March 30, 2020
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Lies Like Truth

Padamsee likes himself, his autobiography has his happy air

Lies Like Truth
A Double Life
By Alyque Padamsee By Arun Prabhu
Penguin Rs:320;Pages:320

ALYQUE Padamsee, or AP for short, is an amazing person: he's ebullient, provoking, honest, gutsy, endlessly interesting, creative, and-capable of translating his ideas and fancies into action. In a country where meetings are called baithaks, where talk is as plentiful as it is cheap, anyone who thinks on their feet with energy and force is a precious commodity. In AP's words: 'It's easy to talk, talk. Less so to make talk walk.' Well, he does.

After much persuasion, AP tells us about his double life expressed visually in photos of himself on his book cover. The front face has AP grinning devilishly in a halo of dark, untidy curls, his right hand cupping a red apple-and you wonder if he's going to fall from Paradise like Eve did when Satan tempted her to take a bite from the forbidden fruit, or whether like God, he knows Satan's little tricks too well to fall for them. The back cover shows AP in a still from Attenborough's Gandhi in which he played Jinnah, dressed fastidiously in a three-piece Saville Row suit, hair neatly brushed off his forehead, a monocle covering his right eye and a look that says: 'I know your type, Mr Gandhi. You can fool others. Not me!' And there you have AP's double life: 40 years in advertising and 50 years in the theatre.

But it's not really a double life, rather a unique one in which AP has worn two of his favourite hats: one as a lover of theatre, the other as a successful adman. The book is heady stuff. It fizzes and sparkles like champagne. AP is a wonderful communicator: unafraid of speaking in a voice uniquely his own. He tells it as it happened with great energy, sharing his experiences as the driving force behind the Theatre Group, Bombay as well as in advertising where he rose from copywriter to head of Lintas, India.

Turning fantasy into reality, that's what theatre and advertising are all about. 'Is manufactured reality truth or lies,' asks AP, 'or is it as Shakespeare puts it, 'lies like truth'?' An audience knows it is watching something that isn't real, but if done well, it will suspend disbelief and allow itself to be sucked into the web of illusion. These are the 'lies like truth' that power both advertising and theatre. AP speaks of having a middle brain, where logic and emotion fuse. It isn't enough to think vertically, he tells us, thinking horizontally-being able to skip from idea to idea-is just as important.

In his 'double life', he flits from experience to experience telling us of the many theatre productions, and ad campaigns planned and executed by him. Yet there is also a narrative line-not necessarily a straight one-that tells the story of his Kutchi-Gujarati family, his talented siblings, the two-year emotional rift between his parents, his three marriages, his children from each, and his public service.

There are wonderful stories about how he defied his parents to marry the woman he loved; how he escaped like Houdini from the straitjacket of Lintas International; how he fought the stuffed shirts who resisted the idea of an Indian woman bathing under a waterfall clad only in a bikini in the Liril soap ad campaign. There is also the path-breaking KS condoms campaign which mooted for the first time the idea that condoms are for the 'pleasure of making love' rather than for protection. There are stories of the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita in which his present wife, Sharon Prabhakar, sang her way into his heart.

I think AP's book should be compulsory reading for the millions of time-passers and the time-servers condemned to mediocrity by a system ruthlessly indifferent to the fulfilment of human potential. If you want more life, 'Put An Alyque In Your Tank.'

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