Note: This article is a commentary on recent use of South Indian themes and characters in Pop Culture. Pop Culture refers to inclusion in Hindi content both Bollywood and advertising which delivers it to a larger part of India
Bollywood gave South Indian culture its first major appearance in the movie Padosan from 1968 with the iconic song Ek Chatur with Mehmood and his classical rendition.
It was a crude and memorable stereotype and defined ‘South Indian’ for a few decades.The 90s witnessed a steady flow of dubbed South Indian films into Bollywood, but did not really translate into any lasting impact apart from Rahman! (hypothesis). Rajinikanth continued to rule Tamil cinema from 80s while Bollywood lovers were largely oblivious to his existence and grandeur. Kamala Hasan, SPB participated in Bollywood across 80s and 90s - but did not bring along any cultural additions to Bollywood.
Then came along Shahrukh Khan, who since 2007 has regularly referenced Rajini or his symbols in multiple movies. From Yenna Rascala in Om Shanti Om, to the awful Ra.One noodle curd meals in 2011, to the ridiculously successful Chennai Express in 2013. Shahrukh, like his acting style over 2 decades, played it safe and kept things as real as necessary and as superficial as possible.
Yenna Rascala - Om Shanti Om
Kolaveri Di was the bizzare entry in late 2011 that broke the previous rules. The song was unapologetically South Indian in tone. Dhanush was an unknown entity which didn't hinder the song from gathering 79 Million hits. The attitude towards the accent slowly shifted from being odd to being quirky and interesting.
I believe the recent frequent references to South Indian has in turn influenced the advertising world to adopt the same. However, advertising, carries the heavy burden of being relevant, memorable, impactful all within a concise 30 second window. Hence it has been forced to refine and improve upon the idea. Here are a couple of them which have done a good job, either as a one off film or part of a larger campaign.
Voltas All Weather AC - Murthy Campaign (Jan 2013- Current)
The latest ad in the campaign (running since Jan 2013) features a gruff father in-law and the protagonist Murthy. The previous ads have had Murthy traveling all over India from Delhi, to Rajasthan to Chennai enduring different weather conditions and their single solution Voltas AC. The accent is laid on thick and thankfully no references to Rajinikanth.
Idea Internet – No Ullu Banawing: Pashmina (March 2014)
The Idea commercial features 2 South Indian ladies (Tamilian and Malayali?) encountering a devious shopkeeper possibly in Kashmir trying to play on their ignorance of his merchandize. The ad is a part of a larger series from Idea about enabling Indians to deal with everyday lies using the internet.
Centre Fruit - Kaisi Jeeb Laplapayee (March 2013)
This is one of the rare pieces of creatives which have been translated from an original tamil TVC to Hindi (notice the lip sync glitch for the outlet owner). The setup of a tamil tiffin shop was new and details fairly accurate.
Starsports.com – Kanna Keep Calm (April 2014)
The references here are much more subtle - from the innocuous usage of Kanna in the jingle to the dad in his evening veshti verbally thrashing his son. The overall commercial is brilliant and has probably surpassed the Pepsi IPL bulaawa aaya hai campaign in appeal and popularity (405,000 views vs. 150,000 views)
Havells Mixer Grinder – Patni, Chatni
This Havells commercial is part of a new campaign "Respect Women". This ad features a modern couple similar to the Voltas series. But unlike Voltas, the product helps the wife set an equal footing with her husband (while Voltas helps the husband win over his weather flustered wife). The Chutney-Patni clincher will definitely make this a memorable creative. Havells is one of my favourite Indian brands for their consistent storytelling across product lines(check their other product ads Fans, Wires).
From the initial years of Rajini references, this is definitely a positive journey. The accents will get refined over time, as will the culture cues evolve from the standard idli and sambar. Meanwhile, if you excuse I'll get back to my filter coffee and MS Subhalakshmi songs.
Note: Two other recent commercials which I've not included are You Broadband and Boost. YOU is still dependent on a Rajini reference, while Boost was a poor wannabe rip-off of Kolaveri.
Note: Chennai Super Kings Whistle Podu is another strong campaign since 2008 . But here the creative requires clear Tamil references. Hence I've not included it.