MAN OF THE PEOPLE
Bharat Dabholkar, adman by profession, lawyer by education and actor and playwright for the sheer love of the art, has a very different take when it comes to creating an idea. He denounces the thought that one needs to isolate oneself in order to, you know, think productively. “I need to be disturbed constantly to be able to come up with any material, be it for an ad campaign or a script I’m writing,” says Bharat. In fact, the concept of working at one’s own pace and having the freedom to procrastinate is bullshit for him. “When it comes to coming up with an idea for an ad campaign, one obviously doesn’t have the freedom to recuperate everything under the sun. The client gives you a specific brief and you have to stick to that. That’s it. So in a way, it’s way more challenging than any other artsy stuff because of its restrictive nature,” he adds. On the contrary, when it comes to theatre writing, the parameters are different, although his approach is not. “Let me clarify here that neither advertising nor theatre are fine arts, both are commercial art. Hence one has to take into consideration what the audience wants. And, playwriting for me is an organic process, it’s like an app running in the background, you know, so whatever I may be doing, I’m also writing in my head simultaneously. Now, I’ve come to believe that political and social satires always work in a play as the audience will laugh at anything that’s anti- establishment because they cannot change it. So, I give them exactly that. After all, they’ve paid hard money to buy tickets to your play and you have to give them their money’s worth. You cannot experiment with their money,” he says matter- of-factly.
Fair enough. But, isn’t this approach creatively stifling, especially when one has to think of new ideas, new material for every show, every ad campaign? “Not at all!” Bharat is quick to answer, “In fact, it works as a guideline for me and stops me from roving.” So, what happens if the final product isn’t accepted as wholeheartedly by the audience as one would expect? “Well, the audience and the client is the baap, so I go back and change it, no matter what. Let me give you an example. Once, we were performing at the NCPA and a particular sequence had certain jokes about Jain food. It was hilarious and the audience loved it. Later, a lady doctor wrote to me saying she was a Jain and enjoyed the entire show except that particular gag. So, I wrote back saying, it didn’t matter how funny that sequence was, if even one of my audience was uncomfortable, I would change it. I requested her to come back for the next show and see for herself. I sent her tickets too.”
For all his awards and accolades, Bharat seems nothing like the rigid corporate boss one would expect considering he is so quick to accept and implement feedback. “Oh yes, I give utmost importance to feedback, but only from whom the product is intended for. I won’t be asking opinions of friends and colleagues, saying, ‘What do you think? Does this sound right? Should I change that?’ I trust my gut feeling and finally, the audience’s verdict.”
Although by now I’m sure of what to expect, I ask him if he’s ever taken the risk of doing something that others have discouraged him to. And pat comes the response, “Always! He adds, “I remember when I started doing theatre and wrote bits of dialogues in regional languages in an otherwise English script, many told me it wouldn’t work because the audience would hate it. But, it worked and it was in a way the beginning of Hinglish theatre. Similarly, I was the first one to do competitive ads. I remember it was an ad for Amul where we wanted to say that this particular product was ` four cheaper than the others in the market, and instead of being suggestive about it, we put the actual rival products in the ad. Cadbury threatened to sue us, but I knew they legally couldn’t, because I bought the stuff from the market and I had an invoice, so there couldn’t be any copyright issues. We got away with it!”