Prabhakar Mundkur: Remembering Alyque

17 Nov,2018

 

By Prabhakar Mundkur

 

Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.

— Hamlet, William Shakespeare

 

When I first met Alyque back in 1976, I felt so exhilarated after meeting him for a musical part in “Man of la Mancha” (the screen version had Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren )  that I regretted having declined his offer for a part in Jesus Christ Superstar a few years before.  But graduate studies had taken precedence.  He was tall and towering physically, just like his personality and reputation. A slight hunch made him look distinctive. It was the kind of hunch that tall people develop when they are young, when they want to compensate for their height and want to appear a little shorter, to make other people more comfortable.

I was immediately taken up by this enormous personality and talent.  But talent alone can’t take you places. Alyque was extremely committed to whatever he was doing and for a creative person surprisingly organised.  For example, he would be constantly be making notes during our rehearsals with a small pad that was parked in the small of his back. Whenever he thought of something, he would pull out that note pad and make some furious notes, which he would recall in detail later.

Like most stars, Alyque created volumes of folklore around him, typical of great personalities.   Even if you never worked in Lintas, any advertising person who worked during that time, would regale you with stories of God (as Alyque was affectionately and appropriately known) and Pope (his secretary whose real name was Jenny Pope).  They were all very funny and you couldn’t help a guffaw after hearing the punchline in the end.

But it was not just people who worked with him that looked upon him with great respect. I worked at a competitive ad agency and although Alyque was the main competition, I daresay we were all overawed by him.  Seeing him at a pitch, for example made me terribly nervous.  Because in many ways, it was not just his advertising talent and creativity that had to be overcome but his personality and his showmanship.  Clients were equally awed by him. Somehow, I could imagine clients just eating out of his hands while we would go through several iterations of a creative idea until it was too dumb to produce.  I don’t think anyone would dare to argue with his advertising judgment. In fact, I was often asked by clients a rather uncomfortable question, “Who is the equivalent of Alyque in your agency?” I did not have a ready answer in spite of having painstaking pondered over it. In an era when suits became CEOs, after plodding for several years, Alyque proved that it was easy for a creative person to head an agency, something that is more fashionable today. What struck me most about him was that he was a perfectionist.  He was never happy with anything less than the best. Every imperfection made him angry and sometimes it was followed by string of expletives.

He created many famous campaigns but perhaps some stood out more than others in public memory.  For example, the entire Liril campaign became the most talked about in the 80s and so did the Lalitaji campaign for Surf. Also, the first campaign for Kama Sutra condoms, which made a few waves in an India that was just coming out of the closet at that time and of course Cherry Blossom, Hamara Bajaj and many others.   He once grudgingly admitted that Lalitaji was inspired by his own mother who has a building named after her called Kulsum Terraces, the family home on Walton Road, a sleepy little lane in Colaba.  This was also where we rehearsed most of Alyque’s plays for the Theatre Group in the 70s.

Alyque belonged truly to the Bombay of yore, so vastly different from the Mumbai we know now. When he spoke about the past, he would recall going to Olympia on Colaba Causeway for a ‘chai’ with Sylvester DaCunha because he was stressed out about something.  It somehow brought back images of an old Bombay flooding to your mind, with a young Alyque and a young Sylvester.

About ten years ago we met at a party.  He was doing readings from Shakespeare then.  So, I couldn’t but help mention that Shakespeare wrote in Iambic Pentametre which is the same metre that the ‘blues’ is written in. He wouldn’t believe me.  So, I had to tell him that it was not my theory, but I had picked it up from none other than Leonard Bernstein, the famous American composer and musician in his speech on the “History of Jazz”.  Forever curious, Alyque invited me to his home for a demonstration of how Shakespeare could be sung to the blues. He found it remarkable and immediately ended his Shakespeare shows with a famous soliloquy sung to the blues, roping me in to accompany him on the guitar.

Alyque was not just a star. He was an icon both for the advertising and the theatre industry.  And he showed us all that true creativity and leadership was multi-dimensional. Most people were shattered when they heard the news of his passing away on Saturday. Somehow, he had lulled all of us into thinking he was immortal.

 

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