Saturday, December 03, 2005

Balbir Pasha ko kya hua tha?

If your answer to the above question was AIDS, then you can collect your free passes for dinner with Pasha by mailing me. You obviously are amongst those blessed beings who were touched by Pasha’s presence in your surroundings. For those unfortunate ones who are trying to remember which of the two camps, Dawood’s or Rajan’s, did Pasha belong to, this post might be a good start.

Balbir Pasha was an everyman who took it upon his shoulders to bear the cross of Indian society’s reluctance to discuss AIDS and sex related issues openly. Like Atlas, he carried the weight of the guilt of entire Mumbai, the metropolis that Suketu Mehta has rightly called a ‘city in heat.’ Pasha chose to a lead a life of ignominy just so that those teeming bambaiyas could know the about AIDS victims and Pasha’s fate did not befall on them. Balbir Pasha was the fictional alter ego of the truck drivers, taxi drivers, jobless and blue collar workers of Mumbai. A wonderful advertising campaign was devised by Lowe woven around his character and I remember it was a hit when it was first unveiled. For months Balbir Pasha was the most talked about man in Mumbai. He beat Digen Varma (Whatever happened to him?) hands down when it came to creating a buzz.

What reminded me of Pasha today was Sepia Mutiny's post on world AIDS day. The photograph accompanying the story shows a visibly poor woman walking with her child and in the background a public service message is painted in English that says ‘One way to stop AIDS, use condoms while having sex.’ Whoever came up with such a bland slogan? And I am not saying this just because my slogan won the Desipundit slogan contest. :) Now that I have publicised that lets move on. Let’s forgive their wording and sense of rhyme and focus on the language. To believe that the woman or the child in the photograph know English would require a leap of faith as large as believing that the character Balbir Pasha actually exists.

The Balbir Pasha campaign on the other hand was in complete contrast in reaching out to its intended audience. It used catchy slogans in conversational tone. The campaign consisted of huge cut outs and posters stuck on billboards with some drawings (usually the silhouette of a woman) and a sidebar, which carried in large font the rhetorical question: Balbir Pasha ko AIDS hoga kya? Later there were radio and Television messages too.

The following were the slogans:-

Balbir Pasha ki regular sirf Manjula hai par Manjula ke kai regular hai.

Balbir Pasha sharab ke nashe mein condom lagana bhool jata hoga. Ek baar bhi condom na lagaane se AIDS ho sakata hai.

Pasha sirf swastha dikhnewalon se sambandha rakhta hai. Par dekhne se pata nahi chalta kise AIDS hai.

Aao milkar haath badhaye Balbir Pasha ko AIDS se bachaye.

My observation was that the campaign was incredibly successful. I actually heard youngsters asking the right questions, look at the Billboards and having discussion about sex on the street. It was successful in removing the taboo because of the language used. Everyone could empathise. The man on the street knew that Balbir Pasha was just like him. He drank alcohol, visited brothels and wondered about AIDS.

The Balbir Pasha campaign however ran into trouble and was shut down in mid 2003. And no, it wasn’t because the Balbirs and Manjulas of the world approached the courts to file a defamation suit against the ad agency. Nor was it the bloggers’ favourite punching bags, government or Shiv Sena, playing killjoys, as is their wont when it comes to such bold themes. The script unfolds like an Agatha Cristhie novel. The most unlikely suspect is the culprit. It was actually the NGO’s and our dear Ms. Shobhaa De who came down hard on the campaign. They found the campaign incredibly sexist as they thought it was sending the wrong message regarding women. They were worried that people may assume that only women spread AIDS.

To their credit, the perpetually whiny NGO’s for once got carried away with the creative energies unleashed by the ad campaign. I remember one particular person opposing it had said.

Pasha Ho Yaa Asha AIDS Se Na Bane Jindagi Tamasha.
In my book, the award for 'fostering public and private sector cooperation in an unlikely medium like public sevice advertising,’ went to Amul. Those guys are utterly butterly devilicious! They used the same format of the poster, the same colour combination, woman's silhouette et. all and created the following slogan:-

"Balbir Pasha roz savere kiske saath jaagta hai." with a Amul Butter in the same font as Balbir Pasha with "Regular Item' printed below. I mean seriously these guys should be worshipped.

The government pulled down the campaign and the last I heard it was reinstatedwith newer posters and themes in November 2004. So if anybody Mumbaikar can provide the new slogans please share them here, I am eager to know Pasha’s recent antics.

As an aside, how much I miss advertisements from India!!! In comparison to the stock ‘100 percent APR financing’ ads in the US, they are so rich, layered, quirky and a zillion times creative and fun. I think advertising more than Bollywood or any other clichéd entity, serves as the symbol of national integration. Advertisements truly unite us across class/caste/language and religious barriers. Bollywood movies have their own target audience which varies from class, rural/urban etc. Whereas everyone can relate to ‘washing powder Nirma’ jingle or the ‘Deepikaji aaiye aaiye aapka sab saman tayar hai’ baritone inspite of the fact the buyer comes from a upper class background and has never bought anything but Aerial and Surf Excel.

Lekin ek baat kehana to hum aapse bhool hi gaye…. Ghabraiye nahi hume kuch nahi chahiye… Hum to bas itana chahte hai ki aap world AIDS day ka celebration Balbir Pasha ka naam leke kijiye.


Suyog said...

Good post!

I completely agree with you that Indian ads are so much better than these idiotic no payment down, no interest financing, car and other assorted ads that they show in and out of telly here.

I have never heard of balbir pasha ad campaign - jeez am I so out of touch!! but amul's creativity had me in splits!

Great post! Keep inking!

I notice u are in D.C - tum ho pados mein ho - I live in Bethesda!


Chetan said...

Thanks Suyog!

Shruthi said...

Hey I loved this post!