Remember the first time you saw it? It was 1993 and cable TV, cricket broadcasts and economic liberalisation were all things we were still getting used to. Life had burst into gaudy colour if you were a kid with a television set and the Indian cricket team had just beaten a touring England, celebrations of which were still echoing around you.
India was going to change, incredibly fast and in front of your eyes. You didn’t know it, but Piyush Pandey did. Already O&M’s star ad-man, Pandey knew his cricket. He’d played Ranji Trophy for Rajasthan, after all, and was about to embark on twenty years of genre-defining cricket commercials. It’s no wonder that he chose to make a chocolate advert set on a cricket field.
No, the wonder is that he made it okay to be a fan. Look at her. Look at that unforgettable model. Before her, the only people invading the sacred space of the cricket field in play were streakers and flashers: radicals in their own way, but let’s leave them aside for a moment. No one, clothed or no, had ever imagined dancing onto the field like that. That is such a dorktastic dance. Nice girls didn’t dance like that. Nice girls applauded dutifully. In fact, so did nice boys, if they were watching the gentlemen’s game. But this is a nice girl, a good girl, a girl in a dress of appropriate length, biting into a bar of chocolate. It’s a full bar - its own kind of misdemeanour. And there she goes, jumping the boundary. Sure, she does it for a man, but there’s no doubt about who’s stolen the show.
We hid our face in joyful embarrassment the first couple of dozen times we saw that ad. It was so silly, so extravagant, so frivolous and so free. The genius of it is that you already knew how it felt to dream of being the cricketer making that impossible shot. You didn’t know yet, though, that the fan was you, too: the giddy, laughing fan who danced like no one was watching on a field surrounded by people. Kuch Khaas Hai made it okay trespass, loiter, be in love in public. You could love that girl. You could be that girl.
The 1990s were a decade of beauty queens and wedding-video Bollywood movies, of Sachin Tendulkar and that flame-out of a World Cup in 1996. But amidst all that outre stuff, it was also the decade when we created a new normal. And the Kuch Khaas Hai girl, dancing on her field, helped make that in a way that all the Miss Worlds put together couldn’t.
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