Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Quick Gun Murugan, Idli Westerns and Indian Advertising

The weekend saw the release of Quick Gun Murugan, the movie. It must be one of the rare instance of a TV Commercial character (and idea) being turned into a full-length feature film. The clip above and below are part of the Quick Gun Murugan series aired in the mid 90’s.

Quick Gun Murugan series continues to be my favourite Indian TV Commercial. Some might argue that it is not a TV Commercial in the strictest sense but a promo for a music channel. That might be so, but the impact it had on Indian Advertising is far reaching.
Quick Gun Murugan is an incredible spoof of Idli Westerns. Idli Westerns or Tamil language cowboy films were inspired by Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns that made Clint Eastwood famous. Jaishankar, the ‘James Bond’ of Tamil films in 60’s and 70’s, was the hero of the first Idli Western film called Ganga. It is also probably the first ‘cowboy’ film in India. I have seen the film on National Television when I was a kid and I enjoyed every minute of it.

To many, the sight of a Tamil speaking cowboy strutting about wearing a Stetson and bashing up goons might seem ridiculous. Hey, this is India. Anything is possible and accepted. It was this acceptance of the incongruous that Channel V exploited. Quick Gun Murugan became a cult and helped Channel V catch up with MTV.
Before the advent of Quick Gun Murugan, majority of Indian advertising could be classified as Soppy, Syrupy and Crappy.
Soppy: Emotional, tear-inducing and lot of times tries appealing to the patriotic spirit using a theme. For example, ‘Breasts of India’ for a lingerie brand (I made that up but I won’t be surprised if it was discussed)
Syrupy: Ultra smart kids or an animal or an ever-smiling mom or a combination of all this, forms part of the picture. They are heavily infused with saccharine leading to sure OD. Little wonder that India is the diabetic capital of the world!
Crappy: Do I have it spell it?
Quick Gun Murugan with its zany, absurd and don’t-take-me-too-seriously approach was refreshing. The fact that the population was lapping up such stuff prompted advertisers to demand the same from their agencies. Quick Gun Murugan helped marketers and agencies to loosen up.
Except for the Maggi Tomato Sauce series, I do not think we had such entertaining as well as interesting advertising before Quick Gun Murugan. Indian advertising slowly started to move away from clich├ęs and tried coming up with interesting ideas. The operative word is ‘interesting’.
However, it is a slow evolution. Notwithstanding the clutch of international awards won in recent times, majority of Indian advertising continues to be stuck in the soppy, syrupy and crappy mode. The reasons for this remain the same even today. They range from ‘the average consumer will not get it’ to ‘Indian’s don’t have a sense of humour’. That is a load of bull-crap. There is no such thing as ‘average consumer’ and as regards ‘sense of humour’ one needs to have loads of it to live in India. The ones giving such reasons are probably referring to themselves.
I am not saying that all ads should be funny or entertaining. I do understand that Quick Gun Murugan formula of advertising will not apply to most brands and situations. However, one can surely try to make ads interesting. I know I am a minority here. But it is a growing minority, both amongst clients and agencies. That is a good sign.
However, my reaction to a soppy, syrupy or crappy ad continues to remain the same, which is:


  1. Yup. From the saccharine kid saying, "I love you Rasna" to a desperately-trying-to-be-cute kid wanting to sleep with her parents in the Airtel ad, we don't seem to have travelled much.

    The movie is not that hot btw.

  2. Thanks Ramesh. I will be happy with the TVC and avoid the movie