He is equal parts suave and equal parts brash. So, here’s Shailendra Singh’s story, straight from the heart, and in his own words
"I am Moody. I am Psycho. I am a Creative Genius”
“My life is like a dream Bollywood script. My dad was a sugar technologist, a professional who used to work for someone. I wasn’t extraordinarily intelligent academically. I failed in Marathi in the fourth standard, so I had to repeat a year, which was a terrible trauma. But, when I left school, I was the prefect, monitor, school captain, house captain, and cricket captain. I was born in Kanpur and travelled with my father to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka. A crazy incident that took place in the Karnataka-Maharashtra border riots in the early ’80s got us here. My father was caught in it and we had to run away from Belgaum to Mumbai at night in a truck because his head office was here. We stayed in room 101 of Astoria Hotel in Churchgate for two years. When I came to Bombay, I was a nervous kid who never thought he would see city life. My father put me in situations because of which I learnt two qualities. Firstly, I’m an opportunist. Show me anything, I’ll come up with an idea for it. That’s what I’ve done with my life. Secondly, I have an open mind and good reflexes. I’m very quick—before you can say jack, I’ve done it.
“I never thought I’ll be in business. I’m not a correct businessman or professional kind of guy. I’m moody. I’m like a psycho. I don’t belong in this corporate world, to be honest. But, I’ve been here for 27 years. I did all the biggest campaigns in this country. But, I never got put into a box like Prasoon Joshi, Piyush Pandey or Alyque Padamsee. I’ve done equal or more campaigns than them, I’ve won enough awards, I’m still making money, I’ve got four advertising agencies. but I’m not one of them. Because, I’m an all-rounder. I’m not a specialist; they do only that.
“On hindsight, I enjoy the fact that I’ve done so much shit. But, the flipside is that I’m sitting with you here and you would rather feature Siddhartha Mallya, Yash Birla or Gautam Singhania in your magazine. They are all friends of mine. But, they have so much money and exposure. They have the capacity to do so much more and different. Will Anil Ambani’s kids do the same thing? I read about them in your magazine. And, I wonder what the fuck this is. What do you want me to get inspired by?”
“I just got to know that even people like Prasoon Joshi have a PR agency. Here’s the game: A chef never actually eats his meals, right? I’ve got two in-house PR agencies. We forgot to do our own PR. I should have built my brand because we’re a pretty shallow society. I’m not politically correct. I’m reasonably rude. In India, you have to suck up. I’m not good at page 3 socialising. Even Percept as a brand, I’ve only built it in the last few years. When I started to build it, some clients started to get a little antagonised. But, you go to any event now—Avinash Bhosle’s daughter’s wedding in Pune or GVK Reddy’s granddaughter’s wedding, you will see Percept all over. They love it, they want it. It’s ‘cool’ now.
“I’m behind the longest running campaign in the advertising history of India, in my opinion—Siyaram’s ‘Coming home to Siyaram’. I did (Hero Honda’s) Desh Ki Dhadkan…Dhak Dhak Go. Toh, woh bada nahi tha kya? (So, wasn’t that big?) Why didn’t I get advertising awards? Somebody forgot. Or, I didn’t care, actually. I didn’t package it. I didn’t go to any advertising club.
“I did the Good Luck India Match at Wankhede Stadium. I got the captains to come by helicopters, which was never heard of. I had Bal Thackeray, Amitabh Bachchan, and Sachin Tendulkar all there. It was my event, my idea, but I didn’t take the microphone. I gave it to Kapil Dev. I’ve done many huge matches. If I had used those platforms to build my or Percept’s brand, it could have helped. Let’s be honest, in society, packaging is bigger than the product.
“Look at the case study of (Arvind) Kejriwal. He’s manipulated the media so beautifully. That’s how naive the media is. Kejriwal is enjoying the media, and the media is enjoying Kejriwal. Both are having a blast; it’s a win-win. There’s no substance.
“I started talent management; today all the six fucking agencies in this country are run by my ex-employees. In sports marketing, we were pioneers, dude. What more do you want me to do? Now, I’m Asia’s largest music promoter. I’m sitting in front of you and you don’t even realise it. You would go to England and bow down before Harvey Goldsmith because he’s England’s largest music promoter. ‘Oh, he’s Harvey’. I’m Shailendra Singh. Do you know what I’ve done for music in this country? I was in London two days ago. I had 30 meetings with the most powerful promoters in the world and they were giving me respect like you can’t fathom. Every agency meets me with more respect than my own people here. I don’t know what the fuck is the story in India. There’s a saying in Hindi—Ghar ki murgi, daal baraabar (roughly, no one appreciates the familiar).”
High on Life
“I’m just very excited being alive. I get damn charged for no reason actually. I love the fact that I’m breathing and that I can do these wonderful things all day. That’s it. I don’t do drugs. I am against prostitution. I don’t smoke. I don’t gamble. I don’t even have a BlackBerry. I don’t have a computer; I don’t know how to use one. Nobody knows that. I’ve never sent an email myself. Sorry, I’m sounding arrogant, but I just feel I’m a creative genius. I create ideas through thin air, all day and all night. And privately, everybody vouches for it—any Chairman of any company.
“I found Aishwarya Rai and started her career. She debuted with me. We paid her ` 5,000 each for the three commercials that she did with me. She was an extra in a Pantaloons commercial. She was tied to a pole with a gag on her face. Her second ad was Ghrit Kumari Hair Oil. She and Deepti Bhatnagar were in it together and Gautam Rajadhyaksha shot it. Go ask Ash. Any girl I took in Siyaram became an actress. Lara Dutta, Dia Mirza, Malaika Arora and Bipasha Basu also debuted with me. Vishal Bharadwaj debuted with my movie Makdee.
“Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi (produced by Percept) had 180 debuts—Mahalaxmi, the singer, Salim-Sulaiman, Vishal-Shekhar, and Longines (Longinus Fernandes), who was the choreographer for Slumdog Millionaire. Tell me another producer who has the balls (to pull off something like that). I did everything ahead of its time.
“What Lalit Modi did in the IPL, I’ve done 50 matches like that before the IPL was born. They called my cricket, Masala Cricket and that masala is IPL now. I told Mr Dalmiya, what the fuck did you do? I was doing IPL matches already—cheer girls, entertainment, short format, everything. They said they will not allow Bollywood to come close to cricket. Huh?! Now, all of Bollywood is sitting there.”
Indian at Heart
“As citizens of India, what is the one thing that we all equally own in the country? Land? Money? Power? Fame? No. Brand India. Nobody is protecting the most important thing we all own. We are the only country that does not own official merchandise. Pakistanis have merchandise saying ‘Proud to be Pakistani’. Are 1.4 billion people not proud to be Indians? What kind of idiots are we? You are a proud Indian na, do you wear it, do you consume it, do you speak it?
“I’m launching a website called ‘Made in India’—the first official website in the world to give only good news. Ours is a site where you can interact and post good news about India. Good news in tabloids is one column, bad news is fucking front page. Enough, man. They are selling fear every day to young people. Six hundred million youth are only living with bad news and scams. What optimism will they have? So, the site is to celebrate India and being Indian.
“We had Vande Mataram for 50 years. When AR Rahman made it cool, it was being played in nightclubs. Why are we singing Jana Gana Mana in a theatre? The flag is also not a cloth, it’s a fucking computer graphic. You are standing up to it. Why are you not protesting? And, why is Lata Mangeshkar singing it so slowly and boring me? Why can’t you sing it properly? You end up fucking saying in the theater, ‘Band kar yaar, baithne de’ (Stop it, let me sit). I played a rock anthem in Delhi. Let them arrest me if they want. This national anthem that you sing, it was written for the British and this is only one verse—there are five more verses. You’re singing what was fucking written for them.
“When Bombay became Mumbai, Bangalore became Bengaluru, India should have become Bharat, no? India is an English word. That’s my campaign. I want the whole of India to vote on the website, I’ll take it to the PM. I want to do it before some psycho politician does it. My second campaign is that I’m asking the Queen to give my diamonds backs. I want my Kohinoor back. I’m doing a petition of all Indians across the planet. I’ll take it to the Queen. I have access; I’ll reach all these people.
“I’m 46 now; I’m running my last quarter. I want people to remember me. Who will remember me by my Lexus, Range Rover, fucking beautiful office? If I leave behind ` 300 crore, will people remember me? Who remembers Dhirubhai Ambani? Not even his sons, I think. They fought immediately after that. You are only remembered by your deeds and I’m dying to do big deeds that make a difference to the nation. I will make Brand India and I will not let any political party come in my way. Let them show me fucking how it works. I will celebrate this country.”
“My first book, Fuck Knows, is coming out in February. It used to be ‘Gods knows’ in the 1990s–now it’s ‘fuck knows’. We know nothing about life yet we intellectualise it so much every day. We are not in control. Why did Bob Marley die at 34? Why did Lady Diana die when she finally found love? And, why are you alive? Fuck Knows is a cool, edgy book, fun to read, especially for young people. No preaching, no teaching, telling you the way it is, then telling you to do what the fuck you want. I’m not Robin Sharma, I’m not Baba Ramdev. I’m not giving you some template. I’m just telling you some fun truths.
“In September, I’m coming out with another book, Superstars I Nearly Slept With. It is about my relationship with the stars, people I know closely. Aishwarya Rai, Amitabh Bachchan, Boris Becker, Michael Douglas, Zaheer Khan, Pawan Munjal, Subrata Roy, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Kishor Biyani, Neha Dhupia, Sushmita Sen, Lara Dutta—50 celebrities that I have spent time with. It will be Society on steroids; it will be worth reading. It will have interesting insights to people, but not necessarily in a negative way. Maybe, a few things here and there could be controversial, but I’ve shown the human side of these people and written about the interesting incidents that I’ve shared with them.
“Then, there’s my third book, My Way or the Highway, for young people. It is my journey of business and how I did deals. But, there’s a subtext to it. While I ran a successful brothel with a 1,000 satisfied clients, my mother thought I was a marketing genius.”
AS TOLD TO MANALI SHAH