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) create films — which was his original dream, even when he came into advertising way back in the 1980s.
I first met Balki in 1987, when he was a cub writer in Mudra Bangalore, an office that I, as its branch head, had started for the agency.
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 would keep talking about Ilayaraja, who was God to his generation, and PC Sriram. I remember the first film we did in those fledgling days had PC as the cinematographer.
I subsequently found out that he would keep writing film scripts in his spare time, some times in the blazing heat of Ahmedabad, sitting on the terrace while he undertook the training programme at Mudra.
I was touched when nearly two decades later, he invited me for the premier of Cheeni Kum , his first movie. Not surprisingly, it featured both PC Sriram and Ilayaraja.
To someone like me, who has spent his entire life in the frenetic world of advertising with no time to breathe, much less work extra, the fact that he not only did great work but also produced standout feature films, was astounding.
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. 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 we worked together, I will pick one commercial that he did for Van Heusen that I particularly liked.
Interestingly, these were the heydays of the liberalisation wave, where everything foreign was aspirational — including the models!
Then we took different paths — I went to a different agency and Balki joined Lintas. We were in touch sporadically, though I followed his work closely. I believe work is the best expression of a creative person.
While I have admired Balki’s work, I admire his ability to take on the world on his own terms more. He truly embodied the philosophy of “Love me or hate me but you can’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.
Work to impress
I tried to figure out a few of Lowe Lintas’ ads which I particularly liked, so I can share them with you. There were quite a few, but given the paucity of space which, thankfully is more than 140 characters, here are a few that stood out, for me.
One of the brands that he did great work for was Surf Excel. Here’s one commercial that has his magic touch.
I must mention Surf Excel in particular because the brand’s advertising quality improved dramatically over the years. And I know the contribution which Balki and Lowe had in this improvement.
Another brand which owed a lot to advertising was ‘Idea Cellular’. I have been impressed with the brand’s advertising, especially the signature tune — it is as much a tribute to Ilayarajaa as it is to Balki’s love for the icon.
Of course, Balki also had a tremendous capability to touch with youth and their aspirations. Here’s is another commercial that I loved.
Miles to go …
Now, Balki is going back to his first love — making films. While he has already done a couple of outstanding ones like Cheeni Kum and Pa, I am sure his best is yet to come.
Tomorrow, when the world speaks of Balki, it will remember him as the greatest film director of our times, and not merely an outstanding advertising professional.
So, what are the lessons for us here?
~ Always follow your dreams.
~ You can always do more than you think you can.
~ Don’t be satisfied too easily in your life. Remember, sky is the only limit when it comes to following your dreams.