Termed by Ad Guru Ajay Gahlaut as ‘A little piece on an unsung advertising great’, his latest writing traces the ‘not-so-popular’ tale of Kamlesh Pandey, a creative treasure.
On February 10, 1996, Deep Blue, a computer program beat the mercurial Grandmaster and then World Champion Gary Kasparov in a game of chess. This was the first time a computer had beaten a human under tournament conditions. Such has been the rise of the machines since then that November 25, 2005, was the last time a human beat a computer at chess. Cars are already driving themselves with humans asleep at the wheel. Robots will perform surgeries on people in the not too distant future. And, sadly enough for my industry, McCann Japan invented an Artificially Intelligent Creative Director in 2017. The AICD-ρ (beta) as it was called, created a TV ad that was indistinguishable from any ad thought up by human creative directors. Interestingly the program was developed by a planner, motivated no doubt by the vexing tantrums of his creative colleagues.
It seems pretty certain that all advertising creatives are sooner or later destined to be part of the great dust heaps of history. Before the inevitable occurs, I thought it would be good to recall and celebrate some of the heroes of our profession. And thankfully there are many of those.
None more interesting and talented, though, than the enigmatic genius Kamlesh Pandey.
I first heard of Kamlesh Pandey from my friend and ex-boss Harshad Sharma. Harshad, a brilliant man himself, was and is a total acolyte of Pandey’s. Nearly three decades since he last worked with his idol, his eyes still light up while talking about him. ‘What do you say about a man,’ gushes Harshad, ‘who came to Mumbai from Ballia at the age of 22 not knowing a word of English and won English Copywriter of the Year at the age of 27!’ Only a certified genius could do that.
Indeed Pandey seems blessed with an almost paranormal ability for communication. Apart from advertising, he has written over forty feature films, most of them blockbusters. Jalwa, Tezaab, Chaalbaaz, Dil, Saudagar, Khalnayak, the list goes on and on. Each one of them a classic Indian cinema. His films have defined a generation and some of his film dialogues are engraved in the collective memory of the nation. My favorite one was delivered with heartfelt gusto by the superstar Rajinikanth in the film Chaalbaaz: ‘Aaj Sunday hai. Din mein daru peene ka day hai.’ This is more than a filmi dialogue. It is a philosophy to live by.
It is impossible for any Indian alive in the latter years of the last millennium not to have been touched by the creation of Kamlesh Pandey’s. If it wasn’t an ad or a movie it would have been a television program. Who from our generation can forget Karamchand, the sloppy, carrot loving detective played to perfection by the versatile Pankaj Kapoor? Apart from his own writing Pandey shaped the viewing habits of the entire country as Head of Programming of Zee TV in the early nineties. Shows that were. developed under his watch include Tara, Campus, Banegi Apni Baat, Close Up Antakshari, Philips Top Ten (which launched advertising’s very own Sonal Dabral as the extremely entertaining anchor of the show), and the much-maligned, iconic, mega-hit, and oft-imitated Zee Horror Show.
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For all the influence and success he has had through his writings in cinema and television, my primary interest lies in Kamlesh Pandey’s advertising work and career. A man with a monk-like discipline and devotion to his craft, Pandey was apparently completely oblivious of hierarchies and designations. While being the Head of Creative at Rediffusion in the 80s he used to refer to himself as a ‘copywriter’. ‘The only way you knew Kamlesh was in office,’ says Harshad, ‘is when his cabin door was closed. He would write all day and only come out in the evening to chat for ten minutes with colleagues and then leave for home.’
Harshad inherited his cabin when he finally quit Rediffusion in 1992. When he came back a few days later to collect his stuff, Harshad helped him clean out the desk. While handing Pandey some papers, Harshad found a sheet of paper with a handwritten script that was splattered with blood. When he asked Pandey about the blood he chuckled and said, ‘oh I got a paper cut while working on the script but got so absorbed in writing that I forgot to tend to it.’
Such single-minded devotion led to the creation of several iconic campaigns for Colgate, Maruti, BPL, Telco, Union Carbide, and countless others. He created memorable campaigns for them all. If you’re a certain age you’ll never forget his jingle: ‘Kholo dabao, brush pe lagao, Colgate ka chhota packet, Colgate ka chhota packet!’
Another poetic baseline for Uptron TV said ‘Black and White mein bolte rang’. And one that I have a close personal association with is his immortal line for a brand of cigarettes, ‘Red and White peene walon ki baat hi Kucch aur hai.’ I worked on the brand many years later and the client asked me to write an alternative to it. The brief, the client said, remains the same. More than a week and three hundred odd baselines later I realized that there is no simpler, better, and more memorable expression than the one Kamlesh Pandey had come up with two and a half decades back.
Pandey was above all an advertising pioneer. He came up with insights before most ad professionals knew the meaning or significance of the word. It is said that he was the first in India to come up with a set of four. serialized TV commercials with the same characters. A creative strategy that is taken for granted today. But my favorite Kamlesh Pandey story and one that demonstrates his unique and anachronistic advertising genius is about a campaign that he did for Bush TVs sometime in the 1980s.
Legend has it that the Bush TV client came to Rediffusion with an urgent problem. Despite great advertising, the sales of Bush TVs were much lower than expected in Bombay city. And Bombay was a very important market. TVs were a very high ticket item in those days and were mostly sold in metros. The client had almost completely exhausted his advertising budget and there was very little money left over. Desperate to meet targets, the client met Pandey and said, ‘Kamlesh Ji Kucch kijiye, bahut pareshaani hai.’ Kamlesh Pandey’s solution reveals the mind of a man far ahead of his time. And a completely lateral thinker. He got the client to hire scores of black and yellow taxis in Bombay for a week. He then got empty Bush TV cartons strapped on the roof carriers of the taxicabs. The cabbies were instructed to drive all over Bombay from dawn to dusk.
By the end of the week, everyone in Bombay had seen these cabs driving around the city with ostensibly a Bush TV strapped on its roof. Kamlesh Pandey had a finger on the pulse of the Indian consumer. He understood that the dominant emotion the consumer felt while purchasing an expensive item like television was fear. He allayed that fear by creating the reassuring. the illusion that many people were buying Bush TVs in Bombay city. So it must be good. Apparently, sales shot up dramatically after this campaign. Which apparently was the first ‘activation’ in the history of Indian advertising.
It is a pity that Kamlesh Pandey is not as spoken of, remembered, and celebrated as his talent and contributions to the profession demand.
But perhaps it’s still not too late. Kamlesh Ji should just be around 70. Age has done nothing to dull his brilliance.
Perhaps we should all request him to come out of retirement. and help us regain the stature our profession once had.
After all, advertising could always do with one more genius.
And one more Pandey.