Friends from the Workplace

Once upon a time in the la-la land of advertising, a motley cast of characters banded together in the corridor wing of Lintas Bombay 3* (now Mullen Lowe Lintas). The period was circa 1993-96. It was a magical time because this particular Lintas Bombay 3 gang produced great work, won a host of business pitches and awards, and above all, laughed their way through it all. So much so, that the tales of laughter they produced with aplomb still resonate down the years…these days on a Bombay 3 WhatsApp group. Often on that WhatsApp forum, individual characters declare that this was the best bunch of people they worked with. Looking back, I don’t find that statement surprising. This was a bunch of people who worked together, trusted each other, laughed together, and befriended each other to become lifelong friends from the workplace!

It was a magical time, which brought together a bunch of like-minded people. A bunch, as I now realize, managed me more astutely than I managed them. That fact brings a wry smile to my face even as I write this.

Let me see. Where do I begin?

Ah, I think with the irrepressible, excitable Tista Sen. A junior copywriter then, Tista generated the loudest squeals and peals of laughter. Also, the tears. Both would lead to many a male rushing to laugh or cry with her. And, please DO NOT read anything sexual into this. Yeah, maybe one or two of those males harbored tender feelings but it was all above-board. If the world had a face today, it would be a prissy one with pursed, disapproving lips. The way I see it, the guys in Bombay 3 were a decent, chivalrous bunch. I can tell you they sure were protective of Tista, while teasing her mercilessly all the while. This, in spite of Tista merrily promising to meet sundry groups at different venues, all in the same breath and evening! Hard to believe that the same Tista is now National Creative Director at JWT India. I sure hope that seniority hasn’t managed to erase her spirit. Somehow, I don’t think so. I met her recently and she doesn’t seem to have changed one wee bit. Good on her.

Then, there were the exasperating, chronic, latecomers – Madhu Noorani, Namit Bimbhat, Uday Wala. No amount of threats worked. I guess they knew that the threats I made were empty ones. The earliest I could expect to see them staggering in was 11 in the morning. I would glare. They would give me a sheepish smile in return. Beyond that, I could never bring myself to take any harsh measures. How could I when I knew that the same bunch worked late into the night without a complaint? Even when the work was on accounts not their own?

Namit, or Bimbo as we called him, was one laid back but highly likeable character. He would eternally be slouched back on his chair. At least, that’s the position I always found him in on my work follow-up rounds in the unit. I would look down on Namit and ask, “Namit, what’s the status on this?” Namit would look-up at me and say, “I am glad you asked this question.” An opening salvo, designed to charm and disarm me. Aiyoo, Rascal-lah! Yet, I remember the same Namit waiting back late one night to ferry a colleague’s ad materials to the Times of India office. That’s the thing, you see. Such gestures by Namit and the rest of the gang negated any and every shortcoming that they might have had.

Some twenty odd years later, both Namit and his wife are entrepreneurs. Who would have thought? See Switch Media and Small Design Company.  Uday Wala is CEO of KOSMIK Global Media and Madhu Noorani is President, Lowe India. Obviously, all three of them were late to the office but not late to the party.

The two who were never late with their witty, irreverent comebacks were Vatsala Mamgain and Vikram Doctor, providing much fuel to the ever-present laughter in the unit. Both Doc and Vatsala were highly intelligent to boot. Their intelligence and wit can be experienced even today through their writings. Check out Here’s why khakras should get a GST concession (Vikram Doctor left advertising eons ago to carve a respected name for himself in journalism) and Carb snobs, look away (Vatsala is a great writer and now also Director, Resource Mobilisation at CRY).

There was an infectious spirit in the air those years. That spirit drew in wonderful film executives in the form of Arjun Bali and Sanjiv Kishinchandani, who uncomplainingly fulfilled our unreasonable demands. Well, not always uncomplainingly. Often, there were many grumbles.

The Bombay 3 spirit also manifested itself on Lintas sports days. We were the smallest unit but won the maximum medals. I am told one Director laughingly tried to bribe my predecessor, Girish Rangan, with a reduced business target in exchange for taking a backseat in sporting events.

Like begets like. Perhaps that’s what attracted the ever bouncy Asha Rishi to our fold. She was so hard-working and cute. As was Sharmila Malekar (now Head of Branch, Dentsu).  Sharmila used to give heavenly massages, working the kinks out of bunched-up shoulder muscles. I remember this one time when she was working her magic on me when the unit’s boss, Asit Mehra, walked in and said, “Ah! So, this is how appraisals take place in this unit.”

Little did the Mehra know. It was always more a question of my being appraised all the time by the wretches in Bombay 3.

What else can account for a young trainee, Nikhil Vaish, walking in to my cabin one day and telling me, “Lata, do you know you are the most feared GM in Lintas?” I looked at him and retorted, “Oh yeah? Is that why you have the guts to come and tell me so?” Nikhil always had guts. Still does. He lives in New York now and still doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind. You can read his views on Vaish Words. Besides writing, Nikhil is Strategy Consultant at Publicis.

The other guy who had guts in spades was Amitabh Vira. Passionate and spirited to the core, Vira worked with me on Jet Airways. There was this one time when the airline had briefed us to develop a campaign. Highly excited with the opportunity, Vira ran off to brief the creative team. When they came and showed me the output, I was aghast to stay the least. The advertising was ethereal and wouldn’t do anything for the airline. But Vira and his creative counterparts dug their heels in. They refused to budge. Realizing that I had a deadline to meet and a client to answer to, I briefed another creative team.

The day of the presentation dawned. By then, I had shown Vira the campaign to be presented. When the meeting began, I was floored when Vira fished out the campaign I had rejected and proceeded to blithely present it to the then CEO of Jet Airways, Nikos Kardassis.  I was furious. But I allowed Vira to have his say and then, as smoothly as possible, I turned to Nikos and said, “There is another option.” I pulled out the campaign that I thought more befitting the airline’s needs and showed it. Without missing a beat, Nikos pointed to the work and said, “This is more like it.”

Post the meeting, I hauled in Vira and wiped the carpet with him. On his protesting about it being a matter of judgment, I told him, “Ultimately, you have to realize my neck is more on the line than yours. Ergo, I rather put my neck on the line because of an error in judgment on my part and not yours.”

Was it insubordination? You could say that by the technical definition of the term. I, though, would prefer to see it as independence of spirit. That same independence later led Vira to found his own company, Netprophets Cyberworks.

Actually, each member of that motley bunch was extraordinary. Not surprisingly, each has gone out to find her or his place under the sun. You can read more about this group in my previous posts, Joseph George and his Close Encounter of the Third KindAggie was a trainee once too, and Bringing up Lata, with Madhu & Aimee.

I was lucky to have had them by my side. And, privileged to have known them.

Oh, by the way, that motley bunch has stayed together and are still firm friends. They have greyed but their spirit is still intact. I think the cover image on this post makes that apparent:)


Featured Cover Image: From the author’s albums.

*For the uninitiated, the Lintas of yesteryear was made up of Strategic Business Units (SBUs), labelled as Bombay 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

4 thoughts on “Friends from the Workplace

  1. One of the funniest stories about Tista is that she locked her husband at home when she left for office, and right in the middle of an important client meeting on the sidelines these bachcha log were trying to figure out how to send the keys back home to let the poor guy out. So it was hard for everyone to keep a straight face and continue this serious intense discussion while all this was going behind them.

    There’s also a famous sign on the meeting room door I saw which said “leave your cigarettes and Egos out of the meeting room”

    good ol days

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