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It was 1991 and the company I was consulting with was about to launch India’s first branded baby diaper named ‘Snuggy’. The team had planned an innovative relationship marketing approach for the launch with the formation of ‘Snuggy Clubs’ across India’s metro cities with young celebrity mothers heading them.
Just over a week before launch, a team member had a brilliant idea – how about an anthem for the club? Bharat Dabholkar’s ad agency came up with a superb lyric and I was looking for a composer. I spread the word far and wide and received the quickest response from the company’s southern regional manager. He said he knew a young boy who was “a real whiz kid who makes tunes on a computer.”
I was due to travel to Chennai for some other stuff the next day and on the evening before, faxed the lyrics to the regional manager. In Chennai, after my morning appointment, the regional manager and I drove off to a pokey little studio in the city – Choolaimedu, I think it was.
That’s where I shook hands with this smiling, cherubic young man who had the lyric sheet in his other hand. “I am Rahman,” he said. Pleasantries over, he put on his headsets and proceeded to run his magical fingers on the keyboards in front of a PC screen producing several phrases of a tune.
Three young women stood ready by the mikes. They were Singapore Airlines flight attendants who moonlighted as jingle singers, I was told later. Obviously, he seemed to have had a composition in mind and even probably had a few takes with the crooners before our arrival.
I was told that the young man was a dab hand at ad jingles and had produced several memorable ones before then and was on his way to bigger things. “Mani Ratnam has approached him for this forthcoming movie Roja,” the regional manager whispered into my ear as the group readied its act.
“Here we go, Sir… I’ve loosely based it on We are the world,” he said. We nodded for him to go ahead.
On his cue, the young women began, “Snug and cosy … yes that’s the way …” Two takes later, with a minor change upon our suggestion, he put it on a couple of cassette tapes and handed them back to me.
The tune was so good, we hummed it for a bit during the drive back to the airport, with the regional manager telling me what a big deal this young boy was set to become…
Over the next few months we launched the clubs in Chennai and Bangalore, with Chennai’s club president being Suhasini Maniratnam and Bangalore’s Ujjala Padukone. I do remember little Deepika Padukone in pigtails accompanying her mother to the launch.
And yes, I remember with some embarrassment, signing off on a payment of a princely Rs 1500 for someone who is today nothing short of a great musical genius.