Obituary

Alyque Padamsee dies at 90

Brand father: A file photo of Alyque Padamsee interacting with students at the Goa Institute of Management in Panaji.   | Photo Credit: MAIL

Ad guru and theatre doyen Alyque Padamsee passed away early on Saturday following an illness. He was 90. “He passed away at H.N. Reliance Hospital early morning due to an illness. I’m deeply saddened by the loss,” Dolly Thakore, Mr. Padamsee’s former partner, told The Hindu.

His was a life lived resolutely under the arc lights, given his contributions to the world of advertising and theatre. In his autobiography, A Double Life: My Exciting Years in Theater and Advertising, released in 2000, Mr. Padamsee piquantly describes his journey straddling two boats — theatre and advertising.

Known as the ‘Brand Father of Indian advertising’, Mr. Padamsee built more than 100 brands during his long stint at advertising agency Lintas India (now MullenLowe Lintas Group). He is the only Indian to be voted into the International Clio Hall of Fame, the Oscars of the advertising world. Part of an upper-crust set of 20th-century marketing pioneers like Frank Simoes, Ivan Arthur and Gerson da Cunha, Mr. Padamsee was nonetheless no stranger to the psyche of the ever-burgeoning middle-class, making the very notion of consumerism fun for Indians across classes. His work with Lintas, bears testament to this. Mr. Padamsee was Lintas India’s Chief Executive for 14 years, building it into one of the top agencies in the country.

Down to earth

His Lifebuoy campaign had an accessible everyman appeal, and Lalitaji, the endearing housewife who always drove a hard bargain, made both Surf and Kavita Chaudhary household names. The Charlie Chaplin doppelgänger for Cherry Blossom added the ‘perfect shine’ to shoes for school kids everywhere. There was nothing lurid about the Liril girl, although it did belatedly raise hackles about the objectification of women in advertising.

Mr. Padamsee swam against the tide for contentious campaigns whose time had come — the Kamasutra condom ads with Pooja Bedi arguably blew sex out of the closet and catapulted Indians into a brave new zeitgeist. On the other hand, he did also kowtow to market sensibilities, as evinced by his popular campaigns for fairness creams, which capitalised on deeply entrenched societal self-loathing. In recent years, his defence of these campaigns had been roundly criticised. Yet, the sheer creative force of Mr. Padamsee’s signature ideas influenced a whole generation of ad creators who came afterwards. It must be said that, in a market saturated with too many players and client-driven campaigns, creative projects with cultural impact and longevity, like those on Mr. Padamsee’s enviable résumé, are thin on the ground.

Born to the stage

In theatre, Mr. Padamsee cut his teeth with the Theatre Group, founded by his brother, Sultan, in whose Merchant of Venice he made his acting debut at the age of seven. Over the course of its 70-year existence, more than 80% of Theatre Group’s productions were directed by either Mr. Padamsee or his first wife, Pearl.

In 1974, he staged Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar, one of the earliest Broadway-style musicals to be staged in India. This signposted a shift that sought to garner larger audiences for urban theatre. Unlike Ebrahim Alkazi, another Theatre Group exponent who forged an indelible name in the world of experimental theatre, most of Mr. Padamsee’s well-known works display a markedly mainstream sensibility, even though he did allow himself the leeway to deviate from market forces on stage — with his productions of Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq and Broken Images, for instance. He was often called to answer the twin charges of commercialism and elitism, but these are crosses that continue to be borne by whole cross-sections of theatre-producers to this day. Mr. Padamsee made no bones about his persuasions, and by sheer dint of prolificacy and industriousness, etched his name into history books.

Immortalised as Jinnah

Internationally, one of Padamsee’s enduring calling cards has been his part as Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982). A dapper Mr. Padamsee was handpicked by the director after a chance encounter in a cocktail party, joining other names from Indian theatre in what was to become Attenborough’s magnum opus. Mr. Padamsee’s cold, calculating Jinnah, gentle coif and monocle in place, seethed with the angst of a new country in painful gestation. He was thus much more than just a marginal player in a screenplay packed with iconic figures from the freedom struggle, even overshadowing Roshan Seth’s eager-to-please portrayal of Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru.

Mr. Padamsee is survived by his brother, painter Akbar Padamsee, former partner, Dolly Thakore, his wife Sharon Prabhakar and his three children all whom are active on the Mumbai stage and filmworld – Raell Padamsee, Quasar Thakore Padamsee and Shazahn Padamsee.

(With inputs from Deborah Cornelious and Gauri Vij)


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