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Nothing boring about it!

Advertising is a strange business. People in this industry devote countless late nights, weekends and acidity-inducing dietary choices to make ads that the rest of the world goes out of their way to avoid. And, yet, every once in a while, an ad film comes along that cuts through the clutter and captures the public imagination. Prahlad Kakar, founder of Genesis Film Production, knows a thing or two about making ads that do precisely this. And the first rule of doing so is not to be boring. Be funny, outrageous, wild, whatever… just don’t be boring. And that’s the spirit he carries through in his memoir, Adman-Madman.

Adman-Madman is an enjoyable journey through the life and times of the advertising guru.

Like most people in the industry, Prahlad stumbled into the world of advertising.

After finishing his schooling at Sainik School, Kunjpura, in Punjab, and post a brief attempt at studying English Literature at MS University, Baroda, Prahlad landed up at Fergusson College, Pune, to study Economics and — something that would prove very useful in dealing with clients later — Military Studies, no less!

Graduation out of the way, Prahlad then managed to land a job at an MNC bank, only to flee the place after seeing the management trainees slog away in a basement area.

It’s at this point that he came across a bunch of colourfully dressed young people who seemed to be having a pretty good time working in an ad agency called Advertising, Sales Promotion (ASP) Company.

And that’s where he began his advertising career.

Working with Shyam Benegal

It’s at ASP that Prahlad met his guru, filmmaker Shyam Benegal, who was making ad films at that point. Thus began Prahlad’s training — as Slave No 5 on Benegal’s team.

Over the next few years, Prahlad learnt that slaves don’t get to ask when they can go home or get a raise or resign or — if all else fails — run away. A slave does what he’s told to do and in the process learns everything there’s to learn about ad filmmaking.

It is while working with Benegal that Prahlad learnt how to edit, ideate with copywriters, get approvals from clients, meet production requirements, figure out set and sound design, and understand how a film is put together. And, as any advertising professional will tell you, to be keenly aware of Murphy’s Law: if something can go wrong, it will! Thrown into the deep end of filmmaking, Prahlad gradually rose up the ranks in ASP’s films department.

And it was at this point that the start-up (long before it became fashionable to use such words) bug bit Prahlad. It was time for Genesis, his own film production outfit. Interesting bit of trivia: it was the late Smita Patil, who came up with the name Genesis.

Getting noticed

Genesis grabbed every opportunity that came their way. One of which included a few films for Air India for which payment came in the form of air tickets to Amsterdam, since the client hadn’t budgeted for the films. But the Air India films paid off in other ways: Genesis got noticed by the ad industry. And then came a whole bunch of films for clients across categories like biscuits, paints, cameras and more. With lots of hilarious moments at the film shoots, including one involving a missing python that was later tracked down to the bathroom of a couple trying to make the most of their wedding night.

Ringside view

While the book is packed with many such hilarious anecdotes, it is in the third part that we get a ringside view of what it takes to create a memorable ad film. Magic happens when the client, ad agency and filmmaker are completely aligned.

Some of Prahlad’s best work happened on cola giant Pepsi. From ‘Hi, I’m Sanju’ with Aamir Khan and Aishwarya Rai, to ‘Nothing Official About It’ for the 1996 Cricket World Cup to ‘Yeh Dil Maange More’, it was a phase when client, ad agency and filmmaker captured the zeitgeist perfectly. So much so that during the 1999 Kargil War, after a hard-fought victory, Param Vir Chakra awardee Captain Vikram Batra had been asked if he was scared and he had replied: ‘Yeh dil maange more!’

Love for the deep blue

And in a busy career filled with crazy film shoot schedules, Prahlad managed to find the time to discover the other great passion of his life: scuba diving. Head over heels (or in this case, the other way round) in love with scuba diving, he set up Lacadives, India’s first scuba diving school, in Lakshadweep. There’s a wonderful story about how after two years of struggle to get approvals, a personal assistant in the Home Ministry helped him out. So, much like Prahlad Kakar’s films, Adman-Madman keeps you hooked all the way through. And along the way, you also get to see how much India has changed since he began his career. Here’s a tip: once you’re done with the book, log onto YouTube and check out the ad films he talks about. And just this once, it’s okay to press the Skip Ad button to see some great ads!

The author is a senior advertising professional based out of Bengaluru.

(Published 16 December 2023, 23:56 IST)

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