Bharat Dhabolkar talks to Subha J Rao about the world of advertising and what keeps him ticking
For someone who created an ad campaign so wonderful that people went out of their way to take a look at the latest hoarding, ‘Amul’ Bharat Dabholkar is unassumingly down-to-earth. And, excels in frank-speak.
He does not like the current trend of banking on stars to push products, and makes no bones about it. “Celebrities should be there to enhance an idea, not replace it,” says the ad guru.
He admits to using celebrities too, but only when the product so demands it. Such as, roping in Dara Singh for Nutramul (“He was seen as an embodiment of strength across the country).
“Throwing money on stars is a waste of money. People don’t remember the product; only the star. You are essentially paying for the star’s promotion,” explains Bharat, here to take part in the Humour Society’s Laughathon.
And, the whole process of choosing an agency has to change, he insists. “Earlier, a client would ask for an agency because he liked its work. Now, 30 agencies vie for one client. They spend money on one-minute presentations, and the one promising to rope in the bigger star gets in. That is crazy,” opines Bharat, who says that one should think of long-term gain.
His favourite ads are many, but he immediately recalls Amul and Fevicol. “Fevicol did not have any ‘star’. It clicked because it connected with the audience.”
And, the Amul campaign worked because of the freedom that ‘Milk Man’ Verghese Kurien gave the agency. “You don’t get that kind of freedom anywhere in the world. He would not even ask to see what we created. Even if he did not like something, he would just mention that; not ask us to change anything. That made the campaign so unique,” Bharat recalls.
His favourite Amul ad? “A tough one. They are all very close to my heart. But there was one ad in Tamil when MGR had done a film called Unnai vidamatein. I did an identical visual of him hugging a butter pack and saying, Vennai vidamatein.”
And, he would like to see ads that are steeped in local culture. “It makes no sense to ape a foreign custom to sell something here. Stick to something that will go down well with the audience.”
Some of the best ads, he says, are the ones that were initially not okayed by clients (Eg: the famous Ericsson ‘One black coffee, please’ ad). He says that clients should always either accept a work in full or reject it outright. “It is terrible to mix and match three ideas; you will get nothing. As I always say, the camel is a horse designed by a committee,” Bharat quips.
How does he manage to keep his creative juices flowing all these years in an industry that is said to have the highest burn-out rate? “It’s been more than two decades. I’ve made ads, been on various ad club committees, but the profession has not drained me. Because I do a lot of other things, too. I might be disappointed if a client rejects my idea, not devastated. That’s because I have outlets such as films and theatre.”
And, in an industry known for its ‘work hard, party harder’ culture, Bharat has managed to stay vegetarian, is a teetotaller and has never ever lit a cigarette (“In the movies, they light it for me, and I struggle to keep it burning”).
Fun with films
As for movies, he did Ram Gopal Varma’s Company, Baba with Rajnikanth (“I’d always wanted to meet him”) and a few others. “Movies are not my profession. I do them for fun,” says Bharat, Managing Director of Publicis India.
Does the theatre director in him not protest when others direct him? “It is not my business to interfere. And, I believe people love casting me because I have an expressionless face,” he smiles.
Bharat, called the father of Hinglish, for his delightful use of English sprinkled with desi phrases, is also insistent about throwing the spotlight on local talent. “There are so many people who are really good, and efforts need to be made to bring them to a bigger platform.”