Masala and a message

Pan Parag ad featuring Bollywood stars Shami Kapoor and Ashok Kumar.

Pan Parag ad featuring Bollywood stars Shami Kapoor and Ashok Kumar.   | Photo Credit: 10dmcpan78


The Pan Parag ad featuring Ashok Kumar and Shammi Kapoor in the early days of television in India still has a high recall value — less for the one time the two Bollywood giants shared screen space, more for its anti-dowry message

“Aur mere liye?”

Those growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s would certainly identify with this particular expression of genial demand. At a time when 24/7 television was still a dream in India, “Aur mere liye” — from a Pan Parag ad featuring actor Jalal Agha — caught on quite fast among the then wide-eyed Doordarshan viewers. One can certainly recall a time when while giving anything to anyone — young or old, there was the high chance of someone piping up — with palms forward, eyes eager — “Aur mere liye?” Also, “Ek se mera kya hoga?” The banter would continue, with the appropriate reciprocation expected of you, “Toh aap do lijiye.” A knowing laugh would ensue.

Wrapped in that laugh definitely was the recall of the product Agha promoted on the small screen back in 1982. The mouth freshener Pan Parag in sachets.

No wonder when Agha passed away at a rather young age in 1995, along with the Helen starrer Sholay hit “Mehbooba mehbooba” where he hammered on the drums with abandon, the Pan Parag TV ad with the catchy jingle “Pan Parag pan masala” was also a point of recall for the general public. So was his print ad for the brand with yet another top-rated yesteryear Bollywood vamp, Kalpana Iyer. With those one-liners — “The taste of the good times”; “A certain taste, a certain style.”

However, the master Pan Parag commercial which would surely find itself among the classics that played on the telly in its formative days was the one that featured Ashok Kumar and Shammi Kapoor, each holding a tin of the blue and yellow Pan Parag. Interestingly, the two giants of Hindi cinema came together for the first and the last time through that ad. Kapoor once said in an interview that it fulfilled his dream of working together with Ashok Kumar. But that bit of detail fades in contrast to what the message the commercial — which otherwise tried selling a product not for the health conscious — gave out to its customers.

Two things. One, the pan-Indian idea of ‘baraatiyo ki swagat’ — as much feared by the “ladki wale” as it is considered a right by the “ladka walas” in a patriarchal society. The other, a related matter — rejection of dowry, a burning social issue in the early ’80s when there were as many as five deaths reported in the National Capital itself per day, even though we had an anti-dowry Act in place.

Those mounting deaths led to a lot of hue and cry, leading the Government in the mid-’80s to insert new sections into the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. Veteran women’s rights activist and former chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Mohini Giri, recalls the times: “Dowry harassment and death were on top of the agenda of women activists then. There were women like Subhadra Butalia, Justice Sunanda Bhandare, who fought tooth and nail against dowry. For the first time, there was a demand for shelter homes for women because many women were turned out of their homes in dowry-related incidents and they had nowhere to go.” Giri terms the ’80s as “the brightest years of women’s movement in India.”

The commercial certainly touched a hot social subject then. Fabulous actor that he was, Ashok Kumar played out splendidly the role of an anxious father of an Indian bride, always on the edge when it comes to meeting demands from the groom’s family. That nervous half-laugh of relief towards the end when Shammi Kapoor insisted on welcoming his son’s marriage party with just Pan Parag, weaved into it a vital social truth of the times. Hence, the instant viewer connection. And a high recall value.

Dharmendra Chaturvedi, head of the media cell of the Kanpur-based Kothari Chemicals which makes Pan Parag, also remembers the ad but fails to put together his thoughts on the impact it caused nearly three decades ago. He would rather have his CMD Deepak Kothari talk about it, “But he is out of the country. Call later,” says Chaturvedi.

For Pan Parag, the times seem to have moved. Its ads now concentrate on young India. The line now is, “The choice of Young India.” Focus is also on instilling a habit for the product in its users, “Subah ke 10 baj gaye Pan Parag khaya kya?” is also a catchline. Elaborates Menaka Rakhiyani of Harmony Multimedia in Surat, the agency which deals with the present Pan Parag ads, “The focus has not shifted from social issues and social integration. Besides the anti-dowry ad, there is also one on Samjhauta Express. One ad focusses on national integration where India is highlighted as the youngest nation in the world.” The latest line, ‘Doom Macha De, Rang Jama De’ is one of the 10 best punchlines, she says. “It has been continued since then because it connects with India.”

Along with its newer ads, the Ashok Kumar-Shammi Kapoor commercial does peep through the small screen at us some times. Menaka says, “Because of the popularity of the Jalal Agha ad, we recreated it with Aman Verma, which was equally appreciated. We are rerunning the Ashok-Kumar Shammi Kapoor ad in different mediums now to create a sense of nostalgia for people.”

The quality of that ad now certainly looks dated. But the message still holds true even in 21st Century India. According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau, there is one dowry death every four hours in the country.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 2:27:20 PM |

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