R Balki's move to quit advertising and focus on movies has a lesson for us all
R Balki, one of the stalwarts of modern advertising, Chairman and Creative Chief at Mullen Lowe Lintas Group has left the agency to (hold your breath) do films which was his original dream even when he came to advertising way back in 1987. I first met Balki in 1987 when he was a cub writer in Mudra Bangalore, an office that I had started for the agency as its Branch Head. Even if he was wet behind the ears as a writer, he had enormous passion and as I later realised his passion was to make films. He used to keep talking about Ilayaraja who was God to his generation and PC Sriram and I remember the first film we did in those fledgling days had PC as the cinematographer. I also subsequently found out that he used to keep writing film scripts in his spare time, some times in the blazing heat of Ahmedabad sitting in the terrace while he was doing the training program at Mudra Ahmedabad. I was so touched when nearly two decades later he invited me for the premier of Cheeni Kum, his first movie and not surprisingly it featured both PC Sriram and Ilayaraja! To me who had spent his entire life in the frenetic world of advertising where people don’t even have the time to breathe, much less work he had found time to not only do great work but also to produce stand out feature films. Dreams have the capability to fire our imagination and lead us to greater heights of achievement it seems.
First and last, a writer
While Balki wore multiple hats he was first and foremost a writer and I guess that is what he would like to be known as. And it was as a writer that I first met him and over the years his reputation as a writer grew and my respect for his ability multiplied. While we did great work for the six years that we worked together in Mudra, I will pick just one commercial that he did for ‘Van Heusen’ that I particularly liked. Interestingly these were the heydays of the liberalization wave when everything foreign was aspirational including the models!
Then we took different paths, I went to a different agency and Balki too left Mudra to join Lintas. We were in touch sporadically though I kept following his work. I thought it would be more appropriate if I focussed on his work as I believe work is the best expression of a creative person.
While I have admired Balki’s work and we will come to that as well in time I admired his ability to take on the world on his own terms. He truly embodied the philosophy of “Love me or hate me but for God’s sake don’t ignore me”. He ruffled a lot of feathers by refusing to enter his agency’s work at Advertising Awards. It was difficult to digest initially but he took the agency with him. He created a culture of creativity within the company and as someone who has run companies; I know how difficult it is to transform organisations, cultures and people. He did this with ease.
These are a few of my favourite ads
I tried to figure out a few of Lowe Lintas’ ads which I particularly liked and there were quite a few but here are a few given the paucity of space which thankfully is more than 140 characters here at least! One of the brands that he got great work done for was ‘Surf Excel’ and here’s one commercial that has his touch.
I must mention Surf Excel in particular as clearly the brand’s advertising quality improved dramatically over the years and I do know the contribution which Balki and Lowe had in this improvement. Another brand which owed a lot to advertising was ‘Idea Cellular’ and I have been impressed with the brand’s advertising not least of all with the signature tune which is much a tribute to Ilayarajaa as it is to Balki’s love for the icon. Here’s one of my favourites.
Of course Balki had a tremendous capability to touch with youth and their aspirations and here is
another commercial that I loved.
Miles to go …
I suppose when someone of lesser ability could be more than satisfied with Balki’s enormous achievements, he is going back to his first love and that is making films and while he has already done a couple of outstanding films like Cheeni Kum and Pa I am sure his best is yet to come. Tomorrow, when the world speaks of Balki I am sure it will speak of him as the greatest film Director of our times not merely as an outstanding advertising professional. And what are the lessons for us?
- Always follow your dreams.
- You can always do a lot more than you think you can.
- Don’t get satisfied too easily in your life and remember only the sky’s the limit when it comes to following your dreams.