My post earlier today about the new Lux ad Shahrukh is in got me thinking about all those wonderful star ads we don’t get in America. Well, unless you spring for the India package on cable (Someday!!!).
Quick and dirty history lesson that most of you probably already know: Indian TV is state controlled, which means a lot of documentaries on farming and classical music performances, and not so much fun glitzy productions (in my book I quote an early broadcasting minister who said in terms of the Indian film industry: “there is hardly any standard maintained by any production we see onscreen.” So, they weren’t exactly excited about working with them). Until satellite television arrived in India in the late 90s/early 2000s, the advertisements were the most fun thing available to watch on your TV screen. They would have movie stars, fantastic visuals, fun songs, all of that.
Instead of going away with satellite TV and the general liberalization of the economy, ads just got more fun in the 90s. Partly because really big stars, like Amitabh and Shahrukh, were unashamadly chasing the advertising money. And they weren’t just showing up to say “I endorse [product]”, there were whole concepts built around their personas!
So, while in America the most a major star will do for an ad is a timid voice-over, or a talking head about how wonderful this shampoo/face/cream/whatever is, and even that is considered a little embarrassing, in India these ads are big money and big promotions, and serve a vital function in keeping the stars ever present in the lives of their fans.
Okay, that out of the way, let’s look at some of these ads! First, one of the most famous from the Doordarshan era, Vinod Khanna’s Cinthol ad! Personally, I don’t get the appeal of Vinod, but I do love how insanely and unapologetically MANLY this thing is!
It was so iconic, that it was a HUGE deal when Hrithik was hired to shoot a new version a few years back.
That’s a nice ad, but it’s not my favorite Hrithik ad campaign. That the hide-n-seek cookie ads, which are BRILLIANT!!! And I first learned about them through the semi-spoof in one of the movies-within-a-movie in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. This is the Hide-n-Seek ad they imitated in Rab Ne.
But it’s not my favorite of his Hide-n-Seek, that would be this one:
Speaking of dancing, as we all know Shahid Kapoor started out as just a dancer, one of many in Shiamak Davar’s troupe, before he hit it big with Ishq-Vishk. Right before his big break, he was in this iconic Pepsi ad with Rani, Kajol, and Shahrukh.
Shahrukh of course is in a TON of ads. But what is really fun for me is the ads where he and Gauri co-star and play themselves. Like this one, when they are little bitty babies!
Or this recent campaign, that’s kind of interesting to look at in contrast. In the early ad, Gauri was just Shahrukh’s wife. Now, she is a power in her own right, and this ad is based more on her identity as an interior designer than on Shahrukh as a movie star. Although, it’s still picking up on their identity as an adorable couple.
Shahrukh is possibly the biggest adman in the industry, but Amitabh is close behind. From what I have read (tragically, without Indian TV access, I can only go on what I have read!), Amitabh started “coming back” in the late 90s through his TV ads. Plus, supposedly, he lost a lot of money when his corporation went belly-up, so he was willing to do whatever would get him a paycheck. But he is also a consummate professional, so his TV ads aren’t just boring talking heads for the paycheck. For instance, this campaign, which actually got me to buy a Parker Pen one time I was in India.
Speaking of acting legends, Rajesh Khanna’s final performance before his death was not a great film role, or a final interview, but a lovely tribute from a Fan company, of all things!