Story behind the coup: How Pierce Brosnan was convinced to chew paan on national TV

Updated: 24 October, 2016 12:40 IST | Kusumita Das |

Brosnan's paan masala ad may have been a tough one to swallow, but the Agent 007 not only tasted it, he even took a few cans home. Here's some behind-the-scenes juice on the ad that shook the nation

Pierce Brosnan, who played James Bond between 1994 and 2005, on set for the Pan Bahar ad in Austin, Texas. Pics/Andrew Eccles
Pierce Brosnan, who played James Bond between 1994 and 2005, on set for the Pan Bahar ad in Austin, Texas. Pics/Andrew Eccles

It may be outlandish, but the Pierce Brosnan paan masala ad (for Pan Bahar) was borne out of some deep calculation. The team's mission was to make pan masala seem classy and take it a notch above where the previous brand ambassador, Saif Ali Khan, left it.

So, Agent 007 took over from Agent Vinod, it seems. But, what the nation wants to know, is that how did they go from Bollywood to Hollywood, with a product that the Wall Street Journal describes as 'a concoction of areca nut, a stimulant, and spices often chewed along with tobacco or betel leaf by millions in South Asians'?

More than Brosnan, it was James Bond that the makers wanted to bring to the brand. Says Sambit Mohanty, creative head of DDB Mudra North, the agency that created the commercial that raked up a storm on social media last week, "Nobody said you cannot use an international icon to sell paan masala. The rulebook went out of the window and only after that, did we begin brainstorming." Mohanty says the idea was to look beyond 'the Kumars and the Kapoors'.

Brosnan, who the makers say was open to suggestions
Brosnan, who the makers say was open to suggestions

"We wanted to create disruption. When we thought global, James Bond was the first name that came up, because of his timeless, universal appeal. Why Pierce? We realised that our target audience — men aged between 20 to 35 — is more familiar with Brosnan, than Daniel Craig. Also, Craig is more rough and gritty, someone who wouldn't shy away from rolling in the mud. Pierce is more the epitome of suaveness and style, which is what we wanted for our campaign. He's a throwback to the sophisticated charm of Sean Connery," Mohanty adds.

Also Read: Licence to Spit? Twitter destroys Pierce Brosnan's 'Pan Bahar' ad

That the erstwhile Bond, who had somewhat faded away from pop-culture memory, would be more affordable than Craig, further cemented the choice. "The needle pointed towards him. Initially, the client was taken aback by the idea. But eventually, they warmed up. We took a creative leap of faith and it was a game changer for us," says the 39-year-old. But, having the client on board was only step one. The more important part was getting Brosnan on board.

Sometimes did his own thing, like toss the can mid-air
Sometimes did his own thing, like toss the can mid-air

The next step was to sell the concept of "paan masala" to Pierce, which surprisingly, proved to be a smooth ride. The Hollywood superstar, we are told, readily warmed up to the idea. The first few briefings and narrations happened over the phone and, in no time, they were good to go. Mohanty says that this Bond is as everyman as it gets. On the day of the shoot, he tasted the paan masala too. "He opened the can, tasted it, liked the whole mouth freshening feel and then, even kept a few cans aside to carry back home to share with friends," Sambit recalls.

When the script was shared with Brosnan, he had a few suggestions. "There's a Ninja sequence in the commercial, where he tosses the can up in the air — that was his idea. I remember he, very politely, asked if we could add some piazzas to that particular shot. Even when he kisses the can after, as a mark of his fondness for the weapon of choice, it was again his impromptu touch. He was just having fun." And is he as open to suggestions as well? "Completely. He does retakes without a murmur. He is as cool as his onscreen persona and extremely approachable."

And that, as we learn, was not just on the sets. The team along with Brosnan was staying at the same hotel where they were shooting, in Austin, Texas. The actor, we are told, would never take his meals in his room. "He would stand in queue for both breakfast and lunch. In the evenings, he would come down to the bar and have a drink or two with the other crew members. And it's not like his entourage would always stick to him. He didn't have more than four or five people with him. No chip on his shoulder," Sambit says. "I told him how I grew up on Remington Steele. He was surprised and pleased that someone from India knew him outside his Bond persona. He said to me laughing, 'I'm at an age where people have grown up watching me!'"

Read Story: Deepika Padukone on Pierce Brosnan's Pan Masala ad: He still looks good

Pierce Brosnan and Sambit Mohanty
Pierce Brosnan and Sambit Mohanty

Until Bob Dylan bagged the Nobel Prize on Thursday, Pierce's paan masala avatar was social media's most favourite rant. Sambit, however, says that the backlash the ad has received, was not something they had expected. "We thought it would raise a few eyebrows, but we did not expect this tsunami of attention.

An idea goes viral on its own merit, becomes meme-worthy — these are not things you can control or pre-plan. But when that happens, the brand has to just let go. Now that these memes are breaking the Internet, it is the brand that's having the last laugh. This at an age, when people have trouble remembering the front page ad in a newspaper, is quite a coup, if you ask me."

First Published: 16 October, 2016 08:36 IST

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