We are always emotionally working together: Piyush and Prasoon Pandey

Pandey brothers will soon receive the Lion of St Mark, the Cannes Lions Lifetime Achievement Award. They are the first Asians and Indians to win this award

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Updated: Dec 18, 2017 8:55 AM

Stellar storytellers at their core, the Pandey Brothers held up a mirror to the entire nation through their advertising campaigns for the last three decades. Picking up on the most delicate behavioural, cultural, and emotional nuances of the Indian consumer, Piyush (Executive Chairman and Creative Director, South Asia Ogilvy & Mather) and Prasoon Pandey (advertising film maker) re-imagined advertising for Indians.

And for their expansive body of work, they will soon receive the Lion of St Mark, the Cannes Lions Lifetime Achievement Award. They are the first Asians and Indians to win this award that has been awarded to other masters in the field like Sir John Hegarty, Dan Wieden, Lee Clow, Joe Pytka, Bob Greenberg, Marcello Serpa, and David Droga.

The brothers have always maintained that it is their family and India that have shaped their creative minds to deliver memorable campaigns. In an interview with exchange4media, the brothers spoke about their initiation into advertising, their work dynamic and more. Edited excerpts:

In your book Pandeymonium, you mention the role of your family in shaping your creativity…

Piyush: It was the culture that was created by my parents and my sisters which was all around us. So when we happened to land up in advertising all that came back. In fact the chapter (in the book) says ‘I was born in a creative factory.’ And that holds true for both of us.

If your family was a creative factory, then is India a storyteller’s factory?

Absolutely. It is an incredible factory. The heritage that we have is so deep and diverse that we have not even scratched the surface; India is a bottomless ocean. There is much more to know about our history and mythology…

Piyush: This history and mythology is useful for understanding the psyche of an Indian. History and mythology have a lot of influence even on the current psyche. It allows you to see people below the surface.

How important is it for an ad to be inherently Indian in nature?

Prasoon: I read a fabulous quote by an architect when I was in design school. He said : We live in the present only by chance. Most of the time we spend digging into the past or groping into the future. The best way to connect with people is to dig into the environment we have seen, we have grown up in, and come out from.

Had it not been for Suresh Malick and Mani Iyer would you have been in creative advertising?

Piyush: I had been on the client servicing side helping colleagues in the creative department with their copy. I was enjoying myself helping others to Indianise their work, so they said why don’t you help yourself. (Laughs)

They saw some potential in me and asked me to come into the creative side. Yes, if they had not asked me I think the course would have been different.

What made you (Prasoon) gravitate towards advertising?

Prasoon: Because of how we grew up, seeing everything that was happening at home, I was doing a lot of theatre and light and sound shows (at a professional level) even while I was in school. So I knew that I would be in the creative field, I just did not know where exactly.
I wanted to become an architect and went to CEPT, Ahmadabad, but as I entered the campus for the final interview I saw the building and thought to myself, “Holy Christ, that’s a terrible building. If these guys are going to teach me architecture, I do not want to be here!”
Then I happened to see National Institute of Design, which is an exquisite building. And I said, “Well, I want to be there.” Even when I was doing design, I did not know where I would land up eventually. Possibly because Piyush had reached advertising by the time I was in the second year of college, advertising started showing up somewhere on the horizon of possibilities. By the time I came out, I had decided that’s where I wanted to be.

Piyush: I think what he figured out was that if Piyush is working in advertising that means this business can give you a living! (Both laugh)

Did you see a spark in Prasoon early on?

Piyush: Prasoon has been a multifaceted person since his school days. He would enter his artwork into illustration competitions… The light and sound work that he mentioned was no small deal: he was working on sets that were one kilometer long in the deserts of Jaisalmer at the age of 15-16!
Like he rightly put: what in the creative world he would do he did not know, but it was very obvious that he would be in the creative world. I, on the other hand, was playing cricket! I had no clue!

Being such creative minds, have you never thought of doing art for art’s sake?

Piyush: When we have to do art, we do it at home. There is an artist and there is a commercial artist. We, commercial artists, are commissioned by someone to do a job. And at home, we can enjoy our singing at home, do theatre after work… That’s the artist in you. And that artist in you will definitely influence your work on the commercial side because it is that art that will bring the freshness.

Prasoon: What we really enjoy is that we solve a puzzle with our art. We have been called in because there is either a problem or an opportunity. It is like a jigsaw puzzle, there is a situation and we need to figure it out. That’s the exciting part.

Piyush: As artists, we can come with an idea that has no commercial value. So we need to convert that into delivering results.

Prasoon: It’s like a game, I never stop playing. Even when we are on a vacation together, we are ideating together.

Piyush: In fact, we were on a vacation in Jodhpur, the two of us were sharing a room. And in another room was our friend and client Madhukar Prarikar of Pidilite. In the morning over a cup of tea, we cracked the commercial of Fiviquik at the Wagah Border. Baithe Baithe aagaya, breakfast pe unko sunadiya aur das din mein bana diya.

What is your working dynamic like? Who breaks a tie?

Prasoon: He (Piyush) breaks the tie!

Piyush: Nothing of that kind! We work like Laurel and Hardy.

Prasoon: It is great fun. We take great pride in each other’s work and great respect for each other’s creative process. And one thing is clear: if we are discussing something, we are discussing it for the betterment of that project we are working on. We never have disagreements like that…

Piyush: And if we have disagreements, we think about it positively. Your egos can come in the way that ‘I wrote it’. But if Prasoon says a certain script is not right, I come back that evening and think about it and try and correct it. Sometimes we will try and correct it together.

Do you wish Prasoon and you would work more together?

Piyush: I want him to work more, but he doesn’t want to. But it is a blessing that he does not want to work more. Because he selects what he is doing. Therefore, he might be doing fewer films than other filmmakers but he does what he likes and that shows in his films?

Prasoon: We are always emotionally working together. As creative partners we want each other to excel in the creative project. He will always wish me for a shoot, it may be a shoot for anyone, but I will always get a call from him in the morning.

Piyush: We use each other as sounding boards.

How does being brothers and not just very good friends help in this creative process?

Prasoon: I get more time with him because he is my brother. If there is something we are working on together and I have not thought it through then I can crash at his home, wake up the next day and continue working on the project together.

Piyush: It helps otherwise also, I cannot call my friend’s mother and complain to her that the friend is not doing my film. Which I can do with my mother…

Prasoon: (Laughing) She would know that Piyush is joking, on the other hand, she would get very upset if he was looking for me and I hadn’t picked up the phone! I could be in a meeting, but she would say, “That’s alright, but answer your phone!”

And finally, when you heard that the two of you were receiving the award, what were your first thoughts?

Piyush: Elated of course, thought of our parents and wished they were here. Surprised! And Thank God he gave us the gift of doing some good work that the world has taken notice of. And thankful for the best part: recognizing us together.

Prasoon: That is the most magical part. Mom and dad would be grinning ear to ear. And because we got it together, it is more special to us.

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