For someone who is shy, it would be nothing short of a nightmare to stand in front of clients to pitch and present ideas on a daily basis. But ask Rohit Ohri, executive chairman, Dentsu India Group — very shy as a child — how giving presentations has become a piece of cake for him, and pat comes the reply — theatre. “Theatre is what helped me come out of my shell and has made me more confident and a better presenter,” he says. The drama, stage and lights have been an active part of Ohri’s life right from his high-school days, having directed several and acted in over 50 plays. As a student of St Xaviers, Kolkata, Ohri had his own theatre group, Masque, which went on to win every competition and fest it entered.
Ohri has not let his love for acting be limited to just on-stage productions — he also played the lead role in the television series, Ganadevata. He has also had the fortune of working with a few big names of the theatre world, such as Jayant Kripalani, Chetna Jalan and the late Shyamanand Jalan. “Shyamanand Jalan influenced me very much. He helped me understand the concept of theatre and taught me how to act in order to have maximum impact on the audience,” Ohri says. But his favourite is Meryl Streep, who, according to Ohri, is the finest actor he’s known. “She has the ability to bring characters alive in a way that people believe them. That is an exceptional quality,” he says.
His advertising career, he says, has been greatly influenced by theatre. “Every executive in this industry needs theatre. In theatre, your mind is disciplined enough to play someone else. This helps in creating a piece of communication for a client and in writing ads — it helps you slip into roles and understand different perspectives. When you understand a role in theatre, you understand what influences the character and that helps bring alive the target audience. The same logic works for ads as well. I’ve learnt to articulate ideas well and present it with some drama so that the client is impressed,” explains Ohri.
In spite of a busy professional life, Ohri has not let his passion fade. Even today, he acts and assists in plays directed and produced by a theatre group that his wife is a part of. Ohri is also a member of a play-reading group where a bunch of executives interested in theatre meet once a month to discuss plays over dinner. Ask him why he didn’t pursue a career in theatre, and there is no regret in his voice. He proudly says, “Theatre is what gives me the greatest joy. I could ideally pursue it, but I’m in the second-best place I could be in. Advertising gives me the same kind of freedom to make the most of the creativity within me. And theatre has given me what I needed the most anyway — a successful career and the love of my life.”