Aylque Padamsee has designed images that are part of a collective consciousness. India's best-known dream merchant, Padamsee has designed brands, advised governments, led the English theatre movement , acted in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, and offered opinions on everything under the sun. But Alyque Padamsee's life is still work in progress.
Anuradha SenGupta: Alyque Padamsee, the world knows you as legendary ad man, who contributed to creating a whole bunch of brands we are familiar with on a day-to-day basis. We know you as a theatre director and actor, we know you as a man who has a view on everything, but how would you describe yourself?
Alyque Padamsee: You know I was very fortunate. I think the greatest thing that God gives us the gift, and though I am an agnostic, I do believe there is a supreme being, that if you born into a family which gives you a roof over your head, three meals a day, and education, it is the greatest gift in the world and a lot of people like us, in what we call in the ad world, PLU (people like us) forget that. I have never forgotten that.
Every morning when I get up, I say thank you, what a wonderful day, I may have a toothache, I may have fever. I may be feeling very lazy because of disco till 4 am and so on, but when I get up I always say, thank you, and I am basically, I think in love with life. I just love life. I won't be sorrowful to go but I would say damn it, couple of more years please!! And I know I will not get it but what the heck.
Anuradha SenGupta: So to describe Alyque Padamsee, you would say you are someone who is in love with life.
Alyque Padamsee: Yes, I am in love with life and I am also in love with many women along my life, but that apart I don't mean in that love ness.
Anuradha SenGupta: You are pre-empting me. You have to talk about all the women in your life but before that, you have written your book, Double Life, your autobiograhy, it is really unusual to know that as a child you were actually tongue tied and today your biggest calling card is the fact that you are an effective communicator
Alyque Padamsee: One and only one reason, I discovered the theatre and it is amazing. Once you go on a stage and an audience and you have to be good. If you are good, it happened to be in the debating society, where I never, I was very very shy and I was very thin boy. They used to call me 'Cardboard Sando" I was very thin. They said if you look at Alyque from sideways, you can’t see him. I was that thin. I was six feet and very very thin. I was a very shy boy. I used to hide behind this big monstrous fellow in the debating society, hoping that the teacher would not notice me and call me. One day this wretched fellow fell ill, he did not come to the debating society, so I was there all alone and exposed. The professor called me out "Padamsee, I would like you to talk on the subject which is non-violence and I got a thought in my head. Someone had told me a joke two days ago and I said well (pretends to stutter) I would just like to say that the greatest violinist in the world is Yasha Heifetz and the greatest non violinist in the world is Mahatma Gandhi and they all roared with laughter, clapped, they thought it was very funny
Anuradha SenGupta: That is when the barrier broke?
Alyque Padamsee: Bomb! And I can tell you, I can tell the audience that all you need is springboard once only and then shyness disappears. We are all the time performing. We do not realize it. When we are speaking to a sabziwala, as Lalita (the protagonist for Rin detergent). Aha, Theek se tolo!! where do we get those intonation from. It is in us. It is when we get before an audience, we get this hinglish that I learned in college, "goblified," but actually I try and put people in touch with the real you which is there, your emotional center you may say. When I played Mohammed Ali Jinnah that was not performing, That was me being, what I thought, might be a wrong interpretation, was Mohammed Ali Jinnah. I grew up in a theatre family. To me Shakespeare was a very natural language and even till today, I still do little performances of Shakespeare, like Shylock, one of my favourite characters, who when Antonio says, Hey Shylock I want three thousand ducats and Shylock, the moneylender says, Signior Antonio, many a times in the rialto, you have rated me about my moneys and my usances…. but still I have borne it with patient shrug of sufferance, the badge of all our tribe, you call me misbeliever cut throat dog and spit upon my Jewish gabardine and all for use of that which is my own, now you come to me and you say, Shylock we would have moneys". So you see what happens is an actor becomes the role. He does not play the role. Actors who play the roles are never good actors.
Anuradha SenGupta: Theatre, advertising, how come you did not get into film making?
Alyque Padamsee: That is one thing I do regret. I was in my 20s my long-term vision, my hero was Orson and I loved the way he moved from theatre to cinema. He was a great theatre director, and I also thought by the age of 30, I am making a resolution, I am going to move to directing films. My first film, which took me two years to write. I got the rights from Girish Karnard to Tuglak, which I had done on the stage with Kabir Bedi but then I had a backer, Blaze Films, and had a script, Samazadi, Javed Siddique, worked on the script with me for about 2 years, superscript, but they said, hey your budget would be now running into crores so we would need a big star to be able to raise that money. So, I said okay. I am going to ask Amitabh Bachchan, he was at the height of his popular career, as the angry young man.
Anuradha SenGupta: And he said no?
Alyque Padamsee: No, I went to Bangalore. He was shooting for Coolie at that time. I sat with him one late evening after the shooting, and he gave me the very Amitabh, taciturn yes Alyque, very interesting, let me just think about it. I said okay Amitabh and I said this is your one chance to make a film for which you will be remembered for every, because Tuglak is a great, great story. It is not dishum-dishum. There is dishum-dishum but with such a lot of more meaning. I went back to Bombay, couple of weeks later Amitabh met with an accident on (the seta of)Coolie and almost died. After he recovered, I again went to him and I said what about Tuglak, and he said well, to tell you the truth, I have lost a lot on this terrible illness and my sources of Hindi film have dried up and now I cannot take the risk of doing an "art film" I have to go back to the dishum-dishum angry young man, and I am sorry to say no.
Anuradha SenGupta: There were two clear points in time when you wanted to make a film and you had a story you wanted to tell. It did not materialise because of circumstances. I that a big regret?
Alyque Padamsee: That is a big regret and at the same time to be honest with you i would be very scared. You know in theatre you rehearse for 3 months. In a film, everyday of shooting is costing you lakhs of rupees. I was a little terrified of the fact that I would be trapped on celluloid and I could never change it. Where as in my place you can change it. And Sharon would say, Oh darling will you stop it!
Anuradha SenGupta: You have talked about your love for life, your love for women, we have to talk about women and why you cannot have lasting relationships with them.?
Alyque Padamsee: I think it is all to do with theatre. The excitement of falling in love with a play, I did Macbeth 2 years ago, and I was just in love with it. Then I started on Unspoken Dialogue, which is a very interesting play on people speaking from their heart based on a true story and then I fell out of love with Macbeth and I fell in love with Unspoken Dialogue. I have this tendency to fall in love, to be totally obsessed. So like that, I suppose, I would say that, I do not know, marriage is a strange invention of man. I do not think it is an invention of god.
Anuradha SenGupta: What I find that I can't find any answers too is this eternal conflict between wanting fidelity and not being able to be loyal?.
Alyque Padamsee: I would say that it is a mistaken impression that you can be in love with one person only. A lot of times in my life, I have been in love with two people but what happens is because of certain, and quite rightly so, the person you are first in love with and then you fall in love with some else, does not mean that you do not love than other person. At times I was happiest when I had 2 women in my life. Really this is an honest truth. But one or the other the women cannot accept it and I suppose it would be the same if my wife fell in love with someone else would I able to accept the fact that she loves me but she also loves him. I have not faced that so far but maybe one of these days I will have to face it.
Anuradha SenGupta: You have three adult grown up children how do you think they have responded or they have been impacted by this outlook. ?
Alyque Padamsee: In the beginning, I think they found it very difficult. I know Rier, when I split with Pearl found it very difficult to cope but as the years went on she began to realise that her father is not the usual kind of person and I remember her telling me in the beginning saying, oh I am sick of you saying you are my friend. I want you to be my dad. All my friends have dads, they do not have friends. But some years later, she came to me and she said, Dad I said that to you many years ago but I think, I rethought it and I prefer you as my friend because I have seen dads treat their daughters in India. And I am glad that you are friend and not my dad. So I think in different ways, Shahjan is the best. She has taken it very well. Sharon and I are not divorced. We live in separate houses. We are on the phone with each other everyday. I am on the phone with Dolly at least once a week. I am in touch with my Son Fashan by Dolly all the time. So if you would like me to you one of the advertising quotes that I am famous for,” This is the new joint family."
Anuradha SenGupta: Is it the creative people who have different morals or do you think all people would love to have relationship would like to have relationships like Alyque Padamsee?
Alyque Padamsee: Yes, but they do not have the guts. They do not have the don't care attitude and I must say it is true. But I have always said one thing. Marriage is a choice, children is a responsibility and no matter how many marriages I may have my children are my responsibility and I will never, I may be divorced from wives. But I never ever divorce from my children but when you have a high creative, and I believe, M F Hussain, Picasso, Bertrand Russel, or even Stephen Hawking, he is on his third wife. Take Salman Rushdie, he is on his 70th wife. Why is that. I think there are two reasons. One is creative people are very restless. They are always looking for the new and that also show in love. And the second reason, I think frankly, they have the power. Kissinger said it best, she said "The greatest aphrodisiac in the world is power." A young man came to me be when I go to discos. I am a geater dancer. I love dancing. I go to discos with lots of PYTs as is shown on page three, and says how do you do it. I said I will tell you one thing, "put down that glass in your hand, I am a teetotaler,I never drink, and start paying attention to the woman, and the best way to get any woman, pretty or young or old is have big ears. Listen to what she is saying. Start developing your listening skills for Godsake.
Anuradha SenGupta: I want to talk about the fact that you have said that you chose to disinherit your religion, yet recently you have worked with very traditional groups within Islam to come out with a fatwa against terrorists, why did you feel so strongly that you needed to work towards protecting the name of Islam. Assuming that that is what have driven you to do this.
Alyque Padamsee: Yes, the one-point agenda I had was that why is there terrorism and why is everyone saying that it is Islamic terror. I went to some maulana and I said look you have passed a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, one single man because he wrote a book against the prophet, why don't you pass a fatwa against all these terrorists dragging the name of Islam into the mud. Maulana Mohamed Madhani together with the top of the Deoband, the grand mufti said, in public in Delhi at the Ram Lila grounds where half a million Muslims assembled and he passed a fatwa with three of his colleagues, all the highest of the high in Islam, Deoband is the second highest Islamic institution in the world and he said anyone who kills a single innocent person cannot be considered Islamic. It is against the Quran. If you are Islamic, you cannot be a terrorist and if you are a terrorist, you cannot be Islamic.
Anuradha SenGupta: You expect this to help?
Alyque Padamsee: I would expect this to help enormously. Stage two, we are having a south Asia conference with Pakistan maulanas giving the same fatwa, Bangladeshi maulanas giving the same fatwa and in case if you do not know, there is a large Muslim population in Sri Lanka which I did not know, also giving the same fatwa.
Anuradha SenGupta: You have worked across different fields, different areas of interest, Mumbai city is one of them but at the end of the day what is that you are proudest of
Alyque Padamsee: I think getting people out of old ways of thinking to open their minds to say hey there are possibilities and I think to myself it took five thousand years civilisation for one man sitting under a tree to say why is the falling down, why didn't it fall up. It took 5000 years to make that simple discovery. Why didn't some one 5000 years ago or 2000 years ago, and this fatwa idea came to me.
Anuradha SenGupta: Are you saying that if it is successful, you will be proudest of?
Alyque Padamsee: Yes, I will be the proudest. I cannot think of anything that I can be more proud of. There are many things that I would like to say yes, I am very proud of the fact that I produced Tuglak with Kabir Bedi and everybody loved. But they are tiny things; they did not change the world. This could actually change the world. And may be that is my ego talking now. I have no compulsions about saying ego is an essential and very important part of every human being. It was so with Gandhi, it was so with Mother Teresa and it is so with every human being trying to develop change. First you have to believe it in yourself and then you got to try and see whether you can implement that change.
Anuradha SenGupta: We hope you can bring about change and wish all the very best.