Offbeat: Getting to know Josy Paul anew
Adgully’s special feature section – ‘Offbeat’ – seeks to give a peek into the lesser known facets of our very well-known industry leaders. We present, in the industry leaders’ own words, an interesting read on areas that are not usually highlighted in regular media coverage – be it about their childhood days, secret skills that they possess, how they unwind from their hectic schedules, and much more.
Everyone knows Josy Paul – the Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of BBDO India, and much awarded creative think tank. Paul is ranked among the 10 most influential people in Indian advertising, according to the nationwide survey conducted by The Economic Times.
Paul started BBDO India from the backseat of his car in 2008. Paul and his partner Ajai Jhala pioneered the idea of brand movements with the belief that India needs more ‘acts not ads’. This led to highly recognised work like Gillette ‘Women Against Lazy Stubble’ and Aviva ‘Great Wall of education’ and Quaker ‘Mission To Make India Heart Healthy’.
Before starting BBDO India, Paul was the National Creative Director of JWT. Before which, in 2000, he set up an agency called ‘David’ in India (as part of Ogilvy and WPP.)
But few know about his quirks (he has a permanent tremor, which he believes is because he was born during an earthquake), the explorer in him, that he is an amateur ventriloquist. Read on to get to known new aspects of Josy Paul…
A precious childhood trait you still possess?
I have a tremor. I’ve always had a tremor, that’s the only thing I had. The only permanent possession I have that also has a sense of importance. That’s a physical trait. The other trait is exploration. I always was an explorer. I wandered away from home when I was six and had people look for me. I was always this guy who wanted to find out what all was out there. I still have that habit and I still do it.
What is your biggest fear and how do you face it?
Yeah, that’s a big question. How do you answer that? Because when you think about it, when you have fear, you think about relationships and you think about parents and you think about death. It is things like family that are a part of you, your blood, that’s what I’m afraid of. I’ve never faced it yet, so I don’t know, but I always fear, it is the only thing I fear. It’s the same childhood fear when you wake up and say ‘where’re my parents?’ It is a really bad feeling.
A skill that others don’t know you possess?
There is a bit of ventriloquism, where I can make a voice and people in the room don’t know where it’s coming from. I’ve often done that in school and sometimes during meetings! It is a peculiar voice that comes from deep inside me, which I trained myself by reading books when I was in college and school. I had read about it in books by Enid Blyton and Alfred Hitchcock, which made me think that I, too, must also learn how to throw my voice.
I’m not an expert at it, but sometimes people do get fooled; one of my teachers in school used to take away transistors from all the kids because I would make the sound of cricket commentary and no one knew where it was coming from. So, everyone’s transistors that were in their bags or on their benches would be confiscated!
Client meetings and boardroom meetings are not a voice circle, there I have thrown layouts in the air in disgust and walked out, so that’s a different kind of throwing. It is not a throw of voice, but a throw of something else.
What can one find on your playlist?
I’m married to a singer so I’m influenced a lot by her sort of music, but I grew up on soft rock and hard rock and heavy metal and what’s consistent is that there’s a song I play every morning, which is a Pink Floyd song called ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. It has a lovely opening, the first three minutes you feel like it could be of any genre and then of course, it goes into beautiful words. For me, it’s not the words but where the song comes from, because it belongs to a person in the group who vanished. For me, songs with meaning or music with meaning is most important.
What is your go-to activity to relax?
I look forward to the rains. My entire annual purpose is waiting for the rains and when the rains come I’m super thrilled. I can walk into the rain, I can walk into the floods, it doesn’t deter me at all because I’m not worried about getting wet – shoes and all of that. It’s just a total embrace. Wherever I’ve stayed, I’ve always had a small terrace. The sky belongs to me and I wait for the rains and the rains belong to me. And a little of what I drink is always rainwater, so it’s like God is my bartender!
Trekking is another activity that I love. I like to be amid nature anytime. That’s why my wife and I connect so much because musicians are usually nature freaks, who isn’t?
Another thing that I do is connecting with my teachers, and I do a lot to connect with my alma mater and my teachers. Every Saturday I make it a point to meet someone from my college life at Xaviers, the same college where Ashish Bhasin and Ajay Chawla also studied. Coming Saturday, I will get the chance to meet a lot of old hands at the 150-year celebrations of the college.
Otherwise, I also spend my Saturdays mentoring young kids from the church. Sundays are spent essentially connecting with my parents and family.
What is the greatest lesson that you have learnt from life till now?
It is difficult to say, but there are two moments that I will never forget. One is when I had joined Lintas – Kersy Katrak and Alyque Padamsee invited my partner and me to be a part of Lintas. I was 26 years old then and they were making me a creative director. Kersy then had said something that I’ll never forget, ‘I give you the freedom to fail for me’. I had never heard that from anyone before and hearing it from this man just changed my life. You see, my parents were very strict; I stood first in school because my Dad was this dominant guy who used to check my homework every day (I don’t do the same with my son). With what Kersy told me, I learnt two things – there is no protection and there are no boundaries.
The second learning was when I joined Xaviers. As I was entering the college, all of 13 and a half years of age, I saw a bunch of students carrying out a protest. They were guys running around the roof and chucking pieces of paper. I picked up on such paper and found out that it was a protest for representation in the management committee. I’d never heard of these things, I didn’t know what a protest was. When I saw that I realised that there is a counterpoint to everything and that you can challenge a point. From that day onwards, I don’t accept a problem anymore. I questioned everything from that point onwards.
Could you tell us a social cause that you are passionate about?
There is no particular cause, but I’m all for the underdog. That is why I started an agency called David, because when I see any form of oppression, any sort of authority that affects people who are not able to speak out, then I get impacted and I start doing things. It is reflected in my work as well. When I see any sort of oppression or any type of authority trying to control people in a way that is artificial or meant to benefit a chosen few, then I tend to fight.
What is the one thing you would like to change about yourself?
I think I’m a procrastinator, because I dream too much and waste my time enjoying the dreaming, and that’s where all my fights happen with clients, at home, everywhere.
If not the Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of BBDO India, what would you have been?
I would help people fight the authority. I’d help people find their own unique voice and show them you never have to do it and regret it.
What are the three apps on your phone that you can’t do without?
Oh, I don’t have any apps on my phone. What is an app?
What is the most recent show that you watched on TV?
I haven’t watched TV for a very long time, except the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018.
What are the two organisations outside BBDO where you know a lot of people?
That’s easy – Ogilvy and P&G straightaway without even thinking.
What are the two things about this industry that you don’t like and want to change?
It wouldn’t be fair for me to say some things, but I feel there is a lot of wasted time, intellectually speaking, there is too much talk. There is so much discussion that you don’t kick the ball. It’s like the ball is at the centre, the spectators are waiting and the people are drawing charts on the ground. Their hands are still moving, but you’ve got to use your feet. That’s where I feel the sluggishness.
The good thing is that there are so many ideas out there. I see eager young people and I can feel everyone’s energy, and I can see the good things and that’s what’s exciting. You can see the good things happening and the positive energy all around you.
Where else would you like to live if you had a choice?
I have been invited to live in the US, the West Coast, to be precise. But I don’t feel the urge. I think there is a purpose for your staying around, and mine is not over yet. There is a sense of unfinished business, so when there’s something unfinished in the soil that you belong to, you just can’t go away. Everything is very organic for me – the Earth and the sky and the rain are all connected for me. I feel it is difficult to explain so I go with that.
This funny thing happened two days ago, I reached home at around 11.30-11.45 pm listening to Rajesh Khanna’s songs, God knows after how many years. My wife asked me what was wrong as I hadn’t played those songs in a long time. I had no answer to that, but just felt like listening to those songs. Just for curiosity’s sake I Googled the day Rajesh Khanna died and it was that very day. It was like an intuition. I didn’t know Rajesh Khanna well, but that song was a part of my life, even about myself in a sense.
I’ve never planned anything in my life, ever. I keep talking about being like water, because when I was growing up there was a Christian song that went like ‘Be like the rock’ and I said yeah, you got to be like the rock, but I didn’t feel like a rock. The more I started watching water and started seeing the fluidity of things, I said to myself “hey, maybe there’s another way” and Xaviers helped me. There they said, “There is another way”. There is a counterpoint to everything. Everything is so connected and beautiful and I think we are all blessed in that sense.