By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, May 24 (Ajit Weekly News) A master of metaphors and similes with a brain so sharp that every word was used for a reason, Alyque Padamsee seamlessly straddled the diverse worlds of advertising and theatre, creating iconic campaigns as the Liril girl, Surfs Lalitaji, the MRF Muscle Man, and the unforgettable ‘Hamara Bajaj. His 77 stage productions such as “Evita”, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Tughlaq” stormed the box office, while his portrayal of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the Oscar-winning movie ‘Gandhi was well appreciated far and wide.
“With someone like Alyque, their brain is so sharp that every word used is used for a reason. He was the master of metaphors and similes. He loved proverbs. And of course he could quote from any of the 77 plays that he had staged, and adverts devised,” Vandana Saxena Poria, the co-author of “Let Me Hijack Your Mind–Restart Your Life With Freedom” Padamsee’s “parting shot” to the world (he passed away in 2018 aged 90), told Ajit Weekly News in an interview.
“To top it all, both of us have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), so we talked at times the speed and crossed so many topics, integrating our knowledge as we went along. Those conversations with Alyque were the closest thing to the speed of light that I have experienced,” added Poria of her over 50 meetings and 175 hours of recorded discussions with Padamsee that went into the writing of the book, which has been published by Penguin.
“I think my role as a chartered accountant actually helped in identifying, categorising and distilling Alyque’s thoughts into major buckets. Distinct themes started to emerge, which have formed the basis of each chapter. Yet overall, there was an overarching theme: He had a way of making you look at life differently, so you were ready to face a challenge with different ideas of how to solve it,” Poria explained.
Padamsee was affected when people around him were unhappy and this book is his heartfelt attempt to commandeer one from what makes one unhappy and journey with them by way of finding new ways to solve old problems in his patent racy, non-preachy manner. The book is deliberately designed to throw one off-balance and then help one find a new, more relevant centre with the help of notes on how to dream, live and love afresh.
For instance, Should marriage change to a renewable 5-year licence, Should education become edu-tainment to ensure lifelong learning, and Can Theatre teach you what’s necessary to be successful in Business?
“We worked out what was going to go in each chapter. Alyque was really clear that he wanted the book to be short, and geared towards the youth, although a good read for other ages too. The issues he chose for the book are all issues that face everyone, regardless of colour, gender, creed, or any other kind of labelling. And he wanted to give people some tools to be able to deal with those issues,” Poria elaborated.
What has been gratifying for her, she said, is that many of Padamsee’s contemporaries and proteges “have said that they can imagine hearing Alyque saying every word, when they read the book”.
How has the writing of this book impacted Poria as a person? Has it changed her worldview and the manner in which she interacts with those around her? In sum, how much of her mind has been hijacked?
“Beyond belief. It opened my eyes to the hypocrisy that surrounds us every day, and made me realise we can not only speak about it but do something about it too. When you see it written in black and white on a page in his voice, you can’t help but reflect. And then going further and accepting that…we are all hypocrites. That we have to face up to it, and put an end to our own behaviour as it affects others,” Poria maintained.
Socio-economic bias, for instance, where we treat a kirana store owner or a street cleaner very differently from a friend is a version of the new caste system.
“Alyque wanted these conversations to be had, and through writing this book we are encouraging others to speak the unspoken dialogues that remain in our heads.
“Alyque was someone who looked at a problem, and immediately found a way to improve it or solve it. Be it coming up with multi-religion cricket teams after the (1993) Bombay riots, or staging something that had never been done before, Alyque would find a way to make something work, then practice it until it was beyond perfect,” Poria added.
She also admitted to honing and adopting many of Padamsee’s techniques as detailed in the book.
“I was always curious, but Alyque taught me to dig until I got to the root of the problem. That requires building grit and a critical thinking mindset. I feel in some ways I was given an invaluable opportunity to really study and work with the mind of a creative genius and I will always be so grateful,” Poria maintained.
Padamsee’s elder daughter, Raell, who started acting at the age of 15, direction at 16 and her own production company at 19 and is the founder of the ACE Talent Academy and Academy For Creative Expression that works with young children in the field of theatre and dance, was equally forthcoming in a separate interview.
“Dad was always concerned about the state of the world. If he could do something about improving it, he would! That’s why he was involved in so many social movements, from the Mumbai riots to the Dalits. He also saw a lot of unhappy kids, who turned into unhappy parents. He did not want any of us to be the same. He was always clear, ‘I don’t care about you getting a 1st class. I don’t want you to stress about that.’
“That was a biggie. He gave us that kind of freedom about our academics, he was more concerned that we had a well-rounded life. So, his point is, if you are unhappy with something, don’t leave one foot in the past and keep on doing the same-old, same-old. Do something different and make yourself happy in the process,” Raell pointed out.
Another example of her being “hijacked”, which she didn’t understand back then but now is forever grateful for, is that he didn’t allow her to get married without being economically independent.
“He made me promise!!! All my other friends around the age of 19-20 were being forced by their parents to get married, so at the time it was disconcerting growing up with this liberal thinking. But I did understand where he was coming from – he had me working on ‘the status of women project’ at age 19.
“And I think his wanting to make life better for everyone has come to me, but I concentrate on how to have a better experience. My dad was great for me in that sense. He took me to the ballet, to see art. I experienced theatre, all types from lunchtime, experimental to Broadway. It was an explosion on my senses completely. We didn’t have a TV and we didn’t need it, as life was so much more exciting and extremely entertaining,” Raell maintained.
In the 1980’s “What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School”, had become a Bible as it filled the gaps between a B-school education and the street knowledge required to sell more, manage better and get the job done. “Let Me Hijack Your Mind” is the modern day Bible that will enable you to live your life to the fullest and give back to society.
It definitely makes for essential reading in today’s disruptive world.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at [email protected])
–Ajit Weekly News