“Many people are amazed that I have two full-time careers, one in theatre and one in advertising, when they can barely handle one,” Alyque Padamsee wrote in My Double Life: My Exciting Years in Theatre and Advertising, his 1999 memoirs that he co-wrote with Arun Prabhu.
So while Padamsee scripted some of the most iconic campaigns for Lintas, the advertising agency he built for over a decade as chief executive — he is the man behind Lalitaji’s samajhdari (pragmatism) in the Surf ad, the one who put the Liril girl under a waterfall and made the endearing Hamara Bajaj ads — he was leading a parallel career as one of India’s prominent theatre directors who put on stage ambitious productions such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Tughlaq. He also appeared on screen, with his most memorable and well-known role being that of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the Richard Attenborough-directed Gandhi.
Padamsee died in Mumbai on Saturday morning at the age of 90.
Adman-turned-filmmaker R Balki says “Padamsee brought a lot of credibilities” to the world of advertising. “He achieved this not only through his engagement with other forms of art but also with the kind of work he did, insights he brought into his work, and how he managed his clientele.”
Balki cites the campaign Padamsee planned almost 45 years ago for Surf when it was taking on the more popular and cheaper Nirma. “Padamsee said, ‘Look, the Indian audience isn’t stupid. They are aware that if something is more expensive, it’s because of its superior quality.’ This, he translated into the ad with a simple yet iconic campaign where the white-saree-clad Lalitaji spoke about the difference between ‘sasti cheez and achhi cheez’,” recalls Balki.
Padamsee was honoured with the Padma Shri in 2000.
Padamsee, who studied theatre at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, made his first stage appearance at age 7 with The Merchant of Venice. During his long theatre career, he directed nearly 70 plays, including several works of Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Ismat Chughtai and Vijay Tendulkar.
Actor-singer Devika Bhojwani, who played Virgin Mary in his 1974 production Jesus Christ Superstar and had the distinction of reprising her role when he revived it in 2015, describes him as “a tyrant during rehearsals” but a thespian par excellence with “amazing control over stagecraft”.
“We feared him but had deep respect for his wisdom and his techniques regarding how to project ourselves and our voice on the stage,” she says, adding that she believes Padamsee could have ben a “wonderful actor” but he enjoyed direction more.
Ramu Ramanathan, playwright and editor of PrintWeek India, says Padamsee was a tireless flagbearer of communal harmony. “Post 1992-93, he attended the Srikrishna Committee meetings as and when he could. As a Khoja Muslim from Kutch, Padamsee was very troubled by the polarisation in his favourite city,” he says.
In her post, television writer-director Vinta Nanda writes, “When we made our first steps into the business of entertainment and media, Alyque Padamsee was God of the universe… every time that there was a crisis in the city of Mumbai, be it a PIL that we filed against the Government of Maharashtra after the devastating floods in 2005 or the drive from Mumbai to Delhi after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai called #WeAreComingMrPrimeMinister, and many other times as well, when we went to Alyque and asked him to lead the way, he did it without question.”
That makes Padamsee’s credentials even longer — the adman, theatre guru and actor was also someone who listened to the voice of his conscience. — With inputs from Dipti Nagpaul D’Souza