THE LAST LEARS CAN YESTERYEAR SUPERSTARS RUN THE LAST MILE?
IF YOU WATCHED THE HAVELLS TVC FEATURING RAJESH KHANNA AND IF YOU RECALL THAT THE AD WAS FOR HAVELLS FANS, THEN THE AGENCY (LOWE) DID ITS JOB WELL BUT IS THAT THE MAJORITY VIEW OR IS IT JUST ME WHO’S, ER, NOT A ‘FAN’?
It all started when a brilliant and celebrated and luminary very recently threw a poser my way – “What is you opinion of the Havells fans TVC starring Rajesh Khanna that is currently being aired?” I hesitated to answer. Having been an ad person for close to four decades and having expressed many of my opinions with the pen on films for an equally long length of time, I sure found the question tricky. Reason: answers to such questions are never one-liners. I knew it.
I must confess. I’ve had the good fortune of enjoying a ringside seat and tracking down the total RK phenomenon all the way. And I have never tired of telling people that there has never been a bigger superstar than Rjaesh Khanna in his heydays. No Dilip, Dev, Raj, Rajendra, Dharam, Shammi, Manoj – or even the Big B or Khans – could match the hysteria he generated in those pre-satallite, pre –zillion media channels and Facebook days. Sure, the Big B’s angry young man’s persona marked the beginning of RK’s end as the emperor of romance, but between 1968-1974, or so, Kaka was the undisputed emperor of Kingdom Bollywood and much beyond.
At one point I recall, this quasi-godly superstar had 2 silver and 2 golden jubilees running in Mumbai at the same time (don’t bother if you don’t understand what a silver or golden jubille means)! And then, as Bachchan’s star ascended the Bollywood sky with Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay, Khanna’s star tragically nosedived. Rajesh did make some feeble attempts to return – the most horrific ones being fanaa…let’s Fall in love in 2006 and Wafaa in 2008 with little-known heroines, both which mercifully for him didn’t take off – but his mannered, stylized acting was way out-of-sync with the new viewer. The factuality was that kaka had long back moved from sight to memory. In the Famous words of Avijit Ghosh, a veteran journalist, “With half of Rajesh’s acting ability, one-third his waistline and four times his discipline, Jeetendra swept the market down South for weepy socials and mindless entertainers!”
So how about the Havells fans’ TVC featuring Khanna? Lowe and boss man Balki’s team seem to have pulled a yesteryear celebrity out of mothballs perhaps basing their gut-feel on the fact that Khanna might be able to generate huge brand recall. Ponder on this issue for a moment. I recall Khann’s face pretty well – and my virtuous image at the start of this op-ed would be enough for you to guess my age and the age to which I belong. For argument’s sake, even you might recall Khanna; and I can bet my last remaining Edward shilling that you’ll surely be around 40 years of age, if not easily above. But ask a few respondents in the age groups 20-30, and you start realizing that not only do a significant majority of them have no idea of who in heavens is Rajesh Khanna (and that throws the recall issue out of the value chain), but also that there’s no way that they would be convinced to buy a fan because of him. The latter part of this argument applies to even the age groups that know the 70s king of cinematograph. Would you buy a product now because, um, Kaka says so?
Others too have echoed similar feelings. Creative hotshot Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar [NCD, Bates 141] finds the punning – Havells fans and RK’s fans – laboured. Mahabaleshwarkar is disappointed that the attempt comes from an outfit that created the wonderful ‘Fago re!’ and What an Idea Sirjee!’ campaigns.
While Pritish Nandy, media commentator and head of Pritish Nandy Communications, dismisses the TVC summarily as “a silly parody of the ex-superstar”, film scholar and historian Rauf Ahmed believes the ad-film was an interesting opportunity that got derailed by pitching it wrong. Nandan Dasgupta, a Delhi-based legal practitioner, refuses to be as charitable and believes that the ad is made in bad taste and blames one and all responsible for this “regressive commentary on the human condition.” Former ad-professional, author and columnist Bunny Suraiya is equally critical, “The act is similar to flogging a dead horse. Havells must have gotten him cheap.”
But then, there are others who feel that airing the TVC was worth the toil that went into making it. One cannot deny that it was imaginative and bold of Lowe to have identified a decades-old star who had slipped off the public radar. There is not denying that the attempt to spring a surprise on TV screens with RK, and hit the nostalgia button for his many fans – especially of the 50+ variety – was a conscious decision. Brave it was too for the creative heads to imagine that they could do well without the usual clan of actors who pose for hair oils and mango juices. Perhaps there was nothing in the script and dialogue to support and enhance the surprise element of RK, but him spouting unexpected CSR lines wouldn’t have made the case strong for Havells either.
Personally, I found a few clear blind spot in the ad. The Look that the Aradhana golden boy maintains is worrying [Is he suffering from something serious?]; further, shots of him surrounded with fans and a soundtrack loaded with tired clichés [Mujhse mera fans koi nahin chheen sakta] sound more like dirges of a sad era and are difficult to digest with a smile.
The creator of the TVC (Balki), admits that one requires tremendous confidence, sense of security and calm to undertake and execute a TVC of this type. He says that when Havells decided to resurrect the superstar, there were unhappy faces all around. He is however pleased with the reaction to the ad. “A majority loved it and the polarising views work like an event. Emotion runs high. Placing people and circumstances in public memory has been an achievement.” Well, let’s hope that happens. My critique editorial itself is advantage enough for Balki. And as far as Havells goes, tis the seasons for fans I say; not that I’m gaining too many.