, consumer behaviour, and more. It was another case of leading a “double life,” but, unlike in school, this time I was in love with both.

In the summer of 2000, I wanted to do my internship at Lintas (the advertising agency that Alyque built), but I ended up doing one at Enterprise Nexus and got around to reading A Double Life. Among other things, that summer made me realise that I had to take up theatre full-time.

I spent the next two years in design and advertising at Elephant Design, Pune, where the Alyque connection returned as we planned the relaunch of “Hamara Bajaj.” How do you modernise an iconic brand with an iconic message that drove home the point that India was one? The logo was iconic, the jingle was almost like a national song for the Indian middle class and the brand was synonymous with nostalgia, finding a place in pop culture and Bollywood as well (like in the film Andaz Apna Apna).

With Sudhir Sharma at Elephant Design, the hexagonal shape gave way to a sharp millennial “B,” the font became younger and the new imagery was of a Pulsar zipping across the screen. Lowe designed the TV commercial with a new techno version of the song “Hamara Bajaj” infusing young blood with traditional values. Bajaj 2.0 was born. And I was glad to be a small part of this continuing legacy that Alyque had created.

Two years later, in 2003, after living a double life in Pune doing theatre and advertising design, I decided to take the plunge into full-time theatre and started ‘evam’. In his book, Alyque writes about how people in theatre came to advertising to make ends meet and that thought remained with me so much that when Karthik and I decided to start this enterprise, we wanted to be theatre people who do theatre full-time and make money unapologetically. And, ironically, our confidence came from knowing advertising. I borrowed many learnings from Alyque unknowingly and knowingly as we set up ‘evam’: be it following an advertising-based business model in the initial years to focus on people, or balancing rehearsals and work, or, my favourite, “to strike a balance between creativity and the bottomline.” We now do theatre, children’s education, stand-up comedy and theatre-led corporate training to make our “bread, butter and jam,” to quote Alyque from A Double Life.

I was fortunate enough to meet Alyque when he brought Ace Productions’ play “Macbeth” to a Chennai fest in 2006. The fest also had a play by his son Quasar (known as Q) and I remember thinking about the infectious passion these two people shared for theatre. Alyque may or may not have known or remembered me, but I am among the countless people in India who have been touched and inspired by his work and philosophy.

Over the last 15 years of theatre entrepreneurship, I have worn multiple hats, lived multiple lives, and I can’t help but thank “Hamara” Alyque for it.

You made it easier for us by doing it first. Thank you.

 

Updated On : 30th Nov, 2018

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