Without this book, nearly five decades of advertising in India might have been lost to posterity. Ambi Parameswaran has painstakingly chronicled almost every significant ad campaign that ran from the ’70s till date. Nawabs Nudes Noodles is going to be an asset to the students of advertising, to those in the teaching profession and even to ordinary consumers, who now seem to have as much of an opinion on advertising as they have on cricket or politics. But this is not a history book. Ambi has beautifully interwoven different themes from over the decades, most of which have evolved along with the consumers. I couldn’t help but feel that advertising has been nudging societal change along — more so than TV and Bollywood, which have been regressive at times — by leveraging the past instead of the future. As Oscar Wilde said, life imitates art more than art imitates life. Indian advertising has been true to that dictum.
Ambi has also gone into a great amount of detail while discussing the history of some famous campaigns. For example, the fact that the Complan kids in the famous ’80s campaign ‘I am a Complan boy, I am a Complan girl’ were none other than actors Shahid Kapoor and Ayesha Takia. There is also the interesting commentary that this campaign was the first time the girl child was the centre of attraction in an ad – a point that I, quite frankly, had forgotten. He has also included some very interesting trivia throughout the book. For example, in the section Stars are Born, he explains, “Innumerable stars are born through ad films. From the fabulous Aishwarya to Preity to Jackie Shroff to even Salman Khan, all of them faced the camera for the first time as a model.”
The book is intelligently structured, with three distinct sections, People, Products and Services, making it easy for readers who aren’t committed to the idea of reading books chronologically to quickly scan the book. An example of Ambi’s collating skills is the chapter called The Incomplete Man, which clubs together campaigns with male protagonists, right from Red & White, VIP Frenchie and Lifebuoy to Cherry Blossom and Four Square cigarettes. I think this is where Ambi’s skills as an author and advertising man come to the fore: the ability to scan so many advertising campaigns and neatly tuck them into different sections, while still making sense of their diversity.
Too many Indian authors have a convoluted and self-conscious style of writing, which is meant to impress the reader or make him or her sit with a dictionary in hand. This is where Ambi succeeds — his style of writing is easy, refreshing and yet, erudite. I am quite sure there won’t be another book that manages to paint such a broad landscape of Indian advertising. Besides, Ambi has left very little for anyone else to write about the subject.