Hardbound

When a Global Cola Giant Got a Lesson in Humour

The campaign for non-alcoholic beverage Pepsi is a major highlight of ad film director Prahlad Kakar’s extensive portfolio. However, while things took off to a great start, they did not quite end well. In his memoir, Kakar gets candid about his relation with the brand, from having an exciting collaboration that was instrumental in the brand’s rise in India to eventually parting ways over difference of creative opinions 

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Published 6 months ago on Jan 01, 2024 6 minutes Read
Adman Madman: Unapologetically Prahlad | AUTHORs Prahlad Kakar and Rupangi Sharma | Published by HarperCollins India | PAGES: 526 | PRICE: Rs 630

No more fun and games; we had to be deadly serious about the work and the brand. Everything had to be checked and double-checked before it was presented to the new Pepsi team, and all the creatives had to be tested and researched before execution.

There was now a protocol in place: no casual behaviour or deviating from the pecking order. Only the suits would meet with the clients, et cetera, et cetera. I was flabbergasted that the whole style of functioning had changed overnight. Pepsi had become a protocol-driven corporate like any other, and everything had become uptight and formal. Good grief! No wonder Anuja had quit the leaky and slowly sinking boat! In the middle of this circus, I had a brainwave and told them with a very straight face that I would do the storyboard.

There was palpable relief and joy at the announcement. I flew back to Bombay with a sense of great foreboding. I called the team and briefed them about the storyboard; we would not do it in drawings, but actually shoot the whole thing on a low-end handycam. I would be playing Mallika Sherawat and needed to be kitted out in a grass skirt and a humongous bra, size 44D. We were to shoot it in my drawing room, on my sofa. And my four-year-old son Anhjin would play Fido Dido.

We would have to pick the ugliest guys in the office to play the handmaidens and they would need one of those big, feathered fans on a pole to fan me like I was some holy book. I thought, what the hell? If we had to do the storyboard, we should at least have some fun in the process and teach our uptight client a small lesson on how to laugh at yourself. We shot and edited the storyboard, replacing my voice with a sexy female version.

The opening of the film had me talking to myself in a hand mirror that covered my face and only the voice could be heard. Later, I whipped away the mirror, revealing my hairy mug in all its glory. It was one of the most obscene pieces of film I have ever seen. Just imagine—me, slightly overweight, with my hairy torso, a large, hairy belly protruding over a grass skirt, with two hairy legs sticking out in repose, trying to be Cleopatra (more like Kilo-phattara). A bunch of equally ugly guys, also bare-bodied, just wearing grass skirts, waving a feathered fan above a corpulent Kilo-phattara, eating grapes. And a devilishly cute four-year-old Fido Dido with a lisp completed the entire tableau. It was gross and hilarious, if you took it in the right spirit.

I arrived in Delhi with the DVD tucked firmly in my coat pocket and refused to show it to the agency suits. I said that since the client wanted a storyboard, everybody could watch it together. This dismayed them no end, as they wouldn’t know what they were getting and, therefore, there was no way to cover their collective arses. I also told them that the storyboard was a complete scratch film on videotape, and that they would need to make arrangements for a screen and video player to show the exercise to the client. All this was done with reluctant haste for they knew my reputation for springing completely unexpected surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant.

We trooped off to Pepsi in a small cavalcade, and set up the projector and DVD player in their conference room. I insisted on no rehearsals as it was only one thirty-second promo repeated three times. Everybody fiddled around nervously for Her Ladyship to arrive. She swept in, making no eye contact with anybody, raising the tension in the room palpably. ‘Is she in a good mood, or is she in a bad mood? She loves me, she loves me not.’ And so it went, until she looked at me and said, ‘Alright, what have we got?’

I explained that we had done a storyboard for her, on video, more or less following the narrative and dialogue of the film. And we ran the DVD. As the first viewing, with all three repeats, came to an end, there was dead silence, except for a choking sound from one senior suit and a delighted giggle from a newbie trainee at the back of the room, which was instantly cut off as many horrified eyes swivelled in his direction and nailed him to his cross. I had eyes only for the client and watched in glee as her jaw dropped open, and remained so, for the duration of the entire screening. I was dying to close it with a gentle finger under her jaw, just in case a fly crawled in. In the horrified silence in the room, the client recovered first and spoke in a pseudo-jovial voice, ‘Haha, that was a Prahlad joke, I presume.’

She then turned to me and said, ‘Go ahead and make the film.’ And then she looked towards the bunch of distressed suits and said, ‘Follow me.’ She then flounced out. I believe she took their pants, chaddis and the works off. But she let me make the film the way I wanted to, pretty much like the storyboard—with the real Mallika, of course! The film was a huge success and the launch of the curvy bottle was awesome.

But we never worked with Pepsi again. That was the last film we made for them.

Just goes to show that very few people in advertising and marketing learn that if you want the world to laugh with you, then you have to first learn to laugh at yourself. And so, over the next few years, followed the partial demise of a brand that had become ‘iconic’ because of its advertising in the following years, with campaigns like ‘Oye Bubbly’ and ‘Yeh hai youngistan meri jaan’ and so on. I can’t even recall
the rest.

***

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