daCunha Associates, Elysium Manson, Walton Road. The address said.
The year was 1977. I was desperate to get a job, having outlived the meagre pocket money of Rs 120 that my mother gave me. So desperate that I had applied to an ad in the Times of India for which I clearly didn’t qualify. Those days the recruitment ads in the Times could get creative. The ad said “Account Excecutive with 5 year’s experience needs daCunha’s”. Most of my friends in advertising had already discouraged me from joining the profession. When I asked them why, they had told me that I wasn’t a bastard, which you needed to be if you had to be successful in advertising. That intrigued me. I wanted to be in it nevertheless.
So, I wrote a smart letter to Sylvie that said we were looking for the same thing. He was looking for the five years experience backwards in time, and I was looking for the five years forward. For some strange reason that ploy worked. I got a call from Sylvie. And after a successful interview he hired me at the princely sum of Rs 1200 per month. My joy knew no bounds.
Sylvie was a hard taskmaster. I remember he once found a typo in an artwork (a colon instead of a semicolon) and in a rage he pierced his pencil through my artwork. These were the days of hot metal typesetting. Another day would be lost to make another artwork. But a lesson would be learned for life. Never ever let a typo go through. I was forced to learn the proof-reader’s marks and symbols right away. Something I am sure Account Executives who followed 5 years later wouldn’t know.
My media training happened in a car. One evening Sylvie asked me to learn the circulation and rates of all the major newspapers in the country. The next morning unfortunately my scooter broke down right in front of his house on Peddar Road. Sylvie kindly offered me a lift, which I accepted little knowing that my media test would start in the car. What is the circulation of Daily Thanthi, he asked. And what is its rate? I was a little shattered but passed the media test successfully. Basically, I had joined the Marines of advertising. I couldn’t have been trained any better.
Looking back, Sylvie was one of the original Mad Men in India. He grew in an era when advertising people were copywriters, art directors, film-makers, media persons and strategy planners all rolled into one. He was a very talented writer and had made his reputation in an agency called ASP (short for Advertising and Sales Promotion Company). Those days it was one of the best agencies in town. Boasting of names like Usha Katrak, Shyam Benegal, Prahlad Kakkar and many others. Sylvie left to form his own agency daCunha Associate and took along some of ASP’s accounts including Amul Butter. We had a slew of blue chip accounts that included Lakme, Nutramul, Calcium Sandoz and Britannia Biscuits to name a few.
Sylvie was one of the last advertising men with courage (the others were my uncle Bal Mundkur and Mike Khanna of JWT). One day, I went to Britannia with some creative work, and the client was rude enough to get angry and he then threw the layouts on the floor of his office. I was shattered. I went back to the office to relate the story to Sylvie who was furious. He asked his secretary Patsy to get him Julian Scott, the Chairman of Britannia on the phone. As I was leaving Sylvie’s office, I overheard Sylvie tell Julian that he wanted to resign the account because his brand manager had insulted his account executive by throwing the layouts on the floor.
They don’t make men like him any more. Theatre person, creative, writer, litterateur, he was an advertising man with a reputation. And he was respected by the best people in the business of those days, be it Simone Tata, Dr Verghese Kurien, Julian Scott and many others.
I owe my gratitude to him. For getting me ready for the world of advertising. I was proud to have emerged from daCunha Associates, an agency that even had the great Mohammed Khan before me.
Go well, Sylvie. I love you. You will always have a special place in my heart!
Prabhakar Mundkur is a veteran advertising professional, a prolific musician and an even more prolific commentator who has worked across continents. He is currently holidaying in Canada, and wrote this tribute in the wee hours of the day to a man he loves much, and he owes so much to.