The Arts

Veteran Actor and Ad Guru Alyque Padamsee Dies at 90

Padamsee played Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the British movie 'Gandhi' and is best remembered for iconic campaigns such as 'Lalitaji' for Surf, the Liril girl in the waterfall and 'Hamara Bajaj' for the auto major.

New Delhi: Alyque Padamsee, who died on Saturday at the age of 90, was one of the most colourful figures in the Mumbai’s advertising and theatre circles. Known for some iconic advertising campaigns – the Liril Girl and Lalitaji, Cherry Blossom, among others – he also stood out for his flamboyant lifestyle.

Whole generations of advertising professionals and actors and directors have been trained by him and are now well known names. Padamsee’s memoirs are titled A Double Life, a nod to the two equally successful careers he pursued.

Padamsee had several acclaimed theatre productions like Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Tuglaq and Broken Images to his credits. He played the role of Jinnah in Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning biopic Gandhi and was also conferred with the Padma Shri in 2000 and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Theatre by the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Padamsee was also the former chief executive of advertising firm Lintas in India and is credited with helping Lintas become one of the top creative agencies in the country. He later became the regional coordinator for Lintas in South Asia.

Hailing from a liberal Khoja family, Padamsee was one of eight siblings, described himself in his autobiography as “one of those spindly brats who had diphtheria and pneumonia by the age of two.” After school and college he joined the Padamsee Estate office, managing the family properties, but when he found that his mother objected to his decision to marry Pearl Chowdhry, a divorcee with two children, he realised he had to break away so got a job in J. Walter Thomson, then one of the biggest advertising agencies in India and like many others, foreign owned. He eventually moved to Lintas, from where he retired as chairman.

He soon became a part of the burgeoning English theatre scene, which his brother Sultan was already involved in. Alyque had already acted in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice when he was just 7. In his twenties, he went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the 1950s and has written about how he faced racism with landlords, which made him resolve he would never settle abroad.

Alyque Padamsee (right) as Jinnah in the British film Gandhi.

At the time, most of Bombay’s English theatre was populated with people from advertising, and they often put up the classics, Shakespeare being a popular choice. Though he acted in several Shakespearean plays, his most famous role was as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.

He managed to balance both jobs and after he was chosen for the role of Jinnah in Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi, he insisted that he would only shoot on weekends, because he did not want his work to suffer in any way. In his book, he recalled that he had met the British director at a party and had received a call the very next day, offering him a role without even a screen test because he was tall and slim and ‘autocratic’ looking like Jinnah. “I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted,” Padamsee said; in the book, he also recalls being told by people that he needed to “smile more.”

Jesus Christ superstar

In 1974, Padamsee took on the challenge of producing and directing Jesus Christ Superstar, a musical that at the time had raised the hackles of Christians everywhere in the world. Christians in Bombay too were angry and upset and he reached out to the Archibishop for a way out. The compromise was that he would open the show with a special song, to be sung by Mary to her son, and the words of another song, by Judas, would be altered.

The play became a resounding success and in all the shows the front rows were occupied by priests and nuns who came reverentially to see it. It was a monumental production, and in a chat he had once mentioned that he had been ‘crazy’ to even attempt the overwhelming logistics, which included a long wooden cross running through the theatre on which the actors walked while singing. “We didn’t have mikes with such long cables.”

In 2015, he put up a new production of the same play, which was once again successful.

Padamsee took a great interest in political and social matters, speaking out on television on the deterioration of Mumbai and the rising chauvinistic sentiment and intolerance in the city and the country. He said he had produced Evita as an allegorical reference to the dangers of authoritarianism and turned Hitler’s Brown Shirts into Saffron Shirts in his version of Cabaret, which he directed in 1988.

Padamsee, who was married twice, leaves behind two daughters and a son.

Several prominent celebrities and leaders across the political spectrums took to Twitter to express their condolences led by President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Photographer Atul Kasbekar also tweeted, “Saddened to hear of the passing of advertising doyen #Alyque Padamsee When he was head of Lintas he’d given me some of my early breaks in advertising photography. Ever grateful for the break and opportunity.”

Actor Boman Irani also tweeted that Padamsee gave him the first break in theatre.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Preeti Sharma Menon said, “I am deeply saddened by the demise of Alyque Padamsee. The world knows him for his creative abilities but I know him for his values, for his ability to stand up for causes, his ability to inspire people to fight for justice.”

(With inputs from PTI)