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Juggler of passions

From scuba diving to running restaurants, adman Prahlad Kakkar has done it all. Yet, there's more up his sleeve



KING OF HUMOUR Adman Prahlad Kakkar Photo: Murali Kumar K.

He's 57, doesn't look it and can turn any youngster crimson with his talk. He has dabbled in all sorts of passions and businesses, goes scuba diving often, grows his hair long, speaks bad language and gets away with it with his infectious laughter. What he hasn't done is bred horses, played polo or wooed half the women he has wanted to. That's the ebullient, bindaas adman Prahlad Kakkar. The man whom some say is Pepsi, and Pepsi him. That's the way Kakkar has built a brand of fizz, defying logic. And that's where he got everyone from Shah Rukh Khan to Sachin Tendulkar and Aamir Khan dancing to his tunes. He was crowned the Indian ad industry's king of humour when he convinced uptight clients that his ads would make audiences laugh with them and not at them.

Cooking, a passion

Kakkar's life is as exotic as his looks. He runs two restaurants, Papa Pancho and Sarson Ka Saag. "Cooking relaxes me and makes me super-creative. Now I'm a celebrity chef in Greece where I do a fusion food fest," says the flamboyant chef. And oh, he also has a specialty teahouse and started the Prithvi Café with Jennifer Kapoor.

His ad film company Genesis has a well-stocked kitchen, where he and his team cook often during brainstorming sessions. "Advertising is my touchstone, the wellspring from where everything comes," says Kakkar.

He and his wife Mitali, both qualified scuba divers, have leased from the Government an island in Lakshadweep to start the Lacadives Dive Centre. "It's a stunningly beautiful place and I dive as often as I can. But it's never been profitable for us. If I don't make ad films, I can't run the school."

The man, who is always seen with his cowboy hat and Montecristo cigar in hand, says, image has become a big thing in today's world.

Has his own "image" been a conscious brand-building exercise? "When I look back, I often wonder, `When did this happen?' Was it by itself or did I make it happen? At one point, the image became larger than the persona. But I decided I could keep up with it," he grins. But beneath that burly, rollicking façade lives another intense person only close friends see. After two by-pass surgeries, cigars are a strict no-no, he says with a wink. But he owns and manufactures a brand of cigars, Shergar, after the famous racing horse from Aga Khan's stables. Rolled in the Philippines, the tobacco is from the Dominican Republic.

But the man who makes cigars refuses to do ads for tobacco products and fairness creams because he finds them insidious and derogatory, insisting there is a need for social responsibility in advertising. Selling Pepsi, though, seems to have been fine with him.

So how do truth, lies and advertising get together? "Advertising is about not telling the whole truth. There's no such thing as ethics in advertising," he insists.

Kakkar's guru, however, seems to have taught him all right. Kakkar is from master filmmaker Shyam Benegal's "slave school" as he likes to call it, assisting him on ad films and later feature films such as Manthan and Ankur.

"We were actually called Slave One, Slave Two and so on. But Shyam taught us that filmmaking is a language — it has syntax, vocabulary and grammar. If you don't learn the language, you cannot write poetry. Stud farm

So what else is it that he wants to do? "I want to start a stud farm," he says seriously, "where I'm the stud!" and starts guffawing at his own idea. And being an adman, he goes on to explain how he will advertise for it: "Donor father available, limited edition. I've already done three in a trot!" (He has three handsome sons who've all gone after his wife though, he admits.) He throws back his head and laughs again uproariously, flips on his cowboy hat and is off on his own trip.

BHUMIKA K.

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