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The ‘Ad-Hatter’

Ad guru, scuba diver, restaurateur, cigar manufacturer... Prahlad Kakkar juggles many hats with elan, says Smita Iyengar

When you wear a hat, you instantly get noticed, you just can’t be missed! The hat is what makes me distinguishing, that’s what makes people recognise me. I have never been on a waitlist and not got the first available ticket because the lady behind the counter seemed to recognise the hat!”

Prahlad’s hat certainly does the trick for him! Sporting his cowboy appearance with a degree of elan, Prahlad maintains his characteristic carefully dishevelled look. His verve of non-conformism is in fact the core of his entire persona. His grandmom considered him to be a ‘kalankh to the khandan’ as she thought advertising was about pasting posters on public urinals. “But we thought we could make better ad films than our then contemporaries,” says Prahlad. Fondly referred to as the ‘madman’ of the ad world, Prahlad today happens to be one of the most creative ad film makers the country has.

It was as an assistant to Shyam Benegal that Prahlad took his first plane journey to make an election film for the late Indira Gandhi. “She had suddenly declared a mid-term poll and Shyam was given the unenviable task of making an election film for her, which was eventually handed over to me. As a result, I had to fly up and down Delhi-Mumbai to complete the assignment,” he says. But his preferred mode of travel is the train. He loves ‘the rhythm of the train, the smells and sights and the sounds that animate from various stations’. Flying is alright so long as it’s not on Indian Airlines, “I swear if I have a choice including that of a flying bullock cart I would refuse to fly Indian Airlines. as I have had some really rotten experiences with the airline. I generally fly Jet Airways,” he remarks.

In fact it’s only the hurly-burly of his schedules that make him opt for aircrafts. But till very recently he used to take the Konkan Express to Cochin enroute to Lakshadweep where he owns two scuba diving schools alongwith his wife Mitali, who apart from being an ad film director and mother of three, is also a senior diving instructor. “While we learnt how to dive in Mauritius, where I usually instructed, Lakshadweep is where I keep going back to. It never ceases to amaze me with its pristine, natural beauty and quality of diving. And while I enjoy it, Mitali is a much better diver than I ever will be,” he chuckles.

His ultimate destination though seems to be Goa where he has actually built the first house he ever owned. “I love Goa and the attitude of the Goans, although I’ve ignored it for a while due to Lakshadweep, I’m sure to go back and eventually live there,” he states.

Ideal of course given his fun loving personality. “Humour works best as people are so full of problems. If a commercial puts forward its product proposition surrounded with a bit of humour, not slapstick but slightly quirky, funny, insightful, it makes you smile, it touches your life,” explains Prahlad. Genesis, his own ad film making brand, was essentially characterised by a jovial verve that reflected in all his campaigns, as he set the stage for future trends in advertising film humour.

With its humble beginnings Genesis barely provided for a living, but it was driven by fervent passion. Today its portfolio includes Pepsi, Maggi, ITC, Nestle and Britannia, but it’s not the money that matters. “I am not a businessman on any count, and I have never pursued money as an end-game. It’s the passion that drives me to do what I believe in, that keeps me going. All my business interests are basically passions, the business element doesn’t take precedence over the passion and I don’t think I will
be capable of sustaining any business interest if it wasn’t also a passion,” admits Prahlad.

His restaurant business also stemmed from his ‘instinctive flair for cooking’. “Cooking to me is important as it gave me access to a lot of beautiful young women, because if my face was my fortune I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. As a matter of fact, I started cooking initially because I realised that I would have to make a slightly different approach towards women as they were certainly not going to be attracted by my face or physicality, cooking would be a unique attribute and it would help me talk my face away,” he laughs. Food fascinates him. Even his office sports a full-fledged kitchen. An impassioned foodie, Prahlad is experimental with his cuisine. While his favourite restaurant is India Jones, at The Oberoi, Mumbai, his craving for home- made north Indian cuisine takes him to Papa Pancho, which is a place he helped start in Bandra, Mumbai. He has also recently started a restaurant at the Imax Adlabs in Mumbai called Sarson Da Saga which retains the home cooked flavour of Papa Pancho but still has its own identity.

‘Man of many hats’, Prahlad also happens to be a cigar connoisseur and manufactures a cigar brand called ‘Shergar’ in the Philippines. The cigar is manufactured with the aim to match the standards of his personal favourite Cuban cigar brand ‘Monte Cristo’.

So how does he manage to handle so many portfolios and still keep up the energy levels, “Essentially I have never really worked a single day in my life. Combining a whole lot of fun and passion into my work days, makes my work much more interesting,” he says.

But who is Prahlad Kakkar really ? An aggressive corporate - ad guru, gastronome and restaurateur, cigar connoisseur, scuba diver, globe trotter or a celebrity who has become a ‘page three’ phenomenon? “I don’t see the difference between being a celebrity and a corporate. Both embarrass me, the former because it smacks of respectability which is the furthest thing from my mind and the latter because I don’t understand why the media make such a hoopla unless it justifies the cycle between beauty and ugly and that every now and then they bring out beauty and every now and then ugly is in. That’s the only reason everybody to a certain extent features me in page three kind of things because maybe ugly is in,” he says.

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