I’ve been in and around advertising for nearly 3 decades now, and the longest I’ve ever worked in one agency is about 7 years. That was at Dhar&Hoon, the little ‘creative shop’ started by Abhinav Dhar (then HTA’s Creative Head on Pepsi etc) and Ajit Hoon, branch head of Mudra Delhi till ‘94. (Funnily, the two met because Ajit was trying to hire Abhinav for Mudra, but that’s another story!)
When we joined, my art partner Anil Rawat and I had just left Mudra Delhi (soon after Ajit), and declined an offer from Contract because we had decided to experiment, “for a year or so” as we told ourselves. The experiment continued till 2001.
It was perhaps our single most productive, rewarding career phase, and now looking back, I think a lion’s share of the credit for that should go to Abhinav.
An intimidating presence, with his size and his leonine head when I first interviewed with him, Abhinav later turned out to be an amazingly talented, multi-faceted man who concealed much wisdom underneath his rockstar swagger.
A Delhi boy, just slightly more privileged than the rest of us Delhi boys there, Abhinav was a ‘phoren-returned’ ad man, a rarity in the 80s and 90s. A post-grad in Advertising Design from Pratt Institute in New York, and an award-winning Senior Creative Director at SSCB Lintas, who was about to move to ChiatDay in LA, Abhinav came back to India when his parents requested that one of the two brothers return to be with them.
At Dhar & Hoon, Abhinav freed us to pursue our craft, without fear of any kind. Aiming high was the only aim. No ass-covering or bull shitting was ever needed. We competed among ourselves. But we were fighting together to make a mark and vindicate our decision to join this underdog of an outfit.
So our natural response to every brief was to consider what we would have done in a ‘regular’ agency and discard that first. Abhinav encouraged exploration. He pushed for it. We’d think and think and be dead sure we’d cracked the brief and he would agree it was good. And then give us more time to try something else.
Ajit would shake his head and mutter about the delay, but when we presented work, most clients would mention that they were glad we took the extra time. And work we presented was usually true to its purpose – to be relevant, original and impactful. For its audience, for us, and lastly, hopefully, for the client as well.
The devil’s advocates rarely turned up at D&H, and especially not if they knew that Abhinav had liked something already. That’s how the BPL campaign with Amitabh Bachchan happened. That’s how we made films that showed Hanuman and Superman chancing upon each other in the sky. That’s how we created fun, 1-minute fillers for Pepsi for the World Cup with people like Hansie Cronje and Jonty Rhodes mouthing Sholay dialogues like Jo Darr Gaya Who Marr Gaya.
But work was only one part of life at D&H. ‘Chilling’ was an equally important part of being with Abhinav. Carrom at lunch was de riguer. A new Mac with a new game on it would always be about seeing how long your name stayed at the top of the leaderboard. Then there would be marketplace jaunts. Nathu’s chaat binges. Even haircut and head massage visits to nearby salons.
Interesting people were always dropping in to hangout with Abhinav. Shankar Rajan, Shashank Ghosh, Shantanu Moitra, Rakesh Mehra (before the ‘y’ and the middle name appeared), Saibal Basu, Shibani Kashyap, Jaideep Sahni, Rajat Mukherjee, were all part of the extended D&H family. Sometimes Jaco and Zooni, the Dhars’ prize-winning boxers, were in the house too.
Advertising was just one of the things that interested Abhinav. He’d learnt drumming from none other than Max Roach, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker’s drummer. He had a mean handicap on the golf course. He could tutor you on the anatomical advantage of the Caucasian female. And he knew what advice to offer if you were considering marriage (“Make sure she’s someone you can have long conversations with”).
All that talent found, and continues to find, expression in multiple directions. Back then, Abhinav’s music sense led to Mr Bachchan asking him to make videos for his ‘Aby Baby’ album. Another time, Abhinav convinced a reluctant Prabuddha Dasgupta to direct a couple of commercials, because he wanted the ads to have the look that Prabuddha’s stills had. Over the last decade he’s done music for a Shashank Ghosh film. Appeared for an episode of the Coke Studio series. And pretty much given up golf and advertising.
His current passion is shooting wildlife, tigers being his favourite prey, and if you visit his Facebook page or website you’ll find that he’s making that too look as easy as everything else he’s done.
When we met a few weeks back, I noticed that his leonine head now also has a flowing mane to match.
PS: He has not seen this piece. But I suspect I’d have had to spend a lot more time on it, if he had.