Let Me Hijack Your Mind by the late Alyque Padamsee takes one backstage into the highly progressive ideas propounded by India’s revered ‘God of advertising and theatre.’ From Proposing five-year contracts for marraiges to cultivating ‘gross domestic happiness’ in the office environment, HELLO! presents an intimate insight into this man’s brilliant, subversive ideas, in conversation with daughter Raëll Padamsee..
HELLO!: Your father foresaw that the stage is being taken over by women. Tell us how he ‘hijacked’ your mind as a young lady and advocated total independence.
Raëll Padamsee: From a very young age, my father insisted that I be economically independent. He sent me to Davar’s typing school at 12, where I was often in tears, sitting among women far older, looking absolutely ridiculous! At 16, I was made to do a part-time job at Western Outdoor Advertising. Straight from my half-day at college — where he insisted I pursue a commerce degree though my heart was in arts — I went straight to work, learnt the ropes and stayed there for five years. Imagine, all my friends were at St. Xaviers, enjoying their artistic freedom in college, and I was taking exams in accounts! At 18, he bought me a car and insisted I be independent.
After I finished my B.Com, he wanted me to get an MBA in America, and this was in the 80s! At that time, most families were getting their daughters married. In fact, he insisted I not get married till 30 and be financially independent first. So I started my business at 22 and found that I was able to employ so many and impact young lives in this unusual space of theatre education and the arts. Today, at Ace Productions, we have quite a robust setup that survived even the pandemic. I built a company in a completely non-mainstream space and kept a love for theatre alive in a multi-content universe. And I have to thank my father for his foresight. It helped give wings to my actual passion.
H!: The institution of marriage seems to have been episodic for Alyque, given his three marriages — to Pearl Padamsee, Dolly Thakore and Sharon Prabhakar. Yet, all family occasions involve all members of his extended ‘joint’ family! In this book, he propounds that all marriages be on a time-bound, five-year contract. Your views?
RP: The idea of a renewable licence for marriage is something worth looking into. Initially, I thought it was quite radical. When I concentrated on it, I figured that what we consistently analyse, whether it’s relationships or business dealings, we are always making better. I think the marriage licence is tremendously important because it gives you that opportunity to actually work at it, with equal effort from both sides. The renewal of a marriage licence just makes it that much more time- bound, in that, ‘I better get up and do something by this date, or I’ll have to face the consequences.’ Just like in a business venture if things are going downhill, you increase the capital, work on what’s missing and get it up and running. As with marriage, everything takes work, energy and passion. And if you approach it logically, you won’t need an episodic married life. You will constantly grow what you already have!
H!: Did your father have a take on ‘cougar relationships’, which, with empowered ladies, is becoming a common phenomenon?
RP: Just to term them ‘cougar relationships’ gives it a negative connotation. All combinations of relationships are being far more accepted these days, especially since Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas paved the way! Dad was definitely for all kinds of freedoms of expression. He would have celebrated an equation like this featuring empowered women!
H!: Alyque said if men can’t behave themselves in nudist colonies and not go around raping women, why do we blame women’s sense of dress for sexual harrassment? He suggested they be ‘quarantined’ if they can’t keep from harassing women and even carried out a sting operation with cops to capture and stall female harassment in crowded public spaces...
RP: Yes, he was so against any kind of injustice towards women in terms of sexual harassment, violence, dowry... He addressed them all in the public service films he made. These were screened at all major theatres across the country. His sting operations with the Mumbai Police certainly got the message across that it’s not at all acceptable to harass women. Every day, we read that somebody at the railway station is caught, taken to the cops and jailed for three years. Such behaviour has to be curtailed.
H!: What’s your biggest takeaway from this book, and how do you wish to get the ideas in it heard across more platforms?
RP: My favourite chapter has to be the Art of Giving Back. My father felt we are all bonus babies and have a duty to give back to those less fortunate. I started the Create Foundation in memory of my parents. We work with children from marginalised backgrounds. It’s just a wonderful space where we engage with them and use theatre and the creative arts to give them a holistic understanding of life, give them life skills, communication skills, nurture their creativity and, most importantly, build their confidence so they can aspire for well-placed careers.
H!: Your father liked ideas to be implemented, not just discussed...
RP: Yes, and to get ideas from this book up and running, we are organising a series of corporate workshops, titled, ‘Smart Alyque’s Tips, Tricks and Tools for A Hijacked Life!’ We are working to take these workshops to colleges across the country, to make sure that these ideas are at least aired out. No one says you have to follow them to a tee, but to be able to think differently, question what you are doing and know that you have the power to change things... If we achieve that, my father would be tremendously happy!
H!: Alyque revolutionised life at Lintas, when he chose to start the week with a breakfast party where everyone talked about their weekend! He believed pushing for ‘Gross Domestic Happiness’ improved business turnovers — and he was 100 percent correct! What memories do you have of him following this principle in theatre?
RP: Absolutely. Though he was a task-master and we rehearsed endlessly, he was also a great people’s person. All his actors became like family. There were constant cast parties after rehearsals and shows, where everyone bonded. Similarly, all birthdays and special occasions in the family were celebrated with full attendance of all of his wives and all their kids, always with great gusto!
H!: Do you feel women in India have come to terms with their own power across cities and villages?
RP: Yes, economic empowerment has managed to make a dent somewhere, where the family structure understands the value of a woman. But I’m sad to say this: everything is judged in terms of how much you are worth to that particular relationship or situation. For decades, the girl child was (and still is) aborted or put to death because the parents didn’t want to be burdened with the idea of dowry. But the indisputable fact is that women have proved themselves; they now have earning power and are brilliant in many arenas.
We see female toppers across universities. In villages, there areso many female sarpanches. Women are also coming back to the workforce after marriage and motherhood because organisations are making it that much easier for them to do so. When a woman values herself more, the world has no choice but to place a higher value on her, as well. She’s better able to stand up and say, ‘This is as much as I can take, and no more.’ This is not just a shift in India, but the world over.
This is an excerpt from an interview that was originally published in Hello! India’s October 2022 issue. To read the full interview, get your hands on the latest issue right here!
Main Image Courtesy: Raell Padamsee/Ace Productions