The Old Man Who Made Friends

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The air at the Cricket Club of India (CCI), Mumbai, after its ritualistic morning cleansing, appears too sanitised and formal to be invaded by merry chuckles. But a group of attendants usually with stiff upper lips, as befitting the protocol at one of India's most elite clubs can't help letting out a happy cry when they see Burjor Patel saunter in. Patel flashes them a warm smile and promises to gift each of them "an apple" on his next visit.

It's the kind of reception that Patel has been getting used to ever since a series of Vodafone commercials went on air that feature him and a young boy. "These days when I walk on the streets or enter a restaurant, people start nudging and whispering 'Vodafone man.' At times, they request for photographs with me," says Patel. Part of Vodafone's 'Delights' campaign, the three ads released so far show him as an old man who produces gifts first an apple, later an ink pen for his teenage friend. As their friendship grows, Patel is shown waiting impatiently for a game of carrom. In the third ad of the series, he painstakingly makes a propeller as a birthday gift for the boy.

These tales of an unusual friendship are a hit. Even though these commercials have not created the kind of craze that some of Vodafone's previous mascots the adorable pug or Zoozoos had whipped up, they score high on warmth. The brief given to Patel by Prakash Varma of Nirvana Films, which has shot the ads was to appear "cantankerous". "He said, 'It's my job to make the audience fall in love with you,'" says Patel. Now that Varma's words have come true, Patel says the reactions have left him pleasantly surprised.

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