Graphics: Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphics: Soham Sen | ThePrint
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When one hears the name Ilaiyaraaja, a few things that come to mind are musical maestro, someone who has composed more than 7,000 songs, five-time National Award winner, Padma Bhushan and Vibhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award recipient, first Asian to compose a full symphony — which he wrote in less than a month — with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.

Now, after 40 years of his career, he will be composing a corporate anthem for Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB) — the company behind Coke, Sprite, Limca, Minute Maid and many others. This will be Ilaiyaraaja’s first foray into advertisement when other composers A.R. Rahman and Ram Sampath have already dabbled in them.

“Ilaiyaraaja is one of the greatest music composers in the country. There are very few people in India who can write music like him. What one needs to note about him is that he is intolerant to fools and since the movie business is full of them, there were times that he would get quite angry,” ad film director Prahlad Kakkar tells ThePrint.

“HCCB is a pan-Indian company, one of the largest FMCG companies in India, whose operations span from Kutch to Kohima and Kashmir to Kanyakumari. We needed a composition that would denote the vastness of our operation but also the simplicity of our business and the purity in our values”, says Kamlesh Sharma, chief communication officer at Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages.

“I knew that only Raaja Sir would sum the scale and soul of HCCB with utmost simplicity and purity. He is magic, he is music.”

ThePrint looks back at some of the most-loved Coca-Cola ads in India.

Also read: The sarkari cola: How Janata govt launched its own fizzy drink after Coca-Cola left in 1977

Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola first came to India in 1956, yet exited the Indian market in 1977 due to the then Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, only to re-enter in 1999. The brand had a strategic sponsorship in 1998 with the Sharjah Tri-Nation Cricket Cup, just before it entered the Indian market. It came to be known as the Coca-Cola Cup.

If one looks at old Coca-Cola advertisements the two most striking things are the immense effort to make it youth-friendly and the presence of A-list Bollywood stars.

Senior marketing associate at WedMeGood, Pallavi Bahl tells ThePrint that she used to love the Coke ad with Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan so much that she would flip channels just to chance upon it. The commercial had the tagline ‘Jo Chaho Ho Jaaye, Coca-Cola Enjoy’ and featured the actors as best friends in college who get into a race to become the college president which leads to a rivalry, only to end with both of them easing off tensions with a bottle of Coca-Cola each.


While talking about old Coke ads, how can one not speak about the Aamir Khan series Thanda Matlab Coca Cola advertisements in 2003? This series of ads was the brainchild of lyricist and adman Prasoon Joshi, now the chief of the CBFC. They show Khan in a range of avatars, from a stereotypical Bengali professor to a Nepali sherpa, a Punjabi Jatt farmer and a saheb from UP (Uttar Pradesh).

While one may argue that these ads stereotype entire communities and mock people from different regions, what they also did was make Thanda synonymous with Coca Cola.

So much so that Joshi and Khan collaborated once again for another series of Coke ads, however this time the tag line was: Sabka thanda ek. The jingle was sung by Bollywood playback singer Shankar Mahadevan and the campaign was conceptualised to bring people together and form an emotional connect.

At the time, Joshi said, “The sheer power of the Coca-Cola brand lies in its universal appeal. The creative challenge was to come up with a campaign, which clearly brings out this universal appeal. While doing so, care needed to be taken to ensure a higher order of emotional benefit for the consumer. The new campaign captures all these emotions in a very entertaining and engaging manner.”

Shraman Ghosh, an analyst at Novus Partners in New York says, “I remember there was a point where I would go to my local department store in the colony and ask for a thanda instead of Coke.”

Also read: Fakiri to sarkari: How Coke-ad maker Prasoon Joshi became Modi’s poet of choice in New India

After establishing a range of Thanda advertisements, Coke came out with a commercial in 2014 that attempted to send out a social message. Starring Deepika Padukone and Farhan Akhtar, the advertisement revolves around two youngsters from an economically-weaker background. Akhtar is pining for Padukone, whereas Padukone wants to focus on her studies. As she misses her bus to college on an exam day, Akhtar offers to drop her on his rickshaw. When she gets off he says, “Dont worry, I will make sure you never have to peel peas.”

Ad-man Kakkar explains that in a country so musically inclined like India, Ilaiyaraaja’s composition will most definitely contribute to the ad film but at the end of the day everything boils down to the script.

“Imagine, you build up a hype that Ilaiyaraaja’s doing music for Coke but the overall ad is horrible, then no one will care who has done the music. Therefore, in many ways it is a double-edged sword.”

That may be true, but for generations of Indians who grew up seeing Aamir and Aishwarya meet for a blind date and finding each other because of Coke “Jo chaaho ho jaaye, Coca-Cola enjoy”, it is one more reason to celebrate.

Also read: Rola Cola is back, thanks to the power of nostalgia, social media and a sweet price-point


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