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How Josy Paul's love for Kersy Katrak’s writing induced him to join advertising

From visiting Jehangir Art Gallery to getting drunk and jumping on a table at a random party, taking a trip to the Himalayas in search of Katrak, the BBDO Chairman Paul shared how he finally got a job which eventually made his dream of working with his idol come true

In a candid chat with, Josy Paul, Chairman at BBDO India, shared that his ad journey started with the search for the late Kersy Katrak, a legendary Indian advertising personality and poet of the 1970s.

Katrak was the founder of MCM (Mass Communication and Marketing) ad agency, which proved to be the training ground for many advertising leaders in India - including Ajit Balakrishnan, Sudarshan Dheer, Veeru Hiremath, Ravi Gupta, Panna Jain, Arun Kale, Anil Kapoor, Mohammed Khan, Arun Kolatkar, Arun Nanda, Kiran Nagarkar, and more.

Sharing the full story, Paul said that in his college days, when he was studying Science and that too majoring in Physics, many of the students thought of him as an artist because of his writing and calligraphy skills.

“During my college days, I was also heading some of the communication clubs because of certain random incidents. People thought I was good at art even though I wasn’t. So, to prove that I am an artist, I took some of my new friends to the Jehangir Art Gallery at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai,” he said.

As luck would have it, that day the Ad Club of Mumbai had taken over the gallery and put-up ads everywhere. “Like this, instead of going into an art exhibition, I walked into an advertising exhibition. What I saw there really blew my mind.”

Shaken to the core by Kersy Katrak’s work showcased at the gallery, Paul decided to meet and learn from him.

“I liked his writing. The way he wrote was something I’d never seen before. It made me wonder how a man can write such profound things and still try to sell products. How do you not be commercial and yet be commercial?”

He emphasised that this is the kind of impact that happens on a person’s mind in the early days of college. “I tell people that whatever happens in your college days, try to understand it because it’s going to impact you for the rest of your life. Because those days are very formative. You are young and your mind is very fragile. Things hit you. I was lucky that all the right things hit me.”

In his search for Katrak, Paul landed a job at Ogilvy.

But a painful path had to be traversed before Paul reached Ogilvy. He was hopping from one agency to another in the hope of running into Katrak. He used to take up jobs at different companies but ended up quitting in 1-2 months after getting into a fight at each of them for varied reasons. Paul shared that during this phase he had even taken a trip to the Himalayas, just because someone told him that Katrak had gone there.

Funny depiction of Paul travelling to the Himalayas in search of Katrak

One fine day, a jobless Paul got a call from a friend inviting him to a party at someone’s house.

Sharing the incident from that party, he said, “I got drunk and jumped on the dining table of that host’s house without knowing who that person is, and I gave a talk on what it means to be creative – that too when I didn’t have a job.” The rather amused host, who had thrown the party, got him to step down and took Paul’s address and name.

Initially, Paul thought that the number had been taken to complain about his actions to his parents. But to his surprise, a few days later, a chauffeur came home wearing gloves and a cap and handed him a letter. Paul said, “It was a letter inviting me to judge a national contest that Cadbury’s had launched. The invite was from the brand manager, one of the senior leaders of Cadbury. I realized then that it was the same guy whose house I had gone to and given my drunken speech. The irony was that he asked me to be a judge at a contest when I didn’t even have a job.”

Eventually, Paul went to the contest. The other judges at the contest were senior leaders from advertising, JWT, Ogilvy and Lintas. “They were surprised I was among them when I was a nobody. One of them invited me to meet his super boss and creative legend, Suresh Mullick, the creative chief at Ogilvy, who later wrote ‘the freedom torch’ film and ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ with Piyush Pandey,” said Paul. 

Having no creative portfolio, Paul was very nervous during the meeting. To calm him down, Mullick shook his hand and told him to relax and not be nervous of him. Replying to Mullick, Paul said, “I am not nervous. This is my creative vibrance.” Hearing this quick retort, Mullick broke into a smile and offered him the job.

Paul added, “It’s uncanny how some people have the innate ability to see your potential when you have nothing. It’s pure faith. If faith can be greater than a portfolio then there must be something great about the guy himself. That’s Mullick-saab as we fondly called him. That’s how I got my big break in advertising. On pure faith”

That day, Paul got one of the biggest learnings from Mullick, ie, it’s about the person, not just the portfolio. Paul said, “These days when we interview candidates, my post-portfolio sessions are almost 10 times longer than the portfolio discussions. We believe in people and not portfolios. That’s what Mullick-saab taught me.”

The smooth sailing at Ogilvy (as smooth as an adman’s life can be) went on for five years till one fine day Paul got a surprise call on his landline in the Ogilvy office.

I heard this voice that sounded like God. ‘Hello, is that Josy Paul?’, I said yes. He said ‘I am Kersy Katrak. I heard you’ve been looking for me."

“Back then, Kersy had returned from the Himalayas and was starting a whole new creative department for Lintas, and he hired me as a creative director,” he said. Thus, ending Paul’s long search for finding and working with the legend who had ignited his passion for advertising.

Paul concluded, “Kersy was crazy, and his madness was my inspiration. My art partner and I worshipped him for the way he set us free. We felt invincible when he was around. Ideas would flow at the speed of light. Along with Alyque Padamsee and Kersy, we created some really exciting work. We surprised ourselves because we never knew we had it in us. It was a period of personal exploration and explosion. It was unlimited serendipity. Every day we discovered something unexpected. Kersy was a cathedral. I continue to worship, humbled by the experience.”


After spending almost 10 years at Lowe Lintas, Paul went on to launch ‘rmg David’ for Ogilvy (which was later rebranded as just ‘David’.) David was the name Paul proposed in 2000. “I felt David is the original challenger brand” he said. Paul was the national creative director of David since the birth of the agency and was later designated as chairman. In 2007, David merged with Bates Enterprises. That’s when Paul quit to join JWT (now Wunderman Thompson) as National Creative Director before starting up BBDO in India in 2008.

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