The Philosophy Of Amul Girl Turns 50: Meet The Three Men Who Keep Her Going

Amul Girl turns 50: Meet the three men who keep her going

The nose less girl with blue hair has been nosing around in her red polka-dotted frock. She looked up at Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the summer of 2014 with the oneliner Accha din-ner aaya hai.

When his monogrammed suit was being auctioned, she cheekily smiled with the tagline “And the highest court is…”. The Amul girl, a buttered toast in one hand and a prompt oneliner on her lips, has been a commentator on the zeitgeist for 50 years — from sterilisation during the Emergency (“We have always practiced compulsory sterilization,” says the Amul girl, holding a salver of butter and with a cunning innocence that would have tied up even Indira Gandhi’s censors in knots) to Aamir Khan’s  statement on growing intolerance (Amul girl offered a golden slice and asked him Aal izz hell or aal izz well?).

When Amul tweeted a birthday wish last month to Modi, who has been the butt of its butter jokes, he replied,

“Thank you. Your sense of humor has always been widely admired.” The Amul girl is the nice brat who gets away with it: her wide-eyed innocence is a counterpoint to her stinging wit, her young looks are balanced by her weighty statements, her hand-painted nostalgia is offset by her on-the-ball cool. “As India gets darker, the campaign is a ray of sunshine to make people laugh about what they are feeling dark about,” Rahul daCunha, creative director of daCunha Communications and the man driving the Amul campaign, tells ET Magazine.

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The Amul campaign was started by daCunha’s father Sylvester daCunha in 1966 along with illustrator Eustace Fernandes and Usha Katrak, among others. It was a prestigious account, but the ads had been staid and stuck to the basic brief of selling butter. When Sylvester took over, he decided to pitch it differently. “My dad realised that there was only so much one could say about food,” says Rahul.

“There was no television and print was wildly expensive. An outdoor hoarding was a good way to inform people.” The first topical ad came out in March 1966 when horse racing was becoming big. It featured the Amul girl riding a horse, with the word “Thoroughbread”, followed by the famous slogan, Utterly Butterly Delicious. Rahul daCunha inherited the Amul campaign from his father in the early 1990s.

All through his childhood and youth, he says, his father gave him paltry pocket money with the justification that he would give him the Amul campaign. While passing it on, Sylvester had a word of advice for his son: don’t “get into too much trouble, but say things the way they need to be said”. During Sylvester’s time itself, a Mumbai hoarding on Ganesh Chaturthi went Ganpati Bappa More Ghya past(Ganpati, Eat More),

a play on the festival cry Ganpati Bappa Morya, and earned the wrath of Shiv Sena members who threatened to vandalise his office. Under Rahul, the campaign increasingly commented on politics, films and sports, but stayed clear of religious issues. The ads became controversial nevertheless. When allegations were swirling around Jagmohan Dalmiya, former chief of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, an Amul hoarding showed him in the manner of “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” monkey and a tagline that went “Dalmiya mein kuchh kala hai?”.

Dalmiya threatened to sue Kurien for Rs 500 crore, says daCunha. Last year, British Airways too called the agency to express its displeasure, when it was dubbed “British Errways” after Sachin Tendulkar’s luggage got misplaced. Manish Jhaveri, the sole copywriter for the Amul campaign, says its vocabulary got a distinct stamp in 1995. When there was a leadership tangle involving PV Narasimha Rao, Sonia Gandhi and VP Singh, Amul came up with the line Party, Patni Ya Woh, a take on the film Pati, Patni Aur Woh. Jhaveri says the ad established Amul’s style of punning, borrowing from popular culture and mixing the colloquial and regional with the formal.

Pushing the vernacular flavour, Amul has done campaigns in Tamil, Gujarati, Bengali and Punjabi as well. daCunha says the fearlessness of the Amul campaign has trickled down from the visionary Verghese Kurien, who established the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) that sells its products under the Amul brand. When Dalmiya threatened to take Kurien to court, he called daCunha and asked him to put up a fresh board outside Dalmiya’s office in Kolkata. This one would have a fourth Dalmiya, covering his pelvic area with his hands.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that, but the bold streak has endured even after Kurien’s death in 2012. “We believe in consistency. We have never changed our ad agency,” says RS Sodhi, managing director, GCMMF, about daCunha Communications. “They know what they are doing. We have faith in their work and we mostly don’t even look at the drafts before they go up on hoardings.”