Raise a toast to the real Miss India

May 30, 2012, 06:17 IST | Fiona Fernandez

For five decades, a fringed, wide-eyed moppet in a dotted frock on hoardings has captured the pulse and emotion of over a million folk across the country. Fiona Fernandez attempts to spread out the success story behind the Amul girl's love affair with India

We tried. Word play. Smart-ass ad-lib. Even some Hinglish was thrown it. Egg on face. Or, dare we say butter? Mission aborted. One blamed this lame attempt at creating a catchy headline, to the subject of our story. After all, we were attempting to unravel the success behind the Amul Butter billboards.

This hoarding reflected the outrage over Mamata Banerjee’s cartoon

Since 1966, these simplistic messages have grabbed the psyche of a nation — laced with the wit, peppered with a dash of humour and subtle reflection. What’s the catch? We ask Rahul daCunha, Managing Director and Creative Head, daCunha Communications, the ad agency that creates the Amul outdoor billboards.

“Our guiding principle is that we don’t get malicious with our messages. But, we are getting touchy as a nation.” Rahul cites the recent outrage over Mamata Banerjee’s cartoons and the uproar in Parliament as examples.

This hoarding was created in 1995 to signal the change in the city’s name, it’s one of Rahul’s favourites

“I wouldn’t have worried about these things earlier. Navigating all of this is tricky business now. I still believe that we have freedom of expression. Our messages try to mirror what the Indian is thinking and feeling, and we go with that emotion.”

So many Indias
Few might be aware that the creatives for Amul hoardings are made, region-wise: “We’ve discovered that there are four different Indias — Mumbai, South, East (including North-east) and the Hindi belt (Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Delhi). Our city is an island, literally; often, we create Mumbai-specific hoardings!”

Riding on the wave of the surprise hit, Vicky Donor, this message hit bull’s eye

He adds that messages for the Hindi belt are political since it is the hotbed for socio-political action while in the East, “subjects include Saurav (Ganguly), Durga Puja and football.” Rahul believes that the South is a complete contrast — “they don’t speak Hindi and don’t follow Bollywood too much.

Rajnikanth and politics are huge, with Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi as the key players.” He believes that there are few national interests left — “unless it’s a huge political impact, or with events like the IPL or a petrol hike. As India gets older, it’s become more localised. The common man is concerned about dug-up roads outside his home, not political dramas in Delhi. We must satisfy them.”

The Anna Hazare hoarding was a big hit

Such regional detailing requires layers of customisation, which is where Manish Jhaveri enters the frame. The award-winning copywriter has been writing the Amul hoardings since 1994: “It came a full circle when I joined daCunha Communications. I’d follow these hoardings closely as a collegian. My humour was akin to the brand. Things fell into place.”

Both Rahul and Manish maintain that English works in urban India while Hindi and Hinglish get the nod in the hinterland. “Hinglish is acceptable these days because Mumbai and Bollywood have helped percolate this unique mix to all corners,” Manish reveals. Rahul admits that often, Hindi words work better than English lines.

This hoarding received as many as 3,500 likes on Facebook when this book went into print

The making of the message
“If a hoarding needs to go up by 1pm on a Wednesday, there have been occasions when Manish and I plumb on a topic by 9 am, on the same day. Our illustrator Jayant Rane does his part and in three hours, we’re on!” he tells us matter-of-factly. “When a system has worked for 19 years, it’s possible to pre-empt the language.” Manish maintains that a certain quality and consistency enters the mindset: “Every hoarding might not be a super hit but there’s an in-built quality control, there’s a strong gut feel.”

Amul’s India, daCunha Communications and DY Works, Collins Business, an imprint of HarperCollins India, ` 299. Available at leading bookstores.

Rahul echoes his view, “Manish, Jayant and I are like a well-oiled unit; we know each other’s minds. What has helped is the shift from hand-painted to vinyl hoardings. Previously, we were dependent on painters to capture the mood; now we can create details, include backgrounds and vignettes.”

The third element in this trinity, Jayant Rane has been creating the Amul girl for 25 years. “Rahul sir has to like the illustration, bas…” he explains in Hinglish. “Because of vinyl hoardings, the finishing must be perfect; things were different earlier with handwork artists.

” When we prod him, the unassuming illustrator admits, “haan, people look forward to our hoardings; there is a lot of interest about what will appear next. Roz exam clear karna padta hai!” he chuckles.

Rahul also believes that the team’s research canvas has broadened manifold: “we need to be in the know. It is multi-layered thinking. We must understand mythology, popular culture, Bollywood, television and sport.”

Next year, Rahul completes 20 years of working on the Amul hoardings: “The greatness of the last few years has been the impact of Facebook and Twitter. It’s a fantastic medium to sense the nation’s pulse, in quick time.

Based on the recent Chelsea win, we carried a hoarding that saluted Didier Drogba (Drogba, you Didier best). We ran it in the East, in Kerala and Goa. Yet, it received the maximum likes on Facebook, in a year. I was excited that a sport like football caused such hype. Was it a new trend that was emerging, I wondered...”

The Amul girl
“I remember asking dad (Sylvester daCunha, chairman daCunha Communications and co-creator of Amul hoardings) about the Amul girl’s age, he said, “she must be 6-7 years old.” She can get younger or older, depending on the theme.

She can be Sonia Gandhi or Mallika Sherawat — she is a chameleon who transforms all the time,” Rahul explains. But what do we make of her after all these years? Manish Jhaveri, throws light on our little star — “she doesn’t allow injustice and stands for a cause. She is an activist, a bit of a feminist and an observer; she doesn’t laugh at someone but chooses to laugh with someone. She wants a better, butter India!” 

Did you know?
Every Wednesday, Amul messages are printed in 25 publications across India. Eustace Fernandes was the first illustrator to create the Amul girl. ‘Give us this day our daily bread: With Amul Butter’ was the very first Amul display.

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