Death of the cigarette salesman

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December 7th, 2011 Namit Gupta

The first time I saw him on television, way back in the mid-1970s, he was gently rocking on a chair, blowing the smoke from the cigarette he’d just taken a drag on. The ad was Charminar, if I mistake not, or Charms, another brand from the VST stable. The man’s velvet voice, his suave, his stately demeanour and his dashing good looks made a combo lethal enough to convince even a die-hard anti-tobacco lobbyist. I know I was hooked badly enough to want to sneak out to the local paanwala’s kiosk and steal a puff or two of whatever Partap Sharma was selling on the tube. And I had barely stepped into my teens.

It was this first encounter with ‘the voice’ that made a lasting impact on me. Over the next year or two, the family would huddle up before an old black & white JK television set to watch him anchor What’s the Good Word, a popular programme on the box those days. He had a number of famous contemporaries such as Bikram Vohra, Gautam Vohra, Fredun de Vitre, AFS Talyerkhan, all of whom were big names in the English language segment of the broadcasting industry during the 1970s. Each one of them was a stalwart in his own right, but just like we have our favourite actor or singer, i had my favourite TV star… Pat Sharma, the man who bummed cigarettes from my late father during their days at St Xaviers College, Mumbai. (For a long time I felt my dad was just name-dropping and it took another one of his college mates to confirm to me the veracity of his claims. But that’s another story).

Fast-forward to the age of colour television, post the 1982 Asian Games. Suddenly, New Delhi began dictating what people in the rest of the country would watch. So out went Pat Sharma, Dolly Thakore and the rest of the ‘Bombay’ gang as the city was then known. Our daily fare of news and entertainment was dominated by long-faced, droopy newsreaders and boring soaps like Hum Log. Partap Sharma all but faded into oblivion and only very occasionally made a call to my grey cells.

Then, in the early 2000s, I remembered him again, and was hoping to rope him in for a musical event the PR company i was working with had conceived on wind instruments. Who better than Pratap Sharma to anchor the show. I had learnt then that the compulsive smoker in him had lost his famous voice, but that he had bounced back following extensive therapy and was in business again. I tried asking my dad to network him for me, but my old man had already become too much of a recluse then, due to failing health. I pushed plenty of buttons to try and rope in my childhood hero, but all plans fell through when my PR company abandoned the project altogether.

Now, almost eight years since, I learn that Pat Sharma has quietly slipped out of life, not half as much as celebrated in death as he ought to have been. Of the three deaths that took place in the past week or so — Dev Anand and Socrates being the other two — his was the most low profile. None, I repeat none, of my colleagues at work knew who he was…even after the newspapers carried reports of his passing away. Sad. Pat Sharma, I will always remember you… for the Charminar cigarettes, for the Halo Shampoo ad of the 1970s in which your voice did more magic than the beautiful woman featured in it, for What’s the Good Word, and for making 1970s television something for me to remember even after 35-40 years.

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17 Responses to “Death of the cigarette salesman”

  1. Sidharth Sethi Says:

    Wow “est”!!

  2. sachin singh Says:

    Hi Namit Sir,

    Very nice, the way you have written is great, i do not remember him, but after reading your blog , i can understand how famous and inspiring he must have been.Keep it up, we need somebody to write and make people remember of personalities like Mr. Sharma.

    All the best

  3. Jigyasa Says:

    Although I have never had the opportunity to listen to Partap Sharma’s golden voice, your convincing portrayal of Pat Sharma is an apt testimonial. The more I read about him, the more I yearn to listen to his narrative.

  4. Lipi Says:

    A very well written piece. It reads like a short story.

  5. Nishant Nirmal Says:

    Superbly written .. Namit..Keep up the rhythm :-)
    I wish you all the best.

  6. Dr Gopinath Menon Says:

    Very apt write up Namit.
    His style and ofcourse his voice is unforgetable. It is sad that he did not linger on in the memory of the masses but I agree with Bivash that he was never a man for the masses. He had his niche fan following and I am sure that he is missed now among them.
    On the flip side however, your colleagues would be able to place Pat Sharma as Tara Sharma’s father. But thats how times roll by and we have no other way than to accept. RIP Pat Sharma!!

  7. Pratiksha Thakur Says:

    A very well written tribute in honor of a great man

  8. Ranjit Pradhan Says:

    Hi Namit,

    Poignant . Very well written.

  9. Anika Says:

    very nice oed to Pat Sharma…….seems like you are a real fan and after reading your blog who would not be

  10. Atul Deshpande Says:

    I still remembered PAT for making awesome campaign of Charms….. He also taken the What the Good Word show to a different level together…….No one will come even close to him as far as that class & style is concern……… He was an idol himself…..

  11. Tarana Says:

    A very well written tribute to Mr Pat Sharma…though my generation is not very much aware of him, yet the blog brings alive the portrait of Pat Sharma in his Charminar cigarette

  12. sanjay relekar Says:

    With due respect to the talent of Pat Sharma,let me say he is one of the numerous players.Change is the only constant in this world .Like everthying and everybody he has faded.Accept it as another event.

  13. BIVASH Says:

    It’s a classic case of out of sight, out of mind!…

    I didn’t imply that u were clubbing him with Dev anand and Socrates - but the point I was trying to make was that partap represented the south Mumbai english-speaking elite! he was a good man, decent man, lovely man a talented man, gifted with a voice… but he didn’t touch the hearts of the masses because of the language he spoke - Ameen Sayani did!

    But that’s just my view,but it does not make Partap any lesser mortal. on the contrary he excelled in his choice of profession…

    I can understand the hurt when people u think should be in the know of things - dont know…but partap really was fading in our time, boss… 80s was probably his last we heard of him.

  14. Namit Gupta Says:

    @Bivash: I wasn’t clubbing him with Dev Anand and Socrates. And Phir Bhi was just one of the half-a-dozen films he made. He was also known for his plays, the Children’s books he wrote and the documentary films he made. Surely someone with such a wide contribution shouldn’t have died virtually unsung. It does hurt when young people who love English literature and theatre ask “Partap who?”

    @Vivek Nayak: Thanks and spot on. It will take a while for another like him to step into the world and make a mark like he did

    @Ashraf: Thanks much. Yes am aware of Ranjha and also the fact that he wrote many other books for kids

  15. BIVASH Says:

    Partap cannot be grouped into the same category as Dev Anand and Socrates. They were people of the masses with wide appeal, while “Pat” represented the English-speaking elites of Mumbai/India. Having said that, the article does not mention that he actually did a Hindi movie, Phir Bhi, for which he won the National Award at a time when the Award actually had some respectability!!

    And if any of your colleague hasn’t heard of him then, lucky you, you are working with a very young clique!

    Still, sad that a voice from the past is no more… A deep, refined voice that made us love the English language and its huge vocabulary as much as Gulzar did for Urdu and Amitabh for Hindi!

  16. vivek nayak Says:

    Nice blog Namit! Did not know Pratap Sharma had passed away! In advertising (which was my calling for many years) he was known as`The Voice’ and was the first choice for a classy male voice during my earlier years in advertising. Soon other talent began making a mark but few could match the classiness of his voice. I heard he had faded away from the scene due to health issues, which was quite sad because no one came close …even though the likes of that Anish Trivedi chap and someone called Brian tried very hard. Well, a legend he was and a legend he will remain. May his soul RIP!

  17. Ashraf Engineer Says:

    Great piece, Namit, Did you know there was also a comic book based on him and his German shepherd? I think it was called Dog Detective Ranjha. I used to be hooked to them.

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