The “dal chawal of India’s beverage basket” is how Rasna’s chairman and MD, Piruz Khambhatta, describes the iconic orange drink concentrate. Although an odd analogy, Khambhatta is not wrong.
When Ahmedabad-based brand Rasna hit stores in the early 1980s, it instantly took off and became the go-to welcome drink in Indian homes, not least because of its promise to yield 32 glasses from a single pack. “This was before Coca-Cola and Pepsi entered the soft drink market,” explains Khambhatta, reminiscing about the days when every Indian child yearned for a cold glass of Rasna after playing outside in the hot sun.
Before the turn of the century, the drink was synonymous with the summer season. Now, surrounded by competing global brands, it has multiple flavours other than the original orange, including mango, cola and others, and has diversified into chocolatey snacks and even condiments like honey.
Birth of the Rasna girl
But perhaps what has, for decades, stuck with Indians more than the drink is the sing-song tag line “I love you, Rasna” that was pronounced with equal parts adoration and adorableness by child actor Ankita Jhaveri, now a well-known name in South Indian cinema.
She began playing the Rasna girl in one of the brand’s earliest ads, aired on Doordarshan. “Many people ask us why we chose a little girl rather than a little boy as our brand’s mascot. The truth is, Rasna sounds very much like a girl’s name and it seemed fitting,” Khambatta tells ThePrint. The brand was initially called Jaffe but we went with Rasna for its pan-India launch in 1979. “Jaffe was too European,” remarks Khambhatta. “Our ad agency at the time, O&M, suggested we go with something more Indian-sounding.”
Khambhatta recalls that the ad came out in 1985 or ’86, during which time his father, Areez, was in charge of the company’s operations. Produced by the Mudra Group, who also made the unforgettable Dhara ad, the commercial was short and sweet. It clung to themes of simplicity and innocence and communicated that the product was something both kids and parents could enjoy.
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In the ad, a young Jhaveri can be seen prancing around her garden, watering plants and hugging a stuffed toy while excitedly telling the toy and the viewers that it is her birthday. Not only are all her friends going to come over and play, she happily explains, “phir Mummy degi Rasna” (and then Mummy’s going to serve Rasna). The ad ends with her holding a bright orange glass of Rasna close to her face, just like she hugged her toy, and delivering that iconic line.
Jhaveri made an appearance in a later commercial as well, but this time it had a plot. It begins with her eagerly waiting for her father to return from work. She then jumps down the stairs and through the banister, suggests her mother offer him Rasna instead of tea or coffee. The drink was immediately seen as something that welcomed you home, just like your child, and importantly, it suggested that Rasna wasn’t only for kids.
In a way, the two ads reveal the shift in advertising strategy. “Our initial ones were consciously kept simple and used the Rasna girl mainly as a mascot. Only later did we start including story lines and communicating different aspects of the product — whether it was the value-for-money aspect with 32 glasses from one packet or otherwise,” Khambhatta says.
Rasna broke the mould
Priti Nair, Director of Curry Nation, Rasna’s current ad agency, tells ThePrint, “I think it was a bold marketing move to use a girl child when every other ad agency at the time was casting boys.” However, Khambhatta maintains that that was not the aim, and it wasn’t as though Rasna never cast boys in their ads — they even got a nerdy Hrithik Roshan to star one year.
And while later ads also see child actor Taruni Sachdev as the Rasna girl, with actor Karisma Kapoor for company, Ankita Jhaveri was the OG.
In fact, Rasna was the first brand to see children as market drivers, and it ruled the soft drink carbonate market in the 1980s. But after the economic reforms and the opening up of the markets in the early ’90s, the brand began to feel the heat. It reinvented itself in the early 2000s with Rasna Utsav and Rasna Rozana, and added more and more products to its repertoire.
But while it isn’t the ubiquitous go-to it once was, sometimes, on a hot summer day, the thought of a tall glass of something orange, sweet and cold is enough to make people of a certain generation smile and say, “I love you, Rasna”.
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