JUST AS LARGE PARTS OF HUMANITY organise their lives around the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, men and women in the Indian advertising business are guided by their own celestial events: Cannes Lions, The One Show, The CLIO Awards, the Design and Art Direction Awards, and, closer to home, Goafest. These are advertising’s most anticipated award ceremonies, at which creatives—the people who dream up advertisements—compete for career-defining recognition; to have a winning campaign at one of these shows is not only to have your ingenuity recognised, but also to raise yourself, and your advertising agency, above the fray.
The domestic festival, Goafest, gives Indian creatives their greatest chance at leaving with metal. There are fewer competing agencies and fewer campaigns, and the awards are not fought over by the world’s brightest advertising minds, but merely by this region’s. Still, the competition can be formidable, and repeated failure can leave a man sour. During an awards show at a suburban Mumbai hotel some years ago, I watched an art director on an impressive losing streak drown his sorrows at the bar, and then stand by the side of the dance floor, shaking his fist at the winners.
At this year’s Goafest, held in early April at a resort on the state’s southern coast, all the talk was about one man. “I’ve heard Bobby Pawar is here,” an executive from Carat, a media agency, said at his breakfast table. Behind him, the grounds of the Zuri White Sands hotel were splattered with logos and promotions for Disney, UTV and Colors—the industry’s advertisers were being advertised to. “Someone told me he was here,” a creative director said conspiratorially between bites of his breakfast. “I heard from someone that he’s attending the festival,” a third man added. The executive shrugged. “We might have heard it from the same person,” he said. Then he glanced over my shoulder to the top of a staircase that descended into the dining area, and quickly lowered his gaze. “He’s here.” The talk of the advertising industry for the previous few weeks was sauntering down the stairs to the buffet. He walked a vacation walk in vacation clothes—ironed blue shorts, a ruffled blue shirt, glistening blue loafers—and didn’t acknowledge the stares.