The theatre actor was also good at selling advertisement space


August 12, 2013

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I boarded a train that made just four stops in 55 years.

Author: Burjor Patel Source: DNA India

Let me start today with my first destination: Jam-e-Jamshed, a Gujarati newspaper catering largely to the Parsi community. A family-owned enterprise established in 1832 and being run by the fourth generation. Two brothers ran the show. The well-known writer-director Adi Marzban was the editor and his brother Rustom (popularly known as Lulu) was in-charge of business.

getimage We were housed in an iconic red-brick building in the upmarket Ballard Estate area in a lane called Mangalore Street, which is today called Adi Marzban Marg. It was a two-storeyed structure with the press on the ground floor. We used to have play rehearsals on the first floor till an ad agency, Inter Publicity, headed by an attractive lady Nargis Wadia, moved in.

It was Adi who invited me to join as an advertisement manager in the paper. Since theatre was my passion, this was an ideal choice for me. Soon I found my feet. I reported straight to the owners. Business was largely direct. There were also small agencies and freelance canvassers working on commission.

If business had to grow, I needed to make inroads into agencies like Walter Thompson, Lintas, McCann and DJ Keymer among the international ones and Everest, Sistas, National, Stronachs among the local ones. With a circulation of just 10 thousand copies, Jam-e-Jamshed had to fight with the Times of India, the behemoth, and Loksatta, Bombay Samachar among the vernacular dailies for ads.

Earlier, no one had really exploited our unique USP, which was our access to the affluent Parsi community. The actor on stage then became an actor at client meetings selling newspaper space in place of theatre tickets. I still remember the appreciation on my boss’s face when he saw the full-page ad of Pakav Vanaspati during the Parsi New Year festival.

The management gave me a free hand. I travelled to Calcutta, my first journey by air, stayed in a five-star hotel, that too the iconic Grand Hotel, for the first time, and savoured Calcutta’s favourite food, kathi kebabs and mishti doi. I sat in a handpulled rickshaw one evening and when I reached the hotel I realised my wallet had been picked. I would never have imagined such a thing happening to me in Bombay those days.

We would invite clients over for lunch. My favourite restaurant was Volga, opposite Akbarallys. One of my clients would always order the most expensive dish, which perhaps wasn’t the tastiest! He was a kindly soul who supported me a lot. He once told me about his experience lunching with the CEO of a renowned monthly magazine. Before he could taste the soup, the CEO asked him: “How many pages have you booked for the next issue?”, adding that depending on that he would order a dessert!

The years rolled on. Along the way I made some great friends. Working at Jam-e… gave me an opportunity to pursue theatre. We did so many wonderful plays. I met my wife during the period; my first child came into this world. My grandfather was happy that his wayward grandson had finally arrived. I realise today that the values I imbibed from him truly shaped my life.

The author is a well-known stage personality