Prahlad is very honest about his own shortcomings and the painful lessons he had to learn through his youth.
On any film shoot, there’s a great deal of waiting around. Waiting for the lights to be set up, waiting for the costumes and make-up to be perfect, waiting for the right prop to be placed in the right place. In the happy years I spent in ad agencies, I discovered that the only ad filmmaker, who, like me, would carry a book to the set was Prahlad Kakar. He would first shout and get everyone scurrying, then find a place to read his book while the next shot was readied. Once, a slinky and sulky fashion model walked up to him and drawled: “What are you reading, PK?” Prahlad gave her a long look and said: “Porn”.
Then went straight back to reading. If I recall correctly, he was reading a Louis L’Amour.
A genuine bibliophile, he chose to hide his love of books behind his loud, boisterous and often outrageous exterior. That’s how he handled the “suits” from the agency and the client. All of us in the creative teams of the agency loved him, the management types on the client side didn’t know what to make of him.
This enfant terrible of advertising, the creative brain behind some of the most memorable TV commercials, the mentor of countless waifs and lost souls, has finally written his memoirs. The book is a hilarious string of anecdotes and stories from his very adventurous life, where he plunged headlong into many entrepreneurial ventures, then plunged backwards into the deepest seas when he became a scuba diving expert.
From ad films to the deep blue sea? With Prahlad, anything can happen and often does.
It began in Mauritius, when Prahlad chose to stay back in a boat while his friends took their first dives. He was feeling desperately seasick and wanted to go back to shore.
Instead, he was almost forced to don a diving mask and jump in. After the first shock and fright, he was hooked. Any other aficionado would have spent their holidays diving, but Prahlad took it many steps further. He decided that more Indians must discover the pleasures of scuba diving. He, his wife Mitali and a bunch of friends then spent many years in training to become certified advanced-level divers and set up “Lacadives” in the Lakshadweep Islands, a training school for scuba divers. It took Prahlad three years just to get the requisite approvals from the government. But he persisted and Lacadives was born. This is the sort of hare-brained idea that grabs Prahlad by the throat and he runs with it, never giving up.
The book begins with his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, with his memories of being expelled from kindergarten at the age of five, after an ill-fated incident of “if you show me yours, I’ll show you mine”. Poor Prahlad and his friend became victims of the wilful antics of the principal’s daughter and were thrown out. His later years of education were also marked by his wildly independent spirit and rejection of “good behaviour”. He obviously has an excellent memory, as many scenes from his young days are etched out in great detail and are often utterly hilarious. Prahlad is very honest about his own shortcomings and the painful lessons he had to learn through his youth. He kept falling in and out of love, and his romantic escapades make for highly entertaining reading.
He recalls that he stumbled into an advertising agency simply because the people he met there seemed a happy bunch, having a good time. He somehow sweet talked his way to a job, earning what the agency paid their peons. But he soon realised he had found his niche in life. He was sent off to the agency’s Bombay office where he became the general dogsbody to Shyam Benegal, who was heading their film unit. That was Prahlad’s initiation to filmmaking. The book goes into great detail about the life he led, and setting up his own production house, Genesis. The name was suggested by Smita Patil. Prahlad writes of his most successful films, for Pepsi, Maggi, Britannia and others.
He seems to avoid writing about the hard grind that goes into filmmaking and describes the crazy incidents and near disasters instead. He is an inveterate prankster, always ready to burst the balloons of pomposity that the corporate world is known for. This is a man who can laugh at everything and everyone, most of all himself.
The pleasure of reading the book, though, is marred by the sloppy editing. Ebrahim Alkazi is described as “the Director of the National Institute of Drama (NID)”. Surely, we all know the difference between NSD and NID. We read that Escorts motorcycles collaborated with Kawasaki -- it was actually Yamaha. The West Indies is described as “one of the most laid-back countries in the world”. The West Indies is not one country, but many.
There are spelling mistakes, too. We read “put him through the ringer”. That should be “wringer”. One expects better from a renowned publisher like HarperCollins.
The quality of the writing may not be of a very high calibre, but it is a thoroughly entertaining book, with laughs galore. It’s definitely worth picking up.
Adman Madman: Unapologetically Prahlad
By Prahlad Kakar, with Rupangi Sharma
pp. 511; Rs 799