Imagine you are in the late seventies in India. Commercial television ads are just beginning to become popular. Indeed colour television itself is not in India (it went mainstream in 1982, thanks to the Asian Games, remember?) And you are a part of this co-operative started by a few Gujarati women in Mumbai with a loan of Rs 80. You want to advertise the most Indian snack. Something that no one imagined could be a branded product, let alone advertised. You are literally on a shoestring budget, ruling out celebrities and fancy sets. So what do you do?
You get a puppeteer and ventriloquist, head to a bungalow in Mumbai, and bring out the most Indian, the most commercial, ad-like ad ever. And achieve the brand manager’s ultimate dream – of making a regular product a brand. We are talking of perhaps one of the most famous advertisements on Indian television – Lijjat Papad’s Kharram Khurram ad.
Some folks, some papad and…well, a puppet
The ad starts with a group of people in a setting that looks like a garden tea party, enjoying some papad. Sitting with them is a rabbit puppet (which was then the mascot of the company). The setting then changes, and shows a family devouring a pile of papad while playing cards, and then shows how you can fry or roast papad, depending on your preference. These clips are interspersed with shots of the product. And right through the ad, the rabbit puppet keeps singing a jingle, interspersed with giggles and funny noises:
“Chai coffee ke sang khaayein
Mehmaon ko khush kar jaye
Swaad swaad mein lijjat papad
Jab hi chahein
Shauk se khayein
Sek ke khayein
Tal ke khayein…
Swaad Swaad mein Lijjat papad…”
(Eat it with tea and coffee
It pleases the guests
Fun filled and full of taste
Delicious and taste filled Lijjat Papad
Eat it whenever you wish
Eat it fried
Eat if toasted
Delicious and taste filled Lijjat Papad
The ad ends with just the rabbit holding a papad in each of its paws, and repeating the main lines of the jingle, along with what seems to be a very puppet-like giggle. The sets are very basic as are the production values. There is no undercurrent or subtle messaging. It is just a lot of people eating papad in different forms. Oh, and there is a rabbit puppet with them!
The settings are very Indian and very mainstream. There are no aspirational connotations. The ad stresses how the product can be enjoyed by just about anyone, irrespective of gender and age. It also shows you how to prepare the product. And the jingle is not just catchy but also keeps stressing how crisp the product is – the words “kharram, Khurram” reflect the crispy nature of the product.
The ad-dest ad ever
There are ads that sneak up on you, tip-toe and whisper the message in your ear “buy our product, our product is amazing”. This Lijjat Papad ad is nothing like that. The ad strides up loud and proud right in your face and tells you not only how good it is but also how you can eat it and when you can eat it. This is advertising at its most raw and basic. There are no fancy storylines, no celebrities, no subtle messaging, just a bunny with a bunch of very normal looking people telling you to snack on papad all the time. All in about half a minute.
Unlike most TV commercials, where the jingle often plays second fiddle to the visuals (or at the most is on par with it), here the “kharram khurram” jingle is actually the backbone of the ad. The visuals would not speak to you if the jingle did not exist. On the other hand, the jingle could exist independently even without the visuals – and it was actually used independently on the radio (which was a big thing in those days, when televisions were not as omnipresent as they are right now) as well, and made perfect sense.
The puppet factor
The puppet’s (some would call it a muppet) presence was interesting – it did not fit into any of the scenarios naturally. No family has a human sized rabbit advocating papad! The ad would have made perfect sense even without the bunny – it could have just very easily shown different families enjoying Lijjat Papad and it would have seemed like the most natural thing ever. And yet the puppet gave the ad a much required quirky touch. Without it, this could have very easily been just another ad. The amazing thing, however, is that the puppet just seemed to fit in, seeming as much of a part of the ad as anything else, in spite of its funny voice and giggles.
Having a celebrity or animation instead of the bunny would have made the ad glamorous or upmarket which is not where the brand aimed to be. It wanted to be a part of Indian household routine with this ad. Its aim was not to make the product look desirable, but to just make it appear accessible, homely and delicious. And it succeeded in doing just that. The ad made Lijjat synonymous with papad. It became iconic without trying to be so. It was just product, product, product. And some more product. It used the most normal (almost “humble”) elements and still went on to become one of the most effective advertisements of all time.
It was simple, direct and its use of the bunny allowed the brand to add an element that grabbed attention even while not distracting people from the product. A key part of the ad was just how utterly Indian it was – there was no animation, even the puppet and the way it spoke sounded very Indian. The Kharram Khurram ad is about papad, a product that everyone knew and was so much a part of everyone’s lives that no one could have associated a brand with it. The ad, however, managed to do just that. Without spending too much. Or using a fancy storyboard. Or celebrities. It did so by being utterly simple and direct. And with a little help from a catchy jingle and a puppet.
A product of its time
Unlike the other ads in this series, we can safely say that the Lijjat Papad ad has not aged that well. The jingle might make sense to a lot of people, simply because it pushes a nostalgia button in their minds. But we do not think that the same ad would have struck a chord with the audience of today. The visuals seem dated and the puppet would have inspired a million memes and while the jingle is informative, it lacks the refinement and rhythm that are the rule in ads these days.
Yes, the kharram khurram ad was a product of its times and very appropriate for them. It came out at a time when audiences were not used to elaborate advertisements and jingles were a big thing (they are not as popular right now). Would the same thing work today? We are not too sure but then it did outstandingly well in its time and that too, on a totally shoestring budget! And it did so by being simple and direct, and adding some levels of very basic entertainment. The ad is a tribute to sheer simplicity – there is no nuance, just the message that papad is delicious, you can make it very easily and you can have it at any time – whether when out with friends or just at home.
There are many Indian snacks. But few if any have been able to be associated as closely with a brand as Lijjat has with papad (perhaps Haldiram with Bhujiya). You do not have a branded samosa, kachori, fafda or a rasgulla. But say papad and you can be reasonably sure that someone will mention “Lijjat”.
And Khurram Kharam too.
Indian Ad-Age | How Cherry Charlie made Cherry Blossom Shine | How ‘Mummy, I am Hungry’ made Maggi a household name in India | How Hamara Bajaj felt the heartbeat of a nation | How Cadbury ‘adulted’ chocolate | How Aamir Khan went through hell to get a Pepsi |
Ad-vantages: Key takeaways
Keep it simple
The biggest strength of the Kharram Khurram ad is its sheer simplicity. It is very direct, and has a simple straightforward message. Some would find it almost too simple but we think that is actually its strength. Yes, there is a bunny puppet singing in it but even its song is incredibly simple and easy to understand – even if you do not know Hindi (the language in which the original ad was shot).
Make the jingle count
The Kharram Khurram jingle of the ad is remembered to this day. Many people might not remember the ad itself, but they do remember the jingle accompanying it. There are not too many ads that have managed to be able to do that – the music and singing (if any) is often relegated to the background.
Make the product the hero
There is no mistaking what the ad is about. From the beginning to the end, it is about papad, papad and more papad. Everything else is secondary.
Keep space for quirkiness
It might be simple, but the ad has its quirky moments – the use of the words Kharram Khurram, the strange sounds of the bunny puppet and of course the presence of the puppet itself. These elements enabled the ad to stand out from the crowd even while not detracting from its essential simplicity.
Believe Ad or Not: Some Ad-ditional facts
The man behind the puppet
The bunny puppet was managed and “voiced” by Ramdas Padhye, a ventriloquist in Bombay. He was a well known puppeteer. The story goes that Ramdas Padhye was performing a show in a five star hotel, when he was spotted by a person associated with the Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, which made Lijjat Papad. He asked Ramdas if he could work on an ad for the product. Ramdas thought it was a small inconsequential ad. The rest as they say is history!
The puppet was not supposed to be in it
The ad was initially supposed to feature members of a typical middle-class Maharashtrian family. However, when it did not seem to be working out, Ramdas suggested that the ad include a “cute” animal eating papad, and making funny noises. It worked!
The birth of Kharram Khurram
When Ramdas proposed that the puppet make funny noises, he was asked for a sample. He evidently just said “Kharram Khurram” off the top of his head. Everyone loved it.
Who made the ad, where was it made
While we could find no official information on the agency behind the ad, soon after this story was published we were informed that Appi (Appasaheb) Umarani, a freelance ad filmmaker, was behind the ad. The film was shot at a Bungalow in Juhu, his family said in a mail sent to Indianexpress.com. It was Umarani who discovered Padhye, the mail said.
Next week: How Nirma became “sabki pasand!”
(Akriti Rana and Nimish Dubey write on technology and communication, and have worked in both fields.)
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines