Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
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Dystopian, Black Mirror-ish, apocalyptic, the end times — these are words people are using to describe the coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdown that has people across the world finding ways to live that they never would have imagined.

And however clichéd the words, the fact remains that at a time like this, it is human nature to long for the good old days, when life was simpler. In India, the desire for comfort and familiarity is evident from the growing demand that led Doordarshan to broadcast, once again, its massively successful shows such as Ramayan, Mahabharat, Shaktimaan and Byomkesh Bakshi. Star Bharat followed suit with Khichdi and Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai.

And soon, milk cooperative Amul joined the party, by sharing a number of its iconic ads from the 1990s and urging people to watch Ramayan and Mahabharat on Doordarshan to watch these ads. One of the dairy cooperative’s most popular commercials was the one titled Manthan, which takes footage from Shyam Benegal’s film of the same name to tell the story of India’s White Revolution, in which Amul played and continues to play, a starring role.

Also read: Ramayan kept an entire country indoors 33 yrs ago, but some doubt if it can do it again

Manthan, the churn that India needed

In post-liberalisation India, the superior, fancier-looking packaging of international products was starting to hurt the more sober, short-on-budget Indian products on the rack.

“Amul was sure of its products, but their presentation as compared to foreign competitors was a little bland. It was taking a beating,” Subodh Poddar, a former advertising professional who directed and co-wrote the Manthan ad, tells ThePrint.

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But instead of looking at a more glamorous personality or vibe, Amul, which is known for its topical ads even today, decided to reiterate its Indian roots. “We made Amul the people’s product, the swadeshi product, the product that belongs to Indians… The taste of India!” recalls Poddar (although he states that it’s unclear who crafted the line “The Taste of India”). In 1996, the year when Amul completed 50 years of existence, the Manthan ad film was released.

The ad features footage from Manthan, the 1976 National Award-winning film starring Girish Karnad, Smita Patil, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Naseeruddin Shah in major roles. Written by Shyam Benegal and noted playwright Vijay Tendulkar, the movie, which was also India’s entry to the Academy Awards, was inspired by the story of Amul, the milk cooperative movement started in the Gujarati village of Anand, and the subsequent White Revolution, both pioneered by Dr. Verghese Kurien.

The first 20 seconds of the ad cut between footage of Smita Patil and other women from the movie, telling the story of the initial days of the cooperative movement. Patil churns milk, villagers line up with milk to get it packaged and is finally kept in a truck, ready to go to the cities. The iconic song Mero Gaam Katha Parey, sung in the movie by Preeti Sagar, plays and soon transitions into the jingle written to the same tune. “Sagar, in her beautiful voice, helped us recreate the song for the ad,” Poddar adds.

The ad then shows a more prosperous Anand as a huge truck enters the big milk factory set in the town which cuts to the happy, carefree people, dancing, laughing, playing, singing of prosperity and good times. It ends with the words, “As India celebrates her independence, 20 lakh women bringing in milk worth Rs. 5 crores are now celebrating their economic independence every morning across 10,000 villages, thanks to the cooperative movement called Amul”.

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

The Taste of India lives on

The campaign was a resounding success not only in India but the world over. “After the campaign came out, Pakistan invited Dr. Kurien to set up a milk federation there!” Poddar recounts proudly. The writer-filmmaker-creative director was invited by countries across the globe to make ‘milk films’ for them. “I made 22 ad films for Sri Lanka!” he says.

The 1996 ad was followed up by another one in 2011, also co-written and directed by Poddar, which picked up where the former had left, this time tying the thread of milk’s journey from rural India to children living in cities.

The new jingle was sung by Sunidhi Chauhan, who retained the folksy nature of the earlier song. “The second film was about given and take, telling the villagers of the fruit of their produce, and telling the city folks how buying Amul milk benefits women in rural areas,” Poddar says.

The Amul ad took India’s favourite success story and made it personal and relatable. It brought this effort from a small village in Gujarat and truly helped make Amul the Taste of India. And now, while we are quarantined, we can relive the story in our homes.

Also read: Put that on your plate: A guide to surviving the lockdown, and your own culinary skills


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