“The Ocean teaches you to let go of your ego”

Ad man, scuba diver, restaurateur, the man who dons multiple hats and then some more, Prahlad Kakkar, shares the lessons he has learnt by pursuing several of his passions in parallel.

The ‘Live Your Passion’ Series

Over the last five years, at The Smart CEO, we’ve interviewed over 3500 entrepreneurs, CXOs and investors from many different sectors, across India. We’ve always maintained our positioning as a platform for knowledge sharing by leaders and most of our stories have revolved around ‘why, how and in what context’ leaders make key decisions in their professional lives. While chit-chatting with several of our interviewees, we got to know about what some of these leaders did outside of work. We’ve met a promoter of a family business who was a remarkably talented chess player, an entrepreneur who lead a rock band as a lead guitarist, an advertising industry leader who was a scuba diving coach, and so on.

The Live Your Passion series was born out of a conversation with one such multi-talented business leader. We realized that people who excel at the workplace often bring the same passion, energy and hard work to whatever they do. In this series of articles, presented to you by Swiss luxury watch maker, Frederique Constant, we bring to the fore how these high-achievers pursue their hobbies with the same sort of commitment.

In this edition we feature the story of celebrated ad man, Prahlad Kakkar.

I have learnt that if you are passionate about anything, you don’t just do it because it’s a job. You own every part of it. You are learning all the time and your learning never stops.

“Hi, I am Sanjana, got another Pepsi?” – remember these famous words that put Aishwarya Rai on the limelight?  This story is about the man behind this ad – Prahlad Kakkar.

Known for his outspoken nature, Kakkar runs Genesis Film Productions (Genesis), set up thirty years back, with ad film making, (hold your breath) a kitchen and scuba diving as its key verticals. “The office was actually a training ground for a lot of youngsters to choose what they wanted to do in the future without having to do a job-job for a living. People could shift from one discipline to another, or stay with all,” says he.

An avid Scuba Diver, Kakkar started Scuba Diving in 1990 at the age of 40. After three of years of diving, he decided to set up the first scuba diving school in India to share the experiences with other Indian children.  “We set up a school, Lacadives, in Lakshadweep in 1995 and my children grew up on the island and that was the best education I could give them,” recalls he. The school has so far trained over 15,000 Indians.

Kakkar has no profession, or so he claims. Everything he does is out of passion and he can do 3 to 4 things at the same time as long as he is satisfied with it. So, isn’t film making and advertising your profession, I ask him. “It’s not,” says he quickly. “When I got into advertising, it was a challenge and I liked it. It became more a passion than a profession and I managed to do well at it.” There is always some learning in everything that he is involved in.  “I learnt nothing in school or college. My entire education began after I started working.” He learnt human behaviour, weaknesses, the vanity of human wishes, aspirations, etc. from the world of advertising. “I had to learn about what they dreamt about, what they spoke, what we aspired for because advertising is all about a dream for tomorrow,” recalls he.

In this interview, Kakkar shares with us anecdotes, experiences and learnings he’s picked up over the last three decades.

(As narrated in first person)

What did Scuba diving teach you?

I believe the ocean is the biggest teacher in the world. When you immerse yourself in the ocean, you have to overcome the fear you feel towards it. The ocean represents enormous force and a tremendous depth of which you don’t know anything about. You have to face both – the fear which is the unknown and the force much stronger than you are. And hence, you learn to let go of your ego, which is the biggest learning of all. In every Hindu Shashtra, first thing that we are told is that as long as you have ego, you will not learn anything.  You open your mind and say I don’t know. If you give yourself to the ocean and become one with it, you learn to give up your ego and preconceptions about what you are, who you are and how great you are.

If you make a student learn by rote, they don’t learn anything. You remember two plus two is equal to four. In life two and two is not 4. If you are special, for you, 2 plus 2 is 22 or more.

From then to now… During my early days of diving, I  used to be in the ocean 10 days every month. Of course, now it’s not as much. Every time you dive you have butterflies in your stomach as it’s a brand new experience each time. You cannot say I have done over 2000 dives and am bored. We follow a motto in our diving school, it says that when you dive into the ocean, become a part of the ocean and give up your ego.   

Any special memory from diving
You remember lots of things…We teach so many students and change their lives. What’s special is that whenever we taught someone new and introduced them to the ocean in the right way, we could see the change come over them. We knew that we are responsible for that change and it’s a great feeling.

The experience of founding Prahlad Kakkar School of Branding and Entrepreneurship

We started The Prahlad Kakkar School of Branding and Entrepreneurship one year back and have 32 students. Only entrance they had to go through is a psychometric test to figure out if they were risk takers and whether they could solve problems out of the box.

PKSBE is led by Pratish Nair, as MD & co-founder, and we’ve a couple of courses now. The first one is a one-year program in ad film making and branding and the second is a 2-year fellowship program in business and entrepreneurship. The school has a wonderful network of academic mentors and industry partners to bring in practical experience into the curriculum. The academics of the program is dovetailed with a series of outdoor activities, that brings in a new flavour to the whole experience. 

Lessons from the kitchen!

I believe cooking is a highly creative activity and is very close to film making. It is all about mixing and matching recipes and creating a new dish. You have to understand how vegetables and meat react to heat and that is really the heart of cooking. How much temperature do you subject them to? Do you control flame or the pan? When chefs come to work in the restaurant, I ask them to make me a special soufflé omelette (raw in the centre and cooked outside). To make a soufflé omelette you have to control the pan on the flame. The flame is constant. You keep lifting the pan off the flame, so that you can turn the omelette while it is still running. Any chef who can make this perfectly has got it. It is a question of craft and instinct.

Role as an ad film maker

Ad film making is a huge challenge. Every time you make a film, you have to reinvent yourself. It has taught me the business of commitment and the business of not compromising your vision. When you read a script as a film maker, you can close your eyes and visualise what you want to do with it. I will  need a team of 30 to 40 people to execute different things and each one is working to add some value of their own. As long as the value they add is within the pursuit of your vision, it is fine.

Advertising is the promise of tomorrow. Every person in the world is hoping that they will have a better tomorrow. Advertisements give you the hope that tomorrow will be a better day and I will be a better person. If you are not a dreamer by nature, you cannot be a creative advertising person. The value that an advertising professional adds to an idea or even a script or concept, is enormous.   

Future plans for Prahlad Kakkar

Passion is not about commerce. If you create value, money follows. If you try to create money, you may end up losing your passion.   

And hence, it is hard for me to choose one over the other – film making & design, scuba diving and a kitchen. I am equally committed to all three. We are planning to set up a resort in Andaman and Nicobar Island to support diving so that we can move our diving school from Lakshadweep to Andaman. This is to support diving so that we can provide accommodation to our guests which is not there currently.  We have started work on the resort and it should be ready by December.

I am also trying to build a boat and live on it.  My boat is a dream. Like all dreams, if you work towards it, it will become possible. 

That was one helluva conversation. And at the end of it, I am willing to nudge myself to try Scuba diving for starters;  But, I don’t think I can make that soufflé omelette!

Quick Facts:

Name: Prahlad Kakkar

Company: Genesis Film Production

Interests: Ad film making, Scuba Diving, running a kitchen.

Scuba Diving School: Lacadives

Branding and entrepreneurship school: The Prahlad Kakkar School of Branding and Entrepreneurship

Other posts: Co-founder of ReefWatch Marine Conservation and Trustee of Natura Outdoor Education Trust

Started diving: at the age of 40 

Best Diving Location: Lacadives. Even after being there for more than 17 years, we have not explored every part of the island.

Poornima Kavlekar has been associated with The Smart CEO since the time of launch and is the Consulting Editor of the magazine. She has been writing for almost 20 years on a cross section of topics including stocks and personal finance and now, on entrepreneurship and growth enterprises. She is a trained Yoga Teacher, an avid endurance Cyclist and a Veena player.

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