Family drama

Updated: Nov 30 2006, 08:23am hrs
It was in 1989 that I first got involved with the Gwalior Suiting campaign. The early ads using the celebrity couple, the Nawab of Pataudi and Sharmila Tagore, were just out. It was conceived and produced by the people at the advertising agency called MAPP. Leading the team were the Mandelias (who owned the agency) and Abraham Koshy, the president of MAPP Advertising. They were keen that my partner Neville DeSouza and I get fully involved in taking their idea forward.

We had just joined Lintas (now Lowe) at that time and were trying to be creative directors of Delhi sitting in Mumbai. It was a tough task and we had plenty to do under the supervision of our bosses, Kersy Katrak and Alyque Padamsee. But when this freelance offer came along, it seemed like an unusual request. More so because lifestyle advertising was quite unheard of at that time, and Neville and I were curious to explore this space.

At that time, Raymonds was the category leader. This was historic leadership rather than any perceived communication leadership. The famous complete man campaign had still not happened. The market was ripe for a powerful idea with a strong identity. The Pataudi-Sharmila combination made sense... because it was unique.

More importantly, it could become a single-minded and sharply focused image to drive home lifestyle cues. Summer and winter collections could easily fit under this rich and famous lifestyle. We felt that Indias first advertising couple could easily challenge the width and depth of Raymonds historic equity.

Our first film for the campaign was set among the upper reaches of the Himalayas. Its the one where Sharmila Tagore saves a little lamb thats trapped in the bramble as Pataudi looks on with concern and then admiration. The mood is idyllic and the music composed by Leslie Louis (of Colonial Cousins) was magical.

The film and the print campaign got widespread coverage and was voted among the more memorable campaigns of that year. This early success started a journey which saw Neville, me and our friends at MAPP and Grasim create a series of campaigns, year after year, using the brand ambassador couple, Sharmila and Pataudi.

We shot in various exotic locations and got to travel a widely while listening to the entertaining stories of cast and crew. The most enjoyable were the tales told by Pataudi. Between cricket, Bollywood and his nawabi lifestyle, Pataudi had seen and heard more than anybody in our world.

It was from stories like these that we began to write some of our films and campaigns. You might remember the Grasim Gwalior film where Pataudi and Saif come out of the airport and Saif sees this really beautiful girl (played by Namrata Shirodkar.) He thinks that shes eying him and so puts on a hard-to-get act. But to his surprise, she is actually trying to catch Pataudis attention and steps forward to get his autograph while asking Saif to hold her bag.

That was a true story. We just fictionalised it and converted it into another campaign.

We first met Saif when we were shooting at Pataudi Palace, about 60 km from Delhi. Saif had just returned from London and was lounging under the winter sun in the terrace outside his room. One look at him, and Neville and I could see the next campaign. Thats how we conceived the film where Sharmila dusts an old photograph of Pataudi and her when they were just married. As she gets nostalgic, we see Saif appear at the doorway. Thats when Indians saw Saif for the first timein a Grasim Gwalior Suiting ad. He went on to join feature films thereafter.

We shot our commercials with a new director every year. We were fortunate to have worked with talented people like Rajiv Menon, Vikas Sivaraman, Jenny Pinto and Ravi Chopra and Louis Banks. The print campaign was shot entirely by Denzil Sequeira, who loved pulling everyones legs and would wait for people to go to sleep so that he could pull a trick on them.

The Pataudi-Sharmila-Saif campaign ran for several years and created a powerful brand identity for Grasim Gwalior Suiting. People at Grasim believed in the idea and stuck to it boldly. Credit for this belief goes to many people including the late Mr Aditya Birla who stood by it with full conviction.

The campaign also saw the full commitment of Mr Kumar Mangalam Birla with whom we worked very closely in conceiving and approving the various ideas and expressions. Credit also goes to Mr Gupta, president of Grasim Gwalior Suiting (who we fondly referred to as Guptaji.)

I am not sure if the campaigns can be classified a classic, thats not for me

to say only time can tell. But the campaign certainly captured the imagination of the industry and fed the need of the masses to witness the lifestyles of the rich and the famous.

Even today, eight years after the campaign has stopped running, it is still remembered positively.

The author is chairman and regional creative director, David