‘WE HAVE NOT CREATED HISTORY, WE HAVE WRITTEN THE FUTURE’

Submitted by admin on Mon, 12/18/2017 - 14:12

Say Piyush and Prasoon Pandey on being awarded the Lion of St Mark, the highest honour for outstanding creativity at the Cannes Lions festival next year

 

When Piyush Pandey’s secretary Ophelia called him up one morning and said ‘Congratulations’, his first reaction was, ‘Now what have I done?’! As she read out the mail that had come from the Cannes Lions festival organizers, conveying the news that they intended to confer on him and his brother Prasoon the prestigious Lion of St Mark award, and were writing to seek their acceptance, the ad guru, in his own words, “was completely blown away”. “It’s big. It’s as big as it gets. And when she read out that both of us are getting the Lion of St Mark together, I was completely zapped. I then called up Prasoon. We were pleasantly surprised, overwhelmed and emotional,” recalls Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman & Creative Director, Ogilvy South Asia.
 

His brother, acclaimed film director Prasoon Pandey, founder of Corcoise Films, was not prepared for such an announcement either. “Piyush asked me if I had read my mail. I thought he must have written another cracker of a script, and wanted me to take a look. Instead, he gave me the news,” Prasoon tells us. The mail from Philip Thomas, CEO, Ascential Events, organizers of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, and addressed to the Pandey brothers, stated: “Next year, we would like to honour you both, as two brothers who have changed the face of creativity in India and far beyond.” The Lion of St Mark, the highest honour at the festival, recognises those who have made a significant and outstanding contribution to creativity in advertising communication.
 

The brothers have been inundated with congratulatory messages from all over – people from the government, industry, friends and admirers. Particularly touching for them has been the tweet from actor Amitabh Bachchan, which says, “What a moment!! First Indians to win this prestigious Award from Cannes ... congratulations, Piyushji and Prasoonji and many more to come ... for me personally it has been an absolute honour to have worked with you... Badhai, Badhai... Bharat ka jhanda garh diya videsh mein!” Piyush and Prasoon Pandey, however, insist that they have not created history, only written the path of the future.

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Meeting the brothers Pandey is a treat – the hour-long conversation is one filled with anecdotes, advertising lore and loud, unbridled laughter. The vibes and easy camaraderie they share seem to be of a rare kind, their bond visible even to a rank outsider. From this human connect, and the comfort of having each other as a sounding board, emanates a fountain of creativity that has taken them to where they are in the world. Here are excerpts from the conversation, touching on their work, life and the global honour.

Q] What were the reactions at Ogilvy and Corcoise?

Prasoon: It’s a team of just 20 people at Corcoise; all of them were incredibly excited. But that magic moment lasts only about an hour, and then it actually starts sinking in.
 

Piyush: The Ogilvy team got to know and obviously they were very proud. They held a small celebration for me and I told them that I was there because of them all. It is not an award for a piece of work, but for a body of work in which many people in the past and present have been my partners. I told my colleagues that this should give them immense confidence - if we can do it, they can do it too.
 

Q] What is the X factor about the Pandey brothers... a defining quality about your work that has won you this honour?

Prasoon: I think it’s our background; where we come from; what we were exposed to and what our parents exposed us to – we are a product of that. We keep calling our home ‘the institute’. When we were kids, my father would talk to Piyush and I would listen. So all of us were learning when somebody else was being taught. Father would tell him how to recite creative poetry and my Mother would discuss characterization and story-telling on the dining table. Our sisters were doing different things too - one was into painting, another was learning classical dance and yet another one was a student of classical vocals, we were exposed to all that. Living in small town and travelling with our parents to smaller villages, there were ideas everywhere. And so all that we have done and what that environment gave us is immense exposure to life at large in India. We stored all those images in our head. And when we are working, we just keep drawing from there.
 

Piyush: What they also taught us was a huge respect for things that were Indian and our lives were such that we were exposed to a lot of India. Both of us were travelling to villages with my father. For me, it was travelling across the country, playing cricket, and for him it was working at the National Institute of Design (NID) and doing projects which a student hardly gets a chance to do. Gradually, there was a huge attachment to things that were Indian. I would like to believe that they gave us this award, because the body of work that both of us have, which has got noticed as Indian, has its own character.
 

MASTER PRANKSTERS

The Pandey brothers share music, food and jokes, and more than anything else, laughter. They also have a history of being master pranksters!

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“We have a large family and Piyush and I are constantly playing pranks on others, and we are always in it together,” says Prasoon. “They know that if one is involved, the other has to be involved too. The brothers were expected at home on Diwali, but they would lie all the time that they were busy, and then land up at an odd time to surprise the family.

“In fact, the Pongal commercial for Asian Paints was based on that life experience - of not telling your family that you are coming and delighting them,” says Piyush. “Cannes too had a role in one of those pranks. We had all decided to land up in Jaipur on my mother’s birthday, but we would not tell her beforehand. We play pranks so often, that she actually expected a surprise! So we had to set it up well. About 10 days before the birthday, we told her we had to travel to Cannes for the festival. We also pretended to call her from the airport and kept up the charade. Finally, the entire family assembled at another hotel- about 40 of us - and landed up at her place all together. She was shocked to see us, as we were supposed to be in Cannes!”

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The Pandey brothers do not stop playing pranks even when they are at work. “All our shoots are a lot of fun. We keep playing pranks,” says Prasoon. “On location for shoots, the client is very much a part of the team. When you’re a team, you have the licence to play pranks!” Once the daughter of one of the Perfetti brothers, owners of the gum and candy giant Perfetti van Melle, was present on location during a shoot in Malaysia. If she was woken up by Room Service and brought eggs and toast, boiled potatoes and boiled cabbage at 3 am, all the credit for it goes to a certain adman who would have ordered it for her!

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Piyush remembers a shoot for Asian Paints, where Venkatesh Kini, then with Asian Paints, had come as a brand manager. There was someone called Patrick D’Souza from Ogilvy. “This was the first shoot that they’d come for. Advertising shoots are not really fun for someone who has no role to play because you’re doing take after take. So, both these people were bored. We were shooting in a typical Kerala house, and finding a free bedroom in the house, Kini and D’Souza went and slept on the bed in there.

I took a photograph of them and later sent it to Bharat Puri, who was Kini’s boss at Asian Paints at that time. I told him that it was a great example of the client and agency sleeping together. Later, at Coke meetings where Kini was the boss, I would narrate the story,” says Piyush.

 

Q] This Indianness, your true-to-the roots approach, has been the hallmark of your work, Piyush. But did you face any early challenges, to make yourself heard in an industry that was then known to be elitist and perhaps not open to the Indianness that you brought?

Piyush: Yes, there were challenges but I never got overawed by them. My seniors - Mani Iyer and Suresh Mullick - were very smart in seeing this opportunity of doing things our way, and they are the ones who brought me from client servicing into creative. Minor challenges cropped up when we started doing work of that kind and it started getting more popular than what was being done earlier. Certain people in fact wrote articles too about some North Indian boys doing this ‘Hindi-type’ advertising!
 

I could have felt that I was not being accepted, but I thought just because they cannot do this type of thing, it is not going to stop us from doing it. So we continued and acceptance came. Then recognition came. And then other people started doing and believing in the kind of stuff that we were doing.
 

‘Our art has to convert into somebody’s commerce’

Piyush: Shaping Gen Next in our business, or a creative business of any kind, needs to happen by demonstration. In advertising, you can share with people the basic rules. Thereafter, you have to rub shoulders with them and you have to shape them by demonstrating and by encouraging them. You have to go back, do a memory recall and ask yourself how you did your first film and recall your boss who gave you the go-ahead for it.

Prasoon: Know all the rules and then be brave enough to break them. That’s where creativity comes in. Creativity is so intangible. That is why you cannot teach anyone a set way to do things. You show them the different possibilities and try to figure out how many more possibilities can be discovered. Be brave to jump into something new.

Piyush: But it is not art for art’s sake. It is art for a purpose. There is a task at hand. You have to deliver. The communication needs to be complete. We are not pure artists. We are commercial artists. We have to bring our art and convert it into somebody’s commerce and we should not forget that.

 

Piyush: But it is not art for art’s sake. It is art for a purpose. There is a task at hand. You have to deliver. The communication needs to be complete. We are not pure artists. We are commercial artists. We have to bring our art and convert it into somebody’s commerce and we should not forget that.

 

THE STUFF OF LEGEND

Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and Creative Director Ogilvy South Asia, won his first Cannes Lions awards with two Gold Lions for his work on an antismoking campaign in 2002, marking the start of global recognition for a man who was already a creative legend in India. Piyush’s work on brands Fevicol, Luna, Cadbury and Asian Paints is legendary, and made popular ad campaigns produced in Hindi during the 1980s and 90s in India. He later worked on brands like Lenovo and Cadbury, that also travelled outside India.

He was the first Jury President from Asia at the 2004 Cannes Lions Festival. The Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri in 2016.

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Prasoon Pandey is a highly respected director whose name has repeatedly featured in global rankings of top film directors. Prasoon directed the first Indian campaign to win a Lion, for Ericsson’s ‘One Black Coffee’ in 1996, and is one of the most awarded directors in India. To his credit are cult ad films such as The Times of India File ad and Fevicol bus ad.

Trained as a graphic designer, Prasoon was hired as a film writer at Lintas Delhi, and eventually became a creative director for Lowe India. He set up his own production company, Corcoise Films, in 2002.


Q] Tell me some stories about your childhood together and the beginnings of the two of you as a team, as far back as you can remember...

Prasoon: Piyush is six years older to me. When you are younger those six years seem a lot, but by the time you get to college, you are friends. Most of my childhood, I spent hero-worshipping Piyush. I played cricket because he played cricket, and that kind of stuff. But we actually started participating in things together when our sisters did projects. My sister Ila was doing radio spots and we had a great time putting mattresses against the window, and converting the living room into a sound studio. Piyush and I soon started doing voice-overs for those spots. That would be the most tangible recall. Otherwise, we would do things around the house, play pranks where we had to work together!
 

Piyush: To give you an advertising example, my first big campaign was Chal meri Luna. Prasoon was not even in advertising at the time, but he did the entire voiceover, except the last line, ‘Chal meri Luna’.
 

Prasoon: Piyush would fly me down from Delhi, because I was doing an NID project there. I would finish the recording and go back. He would call me for all sorts of things. Those were great days.
 

Piyush: Before that also, in 1984, we were doing a launch for Sunlight detergent powder and we had to create a fantastic sunrise on the screen. I didn’t want to go with slides - I wanted a greater effect. From NID, Prasoon helped me create the sunrise. Professionally, that would be our first teamwork.
 

Prasoon: We do a lot of genuine work together. But even when we are working on clients where there is no conflict of interest or secrecy, we share with each other. If there is a concern and I feel we are jacked, I turn to Piyush. For instance, I was doing a script for someone for a New Zealand shoot, and realized at the last minute that a similar film had been made and had even won at Cannes. But we were just a few days away from the shoot, and had already spent money and actors were also coming in from Sydney. It was an emergency situation. I asked the creative team to start thinking on how to continue with the shoot in New Zealand and I asked Piyush too. I got my solution.
 

Piyush: Other than advertising, we have adapted Alladin and Lion King for Walt Disney together, then we wrote the script for Bhopal Express which did many festival circuits around the world. So whenever the opportunity comes, we like to work together.


THE LION OF ST MARK

The Lion of St. Mark is the highest honour that the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity bestows for outstanding contribution to the creative industry. It will be formally presented to Piyush and Prasoon Pandey at the closing awards ceremony of the 2018 Festival at Cannes on June 22, 2018. The brothers will be the first to receive the honour jointly, as well as the first Asians to receive the Lion of St. Mark. They will also take part in an interview hosted by Philip Thomas, CEO, Ascential Events at the Lumiere Theatre during the festival.

The Lion of Saint Mark, representing the evangelist St Mark, is a winged lion holding a Bible, and is the symbol of the city of Venice and formerly of the Republic of Venice, as well as of the Greek Orthodox

Patriarchate of Alexandria. Other elements often included in depictions of the lion include a halo over his head and a sword in its paws.

Lion of St. Mark winners @Cannes so far: 2017: David Droga, founder and Creative Chairman, Droga5

2016: Marcello Serpa, former Partner, AlmapBBDO 2015: Bob Greenberg, Founder, Chairman and CEO, R/GA

2014: Joe Pytka, Director, PYTKA

2013: Lee Clow, Chairman, TBWA\Media Arts Lab, Director of Media Arts, TBWA\ Worldwide

2012: Dan Wieden, Co-Founder and Global Executive Creative Director, Wieden+Kennedy

2011: Sir John Hegarty, Worldwide Creative Director, Founder, BBH

Q] Looking back, what have been some of the high points of working together?

Piyush: It is always the work and the joy of sitting together and brainstorming. When we were working on Alladin, we checked into the Taj President Hotel, and all day we would watch animation films. The original writing is magical, so when you are translating it, it should have the same joy in our ethos and culture. We are huge fans of animation. So Prasoon and I would watch Alladin and burst out laughing. We did our watch and write routine for 10 days, and the waiter who came with tea must have wondered if we were mad, because we were two adults watching animation and laughing all day!
 

Prasoon: Almost every day, we talk and meet, unless one of us is travelling or on a shoot. Once I remember we were going to Alibaug, and talking and laughing so loudly on the boat that people actually complained and asked us not to laugh out so loud!
 

Piyush: Once Mukul Anand wanted us to write a movie but we didn’t know what movie we were writing. So we booked a hotel in Lonavala, and sat there wondering what movie to write. A waiter came and asked us what we were writing, and Prasoon replied: ‘Sholay’!

Q] Which are some of the best campaigns you have collaborated on?

Piyush: We love all the stuff we have worked on; so the best way to put it would be work that got recognized. There, Pidilite and Asian Paints stand out. We’ve done a lot of work together for Fevicol, Fevikwik, M-Seal, Asian Paints Interiors, Exteriors, the works... We also did some fantastic work for Kelvinator, Onida and SBI Life – the list is very long.

 

Prasoon: We really enjoy ourselves when we work together. We have worked together for over 20 years, so it is very difficult to say which one was the best. The public recognizes the best work and the tenure it lasts. So, people recall Kelvinator and Onida as memorable ads even after 20 years.
 

Q] What are some of the positives and negatives you see in the advertising industry today?

Piyush: Among the positives, the last 25 years have brought belief in the young people that we can fight the battle Indian style. There’s a belief in India, despite Westernization. Today, even international brands that used to advertise in English advertise in the language of the people. The scenarios are Indian. Young people are very energetic. India is on a roll. This is a time to experiment.
 

Prasoon: The fact that we are drawing talent from all over the country into the advertising industry is also a huge plus. Back in the 80’s, there were people from the metros only in advertising offices. Today, people come from smaller towns and cities. The greater the mix, greater the diversity, better the chances of getting new and fresh ideas.
 

Piyush: There are some negatives... The environment has become such that if you don’t win awards, you’re nobody. So everyone must win awards. Also, youngsters today have so many options that they are confused. Staying the course is more important for success. They should find their passion and chase it. The blind belief that Digital is going to be the answer for tomorrow is also a negative. The way to look at it is that it is one more medium available to you on which you have to excel.
 

Q] What do you look forward to now? What next from the Pandey brothers?

Piyush: We look forward to the next ad, the next campaign... earlier also, we were not looking forward, we were just keeping our heads down and doing our work. We never planned careers, just wanted to do the next job well. We have no long term plan. My next plan is for next week, when my entire family assembles for lunch.
 

Prasoon: We have 36 members of the family gathering soon... which means we are eight gaddas (mattresses) short, and we need to hire those!
 

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