Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The irrepressible charm of a legendary Pied Piper

Published in May-Jun 2014

A review of ‘Meet Our Friend JJ: An Anthology About Javed Jabbar.’

It would be hard to find an advertising practitioner, a policy maker, a career diplomat, a social worker or a publisher in Pakistan who has been active for the past four decades and who has not heard of or interacted with Javed Jabbar. Such is the breadth of his career and initiatives.

For many people who started their careers long after the glory of MNJ had faded or the creation of Baanh Beli was feted, Javed Jabbar – or JJ as he is called – is a legend.

A name heard with reverence, yet with a vague sense of why.

Meet Our Friend JJ: An Anthology About Javed Jabbar does a good job of telling such an audience exactly why.

This Anthology was compiled and edited by Abid Rizvi, described in the publisher’s note as ‘an eminent broadcaster’ who is well known in the literary and cultural circles of Baluchistan. Rizvi’s decision to take on this project stems from many factors as spelt out in the preface.

He tells the reader in detail why he chose the subject, and how he went about making the project come to life. Rizvi speaks of his long association with JJ and of how their decades long friendship has been a source of joy, inspiration and admiration.

He wanted JJ’s many contributions and achievements to be recorded for people who do not know the man. However, soon after deciding to write a tribute to his friend, he realised that “to write about JJ, I needed another JJ” – that it would not do justice to give his one dimensional view on the subject.

It was this realisation that led Rizvi to contact family, friends, colleagues and peers to elicit their views on his subject. The Anthology, published by Paramount, has 68 contributions, some of them translated from Sindhi and Urdu and together they give rich, varied and multicultural perspectives of JJ’s strengths, passions and achievements. Understandably, nostalgia is a key feeling coursing through this collection. Every piece takes the reader to the contributor’s universe for a reason. To get a sense of JJ’s impact on that individual’s life, personal or professional, or in many instances – the lives of a community. For me, every contribution was a trip down memory lane and through the stories of ideas developed, movies watched, battles fought, friendships forged, songs sung, thoughts provoked, laughter shared and guidance given – the Anthology gives a vivid picture of JJ’s multifaceted life.

'In the 3,650 or more days I spent at MNJ, I never stopped learning. And Javed Jabbar never hesitated to teach.” – Zohra Yusuf, ECD, SpectrumY&R

An interest in advertising and communication let me gravitate towards those contributors who spoke about JJ’s work in the business. The contributing list reads like a who’s who from the world of communication, which is not surprising. One has to bear in mind that in that world MNJ was the shining star of the 70s and 80s, the magnet that attracted both novices and seasoned practitioners and the crème de la crème of the clients out there. As Rehana Rashid, a former colleague at MNJ and a mentee of JJ puts it, “The name of Javed Jabbar had to be cited while talking about mass communication, advertising commercials and their production.”

And the reason for this, as put by Mariam Ali Baig is simple, “JJ was the first creative to head an agency… the first ad man in Pakistan to go with the notion that if you get the creative right, clients will follow.”

The focus on a good creative product clearly worked because EBM, Igloo, Lawrencepur, National Bank and Rafhan were some of the brands which appointed MNJ on the basis of the agency’s creative output.

Shahnoor Ahmed speaks of JJ and MNJ’s trailblazing work with bemusement when he writes, “While working in competitive agencies, I did not know whether to hate JJ or to love him, as much of our work in those days was returned with comments like: ‘make it more creative, like JJ does for his clients’.”

It is through another contribution that readers discover that campaigns now considered iconic – ‘A woman will always be Lyla’, ‘The Peek Freans Pied Piper’, ‘Gold Leaf – for the taste alone’ or ‘Men demand Capstan the world over’ were created by the man himself.

As Rehana Rashid, puts it, “All of these commercials had his signature style, though they were produced for the needs of the companies marketing these products.”

Any creative reading this will know what an achievement it is to be true to one’s creative spirit while staying true to the client’s brief!

The book is also eloquent about the exceptional mentoring qualities possessed by JJ. What stellar endorsements from industry stalwarts, like Shahnoor Ahmed, CEO, Spectrum Y&R; Azra Babar, eminent playwright; Mariam Ali Baig, Editor, Aurora and Zohra Yusuf, Executive Creative Director, Spectrum Y&R. The list also includes members of the fraternity such as Ruby Haider, CEO, IAL Saatchi & Saatchi; Masood Hashmi, CEO, Orientm McCann and S.M. Shahid, former CEO, Oscar Advertising.

On the mentoring, Shahnoor Ahmed writes, “I felt the two years spent at MNJ defined my future course and working with JJ opened my mind and gave me the confidence to venture out on my own.”

Zohra Yusuf adds, “In the 3,650 or more days I spent at MNJ, I never stopped learning. And Javed Jabbar never hesitated to teach.”

Mariam Ali Baig speaks of how interacting with JJ helped hone her skills in copywriting, writing that “I could easily have landed in an agency where copywriting was indeed about passing the time of day writing catchy slogans supplemented by body copy that was both vacuous and fatuous.”

Masood Hashmi speaks of his fascination with JJ’s aura and how he even took up cigar smoking to be like him!

Page after page, JJ’s skill in crafting raw talent and his ability to inspire individuals shines through. What also comes to life is the man’s energy, enthusiasm and joie de vivre. It is so easy to see how this man’s vision came to define advertising and communication for over a decade in Pakistan.

Reading this book while living in a Pakistan which has not hosted a single global event worth its salt in recent times, the fact that JJ brought the world to Pakistan and took Pakistan to the world, seems almost surreal. One could sense the adrenalin rush bought to the industry when JJ got the First Advertising Congress of Pakistan off the ground in 1979.

He also led the Pakistani delegations to the 12th and 13th AdAsia Congress in Singapore and Delhi. And most importantly, he led the delegation that successfully pitched to host the 16th AdAsia Congress in Lahore which remains the only international advertising event to be held in Pakistan to date. On this subject, S.M. Shahid writes about the joy of representing Pakistan’s advertising industry in that forum and of taking Maharaj Kathak, Allan Faqir and Nighat Chaudhry to showcase Pakistan’s rich culture. He also writes about JJ’s articulate presentation in the bidding session where Pakistan was competing with Australia and won the pitch.

Going through all the contributions made by the advertising fraternity, the joy of being a part of this festival is palpable and one can only imagine the energy that would have coursed through the industry upon hosting an event of this scale. And it has to be said, I felt just a twinge of envy for missing out on the biggest party thrown by Pakistan’s ad men and women for practitioners around the world.

On another note, it is through this book that I discovered a very interesting bit of cine trivia. That the famous shaadi song that was all the rage in the 80s, ‘Hari hari mehendi kay neechay surkh gulaab’ is part of the sound track from the movie JJ wrote, directed and produced. In fact, Beyond The Last Mountain remains the only English language feature film Pakistan has made to date. This nugget took me back to the time when the title of the movie was chalked out across the Pahar Gunj (the rocky hill ranges that I used to see across North Nazimabad) in bold white. What a striking idea it was. And the talkability it generated was phenomenal. This at a time when ambient advertising wasn’t even part of the lexicon.

But I’m guilty of digression here – this is one of the pitfalls of going down memory lane.

So I will conclude.

While Meet Our Friend JJ may not go down in the annals of Pakistan’s literary history as the most crisply edited anthology, the book must be commended for being a heartfelt, unaffected and genuine tribute to – and I will paraphrase one of the slogans JJ coined – a legend who truly led where the rest followed.

Meet Our Friend JJ – An Anthology About Javed Jabbar

Compiler and Editor: Syed Abid Rizvi

Paramount Books

368pp. PKR 995

Available at Paramount Books

Farahnaz Haider Shaikh was ECD at a multinational ad agency and is currently GM Marketing, ZIL Limited.