Illustration: ThePrint
Text Size:

A runaway boy, a mischievous smile and a plate of jalebis — Indian millennials don’t need any more clues to bring to mind the iconic Dhara Oil advertisement from the 1990s. They may not be able to identify the taste of food cooked in Dhara, but the image of a four-year-old boy who runs away from home in a fit of pique, but is coaxed back by the thought of his mother’s jalebis, has stuck with audiences like sugar syrup to fingertips.

“I was hungry as ever,” recalls 28-year-old Mumbai-based Parzaan Dastur, who became known as Jalebi Boy, “as my mom brought me to set straight after preschool”. His outfit of a yellow t-shirt and blue dungarees that are now forever associated with Dhara was her impromptu decision, he tells ThePrint, still amazed at how a last-minute request by directors Namita Roy Ghose and Subir Chatterjee went on to air for five years. All it took was the marriage of two clichés: home is where the heart is and the way to a boy’s heart is through his stomach.

Also read: When ’90s kids were getting drawn to cola, this Doodh ad made drinking milk cool again

The story behind the story

Launched and distributed by the National Dairy Development Board, Dhara was subsidised in the 1980s and it became the largest-selling brand of edible oil. But in the decade to come, the subsidy was withdrawn, and Dhara’s image changed to a brand that people associated with low budgets. Mudra Ahmedabad, which represented the brand, needed to rebrand it, and that came with Jagdish Acharya of Cut The Crap, an ad agency.

He knew Dhara needed to tell a story built on emotions, and he knew he wanted a child in it, but this was the 1990s, when every second TV ad featured a child. After intense brainstorming with his team and his mother (she was the one who suggested jalebis instead of the earlier idea of kachoris (because kids don’t like spicy food, and kachoris wouldn’t be relatable in South India), the now classic advertisement was born.


We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.


But there were some glaring plot loopholes — for starters, how a four-year-old was able to run away from home and make it to the train station by himself. Dastur admits, “This is a little unbelievable. In fact, the directors had initially cast a 12- or 13-year-old boy, but when he failed to emote the way they wanted, I was called. But I don’t think audiences were hung up on the boy’s age. The ad was able to steer them to the feeling of coming home, especially for a mother’s cooking”.

The ad was longer than most, at about 60 seconds, but it stuck to a simple plot, some beautiful scene sequences like the image of a bicycle wheel transforming into a jalebi. The ad could have opened with a scene of panic at the house with a missing child, but instead opted for the less dramatic image of a grumpy kid at a train station. It eschewed melodrama and loud theatrics in favour of simple sequences, no more than 10 lines of dialogue, and mostly, just that background tune.

Also read: Ratnam pens — the ‘swadeshi’ pens that were made on Mahatma Gandhi’s demand

Spinoffs and homages

In fact, the tune was established as the Dhara tune in a 2002 sequel. This one featured Dastur, now known as the adorable sardar kid from 1998’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (in which, ironically, his one line was also about leaving), as the older brother of a grumpy kid who wants to run away. Dastur as the older brother now persuades him to stay for, you guessed it, jalebis.

“In a way, this older brother filled the shoes of the original’s Ramu Kaka, the old man who finds the boy at the train station and takes him back home on a bicycle [in the original],” says Dastur. In the sequel, Dastur even makes the same hand gesture as Ramu Kaka while saying ‘jalebis’.

But, this wasn’t the only homage. The original ad was so popular, it spurred an UberEats remake even as late as 2018, produced by Kiss Films. It was part of the delivery platform’s campaign to recreate iconic ads by Cadbury, Nirma and Dhara. Except this time, Parzaan Dastur played a 20-something young man who leaves his apartment after an argument with his flatmates, but returns when the building security guard tells him they have just ordered biryani.

“They really wanted me to say ‘biryani’ the way I said ‘jalebi’, you know, with that squeak in my voice!” Dastur tells ThePrint, recalling that he even wore a yellow shirt for the UberEats ad. Now, working behind the camera after starting his own production house, Ten Colour Productions, he says he understands the value of that squeak.

Also read: Boroline — the cure-all that is stuck in time but still brings joy, especially to Bengalis


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

1 Comment Share Your Views


  1. The ad has an uncanny resemblance to the Pepperidge Farm ad created by Mr David Ogilvy. Of course, it could be entirely coincidental.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here