Bobby Sista, Alyque Padamsee & Gerson da Cunha on Bal Mundkur

10 Jan,2012

While tributes keep pouring in for the ad legend and intrepid explorer who was ahead of his time, MXM asked his peers from the golden era to look back at the Bal Mundkur they knew.


Gerson da Cunha, stage and film actor, social worker and author:

Bal Mundkur was a man of immense energy; he was tireless. Once he decided to do something nothing would stop him. For instance, take the case of the book Ad Katha. There have been three previous attempts by the Indian advertising industry to write this book but every time it resulted in failure, because either the money could not be collected or nobody would be available to take on the writing task or both. But the key among the two was finding the money. Bal Mundkur then sat down and wrote off a series of letters to people asking them to donate money towards the cause. As soon as he collected the money it became a serious project and people began to join him. That’s what I mean: when he decided to do something he would go ahead and achieve it. The next important thing about the book was the drafting of the letter for the book. Otherwise you and I could also write to people and they would give a damn, but to Bal they responded. In fact many of them owed things to Bal – he had built a brand, he had given them a job, etc. So the book in a way represents the kind of person that he was.


In fact we both met about a year ago in Goa and he told me about this book. He said to me, “Let’s do it.” I responded in the affirmative and thus began our quest. While I was in charge of the content, he was in charge of the money. While we were working on the book, I’ll never forget what he told me halfway through that project. He said, “You know Gerson, I have done many good things in my life but this by far is the best thing that I have done.” And he did it – he completed the job, and he left us.


Also, there is something else about Bal Mundkur. There are people who, when they leave this life, take something irreplaceable away with them. For example Behram Contractor or BusyBee, as he was fondly known. When he died, he took away with him the bentwood Irani shops, the cuisines – that extraordinary part and spirit of Bombay, as it was known then, which no longer exists. He took it with him and went away. Or Mario Miranda, for example. He took with him a part of Goa and a part of Bombay – Colaba especially, and went off. What Bal has taken with him is a much more complex thing. Yes, it is an era of advertising that was professional, that was innocent… there was not the kind of cut-throat rivalry that was today. Even people competing for the same account were polite and would meet each other up for a drink in the evening. So that professionalism and innocence that existed in the advertising space then has gone with Bal Mundkur.


He was also involved with a lot of public causes – for the crippled children, did his bit for cancer patients… in fact he he was the first to do a remarkable campaign around cancer. And there were many other causes that he supported. Not just advertising and marketing, he was involved in other facets of life like hosting seminars, promoting the industry to the outside world… he even got the Trinity College of Cambridge choir here.


There was also a generous side to Bal Mundkur. He knew the value of money but what he did with that is what makes him even greater.


Bal Mundkur has definitely left a void and he has taken a part of the world of advertising that we once knew.


Bobby Sista, Founder and Executive Trustee, Population First:

It’s not really easy to describe Bal Mundkur but he was certainly one of the most colourful and charismatic personalities in advertising. He was not your ordinary guy – he could be arrogant, he could be short-tempered, he could be very charming, he could be very helpful… all of these things, but certainly he was a very good adman.


Bal Mundkur and I go back a long way. We were closely involved in mooting the idea for forming the Advertising Club of Bombay in the early days. We also discussed the idea of starting an agency together before he floated Ulka. We almost came close to an agreement and everything else was done but then there was a last-minute hitch and it didn’t work. A year or two after that he started Ulka. So while he became fully dedicated towards Ulka, I started working for a client. But we remained friends.


He was very talented in what he did. Such was his stature that he could even walk into the cabin of an MD with full confidence and if certain things didn’t work out he wouldn’t hesitate in calling it off.


I do know that he was highly respected by the advertising profession. He certainly brought in a new angle to how advertising could be created. He had that kind of leadership quality – making people think differently and come up with good work.


One of his noteworthy works includes his effort around the book Ad Katha. I remember that when he conceptualised the idea, he came and spoke to me about it first. He wanted to form an advisory council to get help on this book. He was supposed to have named his book History of Indian Advertising. Bal had even written about 180 pages of the book by then. But then he got in touch with Gerson da Cunha and they went through 2-3 different changes before they renamed the book to Ad Katha. I am happy that he was able to complete the book and launch it at Ad Asia along with 1,500 people from the industry.


Also, one of the things that you could say about Bal Mundkur and his extracurricular activities was that he was a great fund-raiser. He had the ability to collect funds for various causes, including for seminars around advertising, both in India and abroad.


Alyque Padamsee, theatre personality and ad film-maker:

Bal Mundkur was a pioneer who started his own Indian ad agency, even though all the ad agencies at the time were foreign-owned. He built Ulka Advertising into one of the big five agencies of the time. He was not only a superb account management honcho, but also an extremely creative genius. Bal Mundkur was known as a very frank and fearless adman, and pushed his ideas across with charm and force.


Photograph: Shreta Arora/O Herald O

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