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Bollywood’s gain as Balki leaves advertising

R Balki is moving on from the advertising industry to concentrate on film-making in Bollywood. BestMediaInfo speaks to the creative fraternity to understand what this move means for the industry

Akansha Mihir Mota & Roshni Nair | Mumbai | August 10, 2016


R Balakrishnan, or Balki as he is popularly known, has decided to bid adieu to a career spanning three decades in the advertising industry. Most of his peers saw him as a creative genius that transcended advertising. He was seen as a pillar. The man behind iconic ad campaigns like Surf Excel’s ‘Daag ache hai’, Idea’s ‘What an Idea’ and movies like ‘Cheeni Kum’ and ‘Paa’ has now decided to chase his other passion – films. Balki will be leaving a huge void that even Lowe Lintas, the company he dedicated the majority of his career to, won’t dare to fill.

BestMediaInfo spoke to some of Balki’s peers and contemporaries to find out what Balki’s departure means for the industry. Balki’s was a voice that the industry listened to with respect. He had always taken a very tough stand against scam advertising to the extent that he and his agency boycotted the Goafest Abbys for the last ten years.

He has chosen to pursue his passion

Piyush Pandey Piyush Pandey

Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and Creative Director, Ogilvy South Asia, said, “It is very sad that Balki will not be participating in advertising anymore. At the same time I am very happy for him that he is going to chase his passion. I spoke to him this morning and he is very excited about the future. It is a loss for the business and the industry, but it is one life and he has chosen to chase something that he is really keen on doing. At the end I can say that his move is very well played.”

Agnello Dias Agnello Dias

Calling his departure a loss for the industry, Agnello Dias, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder, Taproot Dentsu, said, “He is one of the most unique personalities in the industry. He has always a very different style and he has stood by it. His contribution to the industry has been stellar.”

Reminiscing about the time he recently spent with Balki in London during the D&AD awards, Dias said, “His view on life is very unique and the way he looks at India and Bollywood is also very different. Those were good times.”

Young Turk & a storyteller

KV Sridhar KV Sridhar

Calling Balki a Young Turk and someone who goes where there is trouble, KV Sridhar, Chief Creative Officer, SapientNitro, said, “I have known Balki since 1987-1988. I have worked with him. He brought his own brand of advertising and has at the same time contributed immensely to Bollywood as well. Lowe Lintas has always had an audacious outlook when it came to advertising, be it the Kamasutra ad or the Bajaj ads but then they hit a low. Balki is the one who brought them back. He has had a fabulous journey from Bangalore to Mumbai, working on some of the biggest names in the industry. His contribution has been immense to the industry and he is also a terrific filmmaker. There are a lot of commonalities between the two fields. I believe that once you are a storyteller, you will always be a storyteller. He has given more to Lintas than he has taken. He has built a great team at Lintas.”

Recounting a funny incident, Sridhar said, “Once, for a brief, Balki and I shared an office since the building was under renovation. He and I were engrossed in talking about a new project. A visitor, a producer, was sitting, waiting for us to finish talking. The producer left the office thinking I was Balki’s ‘Pops’ (father) and kept telling people in the office how much Balki’s father knew about the advertising industry!”

Indianised advertising

Prathap Suthan Prathap Suthan

Reminiscing his early days in advertising, Prathap Suthan, Chief Creative Officer, Bang In The Middle, said, “Balki and I joined advertising on the same day. We were all the part of Mudra corporate training programme way back in 1987 and I have known him since then. He used to work in Mudra Bangalore and I used to work in Mudra Ahmedabad. I think when we were in Mudra he did some fantastic films on Wilman, Van Heusen and HMT. Some really good work came out of Mudra Bangalore when he was the part of it.”

Commenting on Balki’s Lintas journey, Suthan said, “Going to Lintas was a whole new direction for him. That is what changed the trajectory of his life completely. While we have not worked together, we know each other very well. He has always been someone who is fascinated by movies. His first interaction with Amitabh Bachchan happened when he did a film on Parker pen and after that he did a lot of cinema. Before he joined Lintas, the agency was very product-focused and a MNC sort of a company. Balki stepped in and brought in a different kind of thinking in Lintas with extremely effective work and borrowed from culture left, right and centre. He gave a lot of Indian touch and flavour to advertising. Along with Piyush, he is also instrumental in Indianising advertising. Earlier, advertising was very Western focused. Now, he is leaving Lintas at a point where the agency has a very strong leadership team. He has recently been seen more as a film director than an advertising person. I think the shift has been beautifully orchestrated. He is a very powerful communicator and he will continue to do some extremely good films. So, what advertising lost, entertainment has gained.”

View from inside

Amer Jaleel Amer Jaleel

Amer Jaleel, Chairman and CCO, MullenLowe Lintas, said, “I joined Lintas because of Balki. I was at Mudra and when I got to know that he was coming to Mumbai to head Lintas. That was the time I decided to go and meet him and that is the reason I joined Lintas. I am sure that story would be true for a lot of people but this is my story.”

Jaleel further said, “It is very difficult to put forward his contribution to the industry in words or in numbers. We can say that a lot of brands actually came to life on the basis of Balki’s thoughts and ideas. His ideas were never referential and not inspired from western concept or past concept of advertising. It was all to do with his experiences and views. Anything that Balki did was reflective of contemporary India.”

Arun Iyer Arun Iyer

Calling Balki a legend, Arun Iyer, Chief Creative Officer, Lowe Lintas, said, “One doesn’t have to speak much about the impact he had on the business. Personally he is a friend, mentor, creative director and a little bit of everything for me. It’s a big thing in the history of Lintas and advertising also. He is moving on as of now. I have learnt a lot from him in terms of advertising. We are friends for life. I won’t see him in office, but definitely will see him in life though.”

A rare talent

Srinivasan K Swamy Srinivasan K Swamy

Srinivasan K Swamy, Chairman and Managing Director, RK Swamy BBDO, commented, “Frankly what prompted Balki to quit is unclear. Where he is headed also is a matter of speculation. But one thing is clear. He leaves behind a legacy at Lintas which will be a tough act for anyone to follow. He is certainly one of the finest minds in advertising.”

MG Parameswaran MG Parameswaran

MG Parameswaran, Brand Strategist, Founder,, said, “He has done a lot for the industry. I am sure he is going to continue the great work, be it in advertising or movies. Balki was a rare talent in this industry who concentrated on working and focussed all his energy on advertising and that helped build powerful brands. I wish all the very best in his journey going forward.”

Nakul Chopra Nakul Chopra

Nakul Chopra, CEO, South Asia, Publicis Communications India, said, “I have a lot of respect and admiration for the great pieces of work he has done. He has a big role in building Lowe’s reputation as a creative agency. The industry will definitely miss him. I wish him best for his career going forward.”

And Balki’s own script…

Commenting on this new journey that he has embarked on, Balki said, “I just had fun throughout my time in the industry. I just made sure that there are enough people and the team is just perfect to continue having fun themselves. I had planned this move since a long time. It’s been two to three years that I planned this transition. We have planned this very carefully. I always wanted to make films and could not have left Lowe just like that. It took me time to set up the team and make sure it was absolutely stable. I also had to make sure that all of them had the kind of credibility that is necessary for the agency to have. Today I think the agency is fantastically solid. I can afford to go and pursue my dreams. I have not retired, but have just dropped from the industry. Lowe will always be a part of me and I will always be a part of Lowe Lintas.”

“I am feeling fantastically happy as I have been living with this feeling for the past two years. I have kept the clients informed about me leaving the industry. Arun and Joseph are doing a fantastic job that they don’t need my replacement. I have made sure that I am not needed.”

The adman concluded by saying, “Let’s just celebrate and create new ideas. We desperately need new ideas and keep them flowing.”

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