I first met Pops ( he was Sridhar then, not Pops) fresh from his Goa getaway, when he had sold his successful agency in Hyderabad, spent the money on a house for his parents, and taken off for a year to Goa where he lived off his watercolour paintings that he sold to hotels.
The first thing that struck me about him – and attracted me – was his passion. And his complete impracticality when it came to accepting real world limitations.
Pops was always the dreamer who revelled in wanting to do the impossible. He genuinely believed if he could think it, he ought to be able to do it.
I remember a campaign we did in Leo Burnett for Goodyear tyres. To establish Goodyear’s international pedigree, we wanted to show the world’s best cars on jacks with tyres removed, the idea being that only Goodyear could complete the picture.
Once we sold the idea, I was done – thrilled at our own audacity, thrilled that we had sold it, thrilled we had found a client who had the guts to buy it.
Not Pops, though.
He wanted that year’s models of Rolls, Mercedes, Ferrari, Porche, et al.
This was in March, so we were talking about cars that had been launched a couple of months earlier in the US.
I thought he was being stupidly unrealistic, and would end up screwing up the whole campaign with his insistence on the impossible. I was sure the costs would scare off the client, the execution would drag on for months, and a breakthrough campaign end up being shelved. But as usual, I shut up and let him have at it.
And Pops set about making it happen. He hunted for specialist car photographers in the US. Spent at least 20 sleepless nights working the phone and email (in the days of 14 kbps dial-up internet) begging, cajoling, motivating and charging up photographers who were inexplicably drawn to this young, unknown art director with the funny accent from little known Bombay who wanted the impossible, wanted it tomorrow, and wanted it at a ridiculous price. Finally, one of them succumbed. Went around dealerships, sweet talking them into letting him take out the spanking new models for an hour’s test drive early in the morning, parking them in whichever parking lot was close by, shooting them with no crew or assistants in the beautiful morning light, and mailing the pictures back the next day. All for a princely thousand dollars a picture, all told.
The upshot? Our April ad featured the Ferrari Testarossa launched in Feb.
That story, to me, sums up Pops. He dreams impossible dreams. And finds a way to make them happen.
And it doesn’t have to be his dream every time either. When a young team came with a terrific idea for Luxor Highlighter Pens, Pops embraced the idea with his unique brand of passion. And let them spend most of the next year crafting and polishing and buffing the idea till shone like a jewel, sweeping every international award show that year.
His idea for DBS Bank’s Chilli Paneer 2, his first major challenge when he joined SapientNitro, was another great example of dreaming the impossible – and making it happen.
The story was by design a narrative with multiple decision junctures. And Pops not only wanted the viewer to be able to decide what the protagonist would do, and how the story would flow, he wanted them to do it in a seamless manner that would not interrupt the story by opening a new window and making you wait till the new narrative loaded. His new company was a giant in digital technology, and obviously they knew this would not be possible.
What they didn’t know about, though, was Pop’s enormous capacity for obstinacy. And so weeks of round-the-clock work later, the film was exactly what Pops wanted. You could click at any decision point and choose which path the story would take – in real time. And even click the other path to see how that would have played out.
Pops is not stubborn because he falls in love with a specific idea, like creative people all too often do. He is in love with the idea of excellence as a pure ideal in itself. And that is what makes him a true rainmaker, not just for the company he is working for at any point in time, but for the industry and the creative community as a whole. He makes rain so he will have a rainbow to chase. He is a living example of walking the talk, however hard the path – and the path he chooses is usually very hard.