The Amul Girl: Cuts Like A Knife

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    As the country mourns the passing of the doyen of the Indian advertising Industry - Sylvester daCunha, we bring to you the story of the iconnic Amul girl that he created.

    When she first appeared on a hoarding in Bombay in 1967, the city was agog – she had round eyes, chubby cheeks, she wore polka dots and winked mischievously back at you. She was Amul Butter’s Girl, and India is still hooked to her timely and utterly-butterly catchy tag lines.

    Amul’s sweet but cheeky girl was the brainchild of Sylvester daCunha, who then headed the ASP advertising agency in Bombay. He and his art director Eustace Fernandez created the Amul girl to counter rival Polson Butter’s mascot. And it worked like a charm! The team realised they needed a character that would steal every homemaker’s heart, and who better than a disarming, little girl?

    The Amul ad’s success comes largely from its clever tag lines but in the early days, the ads were simpler and more straightforward. Here are a couple of initial Amul ads, sans those smart and topical catch phrases we’ve all come to love.

    Since the ads were, and still are, put out frequently, they began to draw on current events. Soon enough, the Amul girl was delighting the audience in playing social critic with her deliciously irreverent lines. Indian Airlines, socialist India's sole domestic carrier, virtually begged to be parodied. And Amul obliged, time and again.

    During another strike, in the 1990s, the Amul girl cheekily noted, ‘Indian Airlines serves Amul butter – when it flies’. The airline was outraged and threatened to altogether stop serving Amul butter on its aircraft!

    Thankfully, not everyone lacked a sense of humour. Even controversial former CEO of Enron, Rebecca Mark, who cornered much space in Indian newspapers in the 1990s, was a fan of the Amul girl. In 1992, the deal with Enron, the American power giant, kicked up one of modern India’s most high-profile controversies. The $3-billion deal was billed as the poster child of liberalisation – it was the largest foreign direct investment in India at the time – but it was tainted with allegations of corruption. And the face of Enron in India was Rebecca Mark, its 30-something CEO. The Enron saga played out over a decade, a question mark always hovering over the power project. At the height of the controversy, Amul went dark. It asked, ‘Enr on or off?’

    Legendary painter M F Husain was another Amul fan. The phase when he was artistically preoccupied with actor Madhuri Dixit is well-known – he was so smitten with her that he was dubbed ‘Madhuri Fida Husain’. The Amul girl called it ‘Heroine Addiction’. It seems Husain noticed the witty Amul ad on a hoarding in Uttar Pradesh, and he loved it so much that he got a picture clicked with him standing in front of it. Then he called up the agency and requested them to blow up the ad and send him a copy!

    British Airways was not spared the girl’s scathing wit when the airline slipped up big time with Sachin Tendulkar in 2015. The Indian cricket legend was touring the United States for the All-Stars T20 tournament featuring retired international cricketers and was furious on two counts. He tweeted his displeasure when a family member’s ticket wasn’t confirmed “despite seats being available”. But he really had it with BA’s “don’t care attitude” when the airline sent his baggage to the wrong destination!

    Worse, when the airline apologized and asked for his “full name and address” on Twitter to help resolve the issue, it was trolled by livid Indians for not recognizing their cricketing ‘god’. The airline was not happy and it let the agency know.

    Over the years, Amul has called out the establishment. This was what it said during the Emergency in the 1970s, referring to Sanjay Gandhi’s family planning programme, which involved compulsory sterilisation.

    The Amul Girl hasn’t got up to any mischief lately. She is now 55 years old. But even all these years later, when you see her up there, you know you’re in for another ‘Taste of India’.

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