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Fuss over Ranveer Singh’s nude photos isn’t a first, Milind Soman-Madhu Sapre ad is a reminder

A 1995 advertisement for the shoe brand courted controversy for featuring nude photographs of the two models. The brain behind the campaign was advertising legend Elsie Nanji.

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New Delhi:  Clever advertisements don’t always promote brands but are rarely erased from public memory. And a 1995 advertising campaign for shoes, featuring models Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre, is a reminder of this.

When actor Ranveer Singh’s nude photoshoot for Paper magazine recently courted controversy and an FIR against him, the public were quick to remember the 27-year-old ad where Soman and Sapre had posed wearing only sneakers and a python wrapped around their necks. The ad, which was for ‘Tuffs shoes’, had scandalised 20th century India.

A case of obscenity was filed in 1995 by the social service branch of the Mumbai Police against Ambience Advertising for the ad.

Phoenix International, which owned Tuffs shoes, was a relatively unknown brand in India. The brain behind the 1995 ad was advertising legend Elsie Nanji, who was with Ambience at the time.

Speaking to ThePrint about the advertising campaign, Nanji said, “The idea was always to portray strength and toughness, through athletic bodies. Both the models were national athletes. Madhu was a national-level discus thrower and Milind a national-level swimmer. The models were also inspired by the photographer, the late Prabuddha Dasgupta, and his art, which inspired us to create a series of seven to eight ads for the brand. Many of these ads had swimsuits and some models were without clothes, but no offensive nudity.”

When asked what she thought of the uproar around Singh’s nude photographs, Nanji said, “It’s a waste of time…there are more important issues to debate.”

ThePrint had reached Soman for a comment on the ad but failed to receive any response till the time of publishing this report.

In an earlier interview with Hindustan Times, Soman had expressed his thoughts on nudity. “It is the most normal thing about an individual.I believe that if something is presented aesthetically, then it always turns out beautiful. That applies to nudity too – be it in advertising, films, paintings or fashion.”


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A big hue and cry

The ad was banned in August 1995 after a complaint filed by the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat and the Swayamsevi Grahak Sangathana and the two models charged with violating the Indecent Representation of Women Act, 1986, and Section 292(A) (sale of obscene books, etc) of the Indian Penal Code.

Another case was subsequently filed against Ambience Advertising under the Wildlife Protection Act for the illegal use of a python in the commercial. The ad agency’s managing director Ashok Kurien was arrested and he had to fight the case for years. The publishers and distributors of two magazines that featured the series of ads for Tuffs shoes were also named in the charge sheet.

A 14-year-long legal battle took place and the case was finally dismissed in 2009. “What may be obscene for a group of society may not be obscene for another group,” was the final verdict given by the presiding judge MJ Mirza.

But while the ad had garnered a huge interest, the brand never really took off.

Anand Swarup Oberoi, founder of advertising agency Oberoi IBC in Mumbai, told ThePrint, “The ad created a big noise in the country but I do not even remember the brand it was created for. There is no brand recall when it comes to that advertisement, but it holds a high image value even today.”

Another industry veteran, Suresh Manian, founder of The Conversation Company, told ThePrint, “It certainly was provocative and caught our attention but it wasn’t the classiest. When it came out, it was a small brand shouting big, and that’s what came through.”

Pooja Bedi’s KamaSutra ad

Among other advertisements that have led to an uproar over obscenity is the 1991 KamaSutra condom ad starring actor Pooja Bedi. It was shot under the guidance of renowned advertising professional Alyque Padamsee.

The ad campaign for condoms, showing a woman, had sent shockwaves across India at the time. Speaking to ThePrint earlier, Bedi had narrated an excerpt from Padamsee’s book ‘A Double Life’ where he mentions how the ad, which did not have a lot of “skin show”, still took the country by storm only because it talked about a sex-related product. What made it worse, was that it was the first time a woman actor had lent herself to advertising such a product.


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