In 1982, when the whole of India got its first taste of Television with Doordarshan’s debut national broadcast, the visual medium was a blank canvas. Propped up by government sponsorship, the first programs beamed on TV sets large and small in cities and villages across the country had a definite nationalist bend to them. Sporting events, Republic Day parades, educational content, political badinage were leavened by a few movies and proto-serials. Economic liberalization was still a decade away, but even before July 1991 came around and opened the Pandora’s Box of commercialization and conglomerates, there was a need to showcase the country’s not insignificant domestically produced products.
Homegrown brands like Bajaj, Hindustan Lever, Surf and others, which provided an alternative to foreign products, which weren’t available in the country at the time, needed national exposure as well as assure consumers that they weren’t missing out on anything that the West already had. And while radio had done a commendable job of spreading the word thus far, seeing is believing.
Enter Alyque Padmasee, truly the father of Indian advertising. Padmasee had the unenviable job of creating a template to promote new-age products which were reiterations of Western ones, while simultaneously reinforcing the ideals of self-reliance and swades, of a new nation with old values. And with campaigns like Hamara Bajaj, Lalitaji ka Surf and others, he managed to do just that. It was Padmasee and his Lintas Advertising Agency that created the template still used by Indian advertisers today: showing a vibrant new country, ready to engage with the world, without letting go of its sense of self.
Even with the iconic Liril ad of a girl in a swimsuit under a waterfall, a visual that could have been so miscontrued as lewd by a conservative society ended up being perceived as wholesome and fresh, something to aspire to even as you perspired in the heat (its broadcast schedule which aired it at the height of Indian summer was also a stroke of genius).
So what if the West had Vespas, Hamara Bajaj was no less. We had everything the world did, but it was our own. And it is that basic idea which permeates Indian advertising even today. From Happydent to Fevicol, and Flipkart to HDFC, every comercial has that je na se Padmasee imprint. But don’t take our word for it, just revisit some sights and sounds from before HD. Seeing is believing, remember?
Lalitaji for Surf
Cherry Blossom Shoe Polish