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  Life   More Features  20 Nov 2018  Alyque Padamsee (1928-2018): Farewell superman, superstar

Alyque Padamsee (1928-2018): Farewell superman, superstar

Published : Nov 20, 2018, 1:24 am IST
Updated : Nov 20, 2018, 1:28 am IST

Alyque was lovingly nicknamed “God” for his immeasurable genius in conceptualising ads that actually built huge brand reputations.

Alyque Padamsee
 Alyque Padamsee

Alyque Padamsee (5 March 1928-17 November 2018) was probably best known for playing Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Sir Richard Attenborough’s epic film Gandhi.

But his greatest contribution was in two other roles, both of which he played to perfection — one, as a consummate theatre director and producer, and two, as an advertising guru. In his journey of an incredible nine decades, he has left his indelible stamp in both these arenas, and has won himself a sea of admirers who look up to him for inspiration.

Born into a Khoja Muslim family hailing from the Kutch region of Gujarat, Alyque was one of eight children and raised in an extremely traditional environment. He and his brothers were among the first in the family to learn English at school in those days. He went on to study at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai, and then to study theatre at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London. I would imagine that this opportunity really helped hone his creative passions as he absorbed the best of what the creative industries in England had to offer.

Padamsee’s love for the arts also found expression in the life partners that he had — Pearl Padamsee, Dolly Thakore and Sharon Prabhakar were all hugely accomplished in the performing arts, specifically in theatre, film, television and music.

As a theatre director and producer, Alyque is known for his grand English-language theatre productions such as Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Tuglaq, The Taming of the Shrew, Marat/Sade and Broken Images, which was invited to the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC. He directed over 70 plays written by a wide range of playwrights, including Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Ismat Chugtai, Vijay Tendukar, Mahesh Dattani. He was the ultimate showman, and the era of Western musicals owes a great deal of gratitude for his vision and passion in bringing this genre to Indian theatre audiences.

He was able to encourage actors, playwrights, designers, musicians, et. al. to believe in themselves, to create amazing work in the theatre. He would take extensive notes as he observed performers on stage, so that he could then help them to project themselves more strongly on stage. There are many anecdotes of how he would reprimand actors and pull them up, but beneath that lay a fatherly love and desire to help the actors or singers or dancers to excel and shine.

For 14 years, Alyque was the chief executive who built Lintas India to be one of the top advertising agencies in the country. Known as the Brand Father of Indian advertising, he built over 100 brands. He created several icons in the world of advertising — Lalitaji for Surf, Cherry Charlie for Cherry Blossom Shoe Polish, the MRF Muscle Man, the Liril girl in the waterfall, the Kamasutra couple, Hamara Bajaj, the TV detective Karamchand, the Fair & Handsome brand and several more. His theatre training and background were used to great advantage to be a brilliant storyteller while advertising products in a very competitive market.

Alyque was lovingly nicknamed “God” for his immeasurable genius in conceptualising ads that actually built huge brand reputations. He mentored many talented advertising professionals and writers to expand their horizons and make a mark in their careers. His presentation skills were epic, and he would also expect to see such dynamism in the people he trained and groomed. He hated people being sluggish or not speaking up when they needed to. He was a role model for several generations.

He was conferred the Padma Shri award in 2000. The Advertising Club of Mumbai named him the “Advertising Man of the Century”. The only Indian to be voted into the International Clio Hall of Fame, the Oscars of world advertising, he was also conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award for Theatre by the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2012.

These lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar fit no one more than they do Alyque: “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about.”

Alyque penned his memoirs in 1999 in a wonderful book aptly titled My Double Life: My Exciting Years in Theatre and Advertising, replete with fascinating stories and anecdotes of how he lived his “larger than life” life on the parallel tracks of these two creative professions.

In both professions, Alyque set new standards, raised many bars, demonstrated and demanded high creativity. He inspired young people and beginners to take risks, to put themselves out there, to be bold and innovative. With his flamboyant personality he was intrepid and supremely confident and expected others to be the same. He deftly straddled the twin worlds of advertising and theatre; bringing his theatre skills to advertising, and vice versa. Although he could be a bulldozer to work with as an advertising boss or a theatre director, and people feared him, but they all had deep respect for his wisdom and sound advice, and knew that he only had their best interests at heart.

Several of those he mentored and knew closely as well as luminaries who knew of his immense talent have sincerely mourned his passing, including the President of India and the Prime Minister. The following sonnet by John Donne captures what a colossal loss this has been: “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee/ Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;/ For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow/ Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me./ From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,/ Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,/ And soonest our best men with thee do go,/ Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.”

Alyque will live on through the large body of work he created over several decades, through his mentorship of so many people who remain indebted to him and through his wonderfully talented and gifted children who will ensure his legacy lives on. He was indeed both a superman and a superstar.

Vivek Mansukhani is a theatre director and actor; and heads the India office of the Institute of International Education

Tags: alyque padamsee, muhammad ali jinnah, gandhi