The passing away of Shashi Kapoor generated a flurry of tributes, obituaries and stories. All of us were transported back in time to the first three decades of post-independent India when the Kapoor brother trilogy of Raj, Shammi and Shashi were an inseparable part of the Hindi celluloid-soaps—since television soaps were almost non-existent then. All three of them made a mark in the same public domain, but managed to appeal to specific Target Groups (TGs), each of them having their own Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
Raj Kapoor was the comedy-coated Chaplinisque hero who wooed the heroines and the gullible public with his downtrodden look, good-guy intentions and haunting songs; he wouldn’t mind playing the loser on screen but still won the heroine’s empathy. His USP was further reinforced by the pathos-ridden playback voice of Mukesh ; and it didn’t hurt Raj, the quintessential showman, if he was perceived in the marketplace as an Awara, Anari, Shree 420, or Joker…And he rocked the box office despite admitting, “sab kuch seekha hamney, na seekhi hoshiyari, sach hai duniyawalon, key hum hain anari…”
By the way, Raj Kapoor had differentiated himself clearly, way back in the 1950s, much before marketing pundits in India woke up to concepts such as Differentiation, Positioning, USP…
His younger brother Shammi Kapoor, after initial hiccups, realized that he needed to find a separate niche to grow, albeit survive, in a fickle market. So he positioned himself differently. He exuded an Elvis Presleyian flamboyance, and with his instinctive dance moves, was hailed as India’s rock & roll poster boy way back in the 1960s. He was totally uninhibited, and rolled down snow-capped mountains yelling Yahoo, to impress his heroine. He enjoyed being positioned as a Junglee, Bluff Master, Janwar, or Budtameez… And the playback voice of Shammi Kapoor was the unbridled full throat singing of Rafi…Yahoo! chaahe koi mujhe junglee kahey, kehne do jee kehata rahe, hum pyar ke toofaanon mein gire hain, hum kya kare…
And then there was the third Kapoor sibling, who left us recently, Shashi Kapoor. Here was a classy, westernized actor trying hard to make an impact among the desi masses with his gentle demeanor, romantic looks & pure heart— willing to play even second fiddle in most of his films. One felt that you could trust him –a transparent gentleman. Shashi also openly supported theatre & good cinema, and was bold enough to venture internationally – without bothering about his image or the trappings of the local box office. While most of the hit films of his elder siblings made a conscious attempt to have titles which reinforced their brand imagery(Awara, Anari, Junglee, Janwar…), Shashi Kapoor’s Hindi film titles made no such attempt (Jab jab phool khile, Sharmeelee, Pyar ka mausam, Haseena maan jayegi, Kaliyug, Junoon,). He played the eternal reticent charmer, unwilling to own the heroine by hook or crook. He was happy singing Khilte hain gul yahan, khil key bhikharane ko, miltae hain dil yahan, mil key bichhadane ko…
Sowing the early seeds of USP, Positioning & Differentiation were the three “Kapoor Family variants” –with distinct imageries, carefully crafted characterizations and, to some extent, apt playback voices.
Oh what a celluloid soap era that was, often referred to as the Golden Age of Hindi films!
Cut to the world of bathing soaps, and in particular to the then Hindustan Lever brand variants. The company (now Hindustan Unilever) which is acknowledged as a pioneer in marketing innovation, Positioning and USP have created a timeless aura around their soap brands. So, even today if you ask Indians born in the 1950s/1960s as to what comes to their mind if you think of Liril soap (circa 1974), they will talk of freshness & lemon with the imagery of the girl frolicking under the waterfall backed by the catchy jingle, La,lalala,la,la,la. A la Shammi Kapoor?
Or probe customers on what is the imagery that they can quickly recall when they think of Pears soap, without much prompting, they’ll speak of the “Pears mother”, mother & child, pure & gentle, transparent – a positioning which reminds of you another “transparent” actor who was perceived to have these finer attributes –and who is credited with the iconic mother-centered dialogue, Mere paas mai hai .
And then there was Hamam soap from the Lever stable. It was rooted in desi values, very Indian, positioned as a family soap with the goodness of Neem, Tulsi, Pudina . The gay abandon of rollicking under the waterfalls (Liril ) was avoided and the sophisticated packaging and premium feel of Pears was missing. Instead, Hamam attempted to encapsulate the spirit of "dil hey Hindustani". And subliminally, you could visualize the autobiographical celluloid imagery that Raj Kapoor created for himself singing, Mera jootha hai Japani, yeh patloon Englistani, sar pey laal topi Roosi, phir bhe dil hey Hindustani...
Management literature dates the informal application of the concept of Positioning by advertising greats like David Ogilvy to the mid-1950s and the early 1960s. It’s reported that the positioning concept was codified by Ries & Trout in a series of articles published between 1969 & 1972, before they published their classic book, Positioning—The Battle for Your Mind (McGraw Hill 1981).
But long before that, our creative geniuses in Bollywood were unknowingly developing positioning strategies & USPs for distinct TGs in such a heterogeneous film market.
Besides the Kapoor trilogy, who can forget the decades-long USPs created in the minds of the masses by the phenomenal “Dilip-Dev-Raj Trinity”? Of that trio, only one legend is with us now, Dilip Kumar, who turned 95 this December. Well, we will keep that story for another day.
Three cheers to Bollywood !
Twinkle Twinkle superstars
Captain marries cinema star
Far away in Tuscany
That’s in familiar Italy
His late cut beat the panting paparazzi
Her coy looks befuddled the prospective kazi
The RAW would look puny with the couple’s camouflage
How could they pull off when they were on the front page
Up above the world so high
Social media eats humble pie.
Sushil Kumar, Management Specialist,
Former Dean, Amrita School of Business.