Mandate - - Creative Minds -


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!”

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