Soon after the movie was released, Britannia came out with an ad campaign for its biscuits, Glucose D. It chose Amjad Khan as the brand ambassador and the ad's punch line was "Gabbar Ki Asli Pasand."
In her book Sholay: The Making of a Classic, Anupama Chopra recalls the story of the making of the ad. Sunil Alagh, then group product manager at Britannia, suggested using Gabbar in the ad as children loved him. "Not everyone at Britannia was sold on the concept. Companies used film stars, not film characters to plug products. And certainly not a nasty villain for children's products," writes Chopra.
However, Britannia research showed that there were no negatives associated with Gabbar or Amjad Khan. The ad was conceptualised by Lintas and was directed by Kailash Surendranath. "It was a revolutionary idea because no client had the guts to use a villain as a testimonial for an ad for obvious reasons. This was done during a time when not many movie stars were into endorsements," said Surendranath in an earlier interview.
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He recalled that Khan was paid roughly Rs 40,000 for the ad. The ad was for 60 seconds and it was shown on the big screen as television was still in its infancy. Britannia ran the ad all over India with over 500 to 600 prints.
Unlike now, film stars weren't into brand endorsement in a big way at that time. Rajesh Khanna, the original superstar, did only one ad in his life - for Havells fans - and that too towards the end of his career. A villain as a brand ambassador required a huge leap of faith.
Santosh Desai, CEO of Future Brands, say no other film's characters and dialogues became "cultural currency" the way Sholay did. "Advertising has always borrowed heavily from pop culture and Sholay's protagonists like Thakur, Gabbar and Veeru resonate far better than any other movie's characters," he says. "James Bond in Hollywood perhaps is a fair and reasonable comparison as far as advertising is concerned."
The brands which have used Sholay's characters dialogues over the years are many. Radio advertisements and jingles have thrived on Sholay's iconic dialogues like "Yeh Haath Humein dede Thakur" or "Kitne Aadmi Thhe". Chances are if you're driving around for two hours in Delhi or Mumbai's traffic, you will come across an ad or two on radio which is based on Sholay's dialogues or characters.
Brands such as Britannia, Maggi, Tetley, Bajaj, McDonald's and Amul have all used Sholay as a theme for their creatives. For that matter, even the Indian government used Sholay in one of its public service campaigns to urge people to vote: a Thakur lookalike goes to the polling booth and uses his mouth to stamp -this was in the pre-EVM days - to cast his vote.
But does Sholay have a resonance among the young generation? Shaonli Nath, a senior copy writer at Dentsu Marcom, believes it does. "Time and again, Sholay and its quirks have served as a starting point for many a creative brainstorming session. It is the iconic and enduring nature of Sholay that makes it a compelling creative hook."
"It's an integral part of our pop culture and if one has to use a movie reference, what better than Sholay," says an executive with Law and Kenneth which made the Renault Scala ad featuring the classic Sholay song, "Yeh Dosti Hum Nahin Todenge." Citing the example of the same Renault Scala campaign, Nath adds: "I know, a headline with a Sholay-ish twist will definitely strike a chord with the audience. It is a thought that resonates with clients as well."
While Sholay had several well-etched characters, Gabbar and Thakur remain the marketers' favourites. Is there a shelf life for Sholay-inspired ads? "One can't say," says Desai, before adding, "There will come a time when the characters might not resonate with future generations." If the last 40 years are anything to go by, then it's safe to say Sholay will continue to have an impact on advertising for some more time.