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Lessons from Alyque Padamsee

Thespian and Ad Guru talks about advertising, theater and more

According to media reports, Alyque Padamsee, the prominent theatre personality and ad man whose reputation preceded him, has died at the age of 90.

Having begun his career at the age of seven with The Merchant of Venice, Padamsee went on to work in brilliant theatre productions like Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and also portrayed Muhammed Ali Jinnah in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. Once famously described as “one of the most extraordinary people in the country” by filmmaker Shyam Benegal, Padamsee was also honoured with the Padma Shri in the year 2000.

A few years ago, he had shared some of the lessons he had learned during the course of his illustrious life. Read on.


The first play I acted in was a production of Merchant of Venice directed by my oldest brother, Sultan Bobby Padamsee. I was just seven years old, but I fell in love with theatre. I wasn’t nervous of the audience. I was intoxicated. When the audience responds to you, there is a sharing of energy, a frisson, which is the best experience ever.

You can separate Alyque Padamsee from advertising, but you cannot separate him from theatre. If the government of India ever decides to ban theatre, that will be the only time I’ll be tempted to emigrate. I could not live without theatre. It is my oxygen. When I am in love with a girl, before singing ghazals and writing poems, I will narrate Shakespeare.

It is important to look forward. I always say, Mumbaikars look at the world through the windshield, not through the rear-view mirror. When I go to Chennai and Hyderabad, they always talk about the glory of the past. Looking ahead is more important than looking back.

A good advertisement is one that brings good sales, just as a good doctor is one that cures ailments. An ad must be designed to sell. The key lies in attracting attention within the first five seconds of the ad. It must make you lean forward and pique your interest in the benefits of the product.

Cannes is an aberration. It has nothing to do with the real world. It is for art directors who want to show their creativity off to each other. The Liril ad never won a single award. Neither did the Kamasutra or Humara Bajaj campaigns. Awards are just for vanity.

My best ads have been ones in which I have combined reality and fantasy, something I learned to do from theatre. Theatre has given me the license to bring my fantasies alive on stage.

I credit my mother for my indomitable energy and ability to multitask. She was a phenomenally energetic woman. She had this restless energy, and I inherited that from her. If I am not working, I get restless. The saying ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ is true. If I am not under duress, I feel depressed. I am always greedy for new experiences.

I am always pursuing improvement, not perfection. Evita ran for 150 shows, and I changed something after every performance. I drove my cast crazy.

My first wife, Pearl, is the most unforgettable person I have ever met. She had a life force that I have never seen in anyone. The other people who have had an instant impact on me are Osho and Bill Clinton.

You should always respond to failure, not react to it. After I have read the reviews of a play I have staged, I put them away in an envelope and open it after two weeks. After some time, you get over the initial ego bruise of a bad review, and your brain takes over.

I believe, when you die, it’s a full stop. I don’t have any fear of dying, but I would like it to be peaceful. I fantasise about dying on stage.