Bachchan dons angry persona for Pulse Polio campaign

By , agencyfaqs! | In
Last updated : December 23, 2002
The campaign for the upcoming national polio eradication drive has an anguished Amitabh Bachchan coaxing and chiding audiences to help get rid of the disease

'Dhikkaar hai!'

'Sharm aani chaahiye humein!'

Not exactly words that television audiences would take kindly to when hurled at them through an ad. But when these angry words ride on the deep baritone of Amitabh Bachchan, you sit up and listen.

And that - getting people to sit up and listen - is precisely the idea behind the new Pulse Polio campaign (created by O&M) for the upcoming national polio eradication drive, being coordinated and funded by UNICEF for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The campaign, which broke late last week and is being aired extensively across television and radio channels, consists of four theme ads that have Bachchan coaxing, chiding and even browbeating audiences to get their children vaccinated against polio.

'Laanat hai,' he growls in one ad, throwing down a newspaper he is reading. 'Hum mein se kuchh log apne bachhon ko polio ki dawa nahin pila rahein hain. Arre, polio jaati ya dharm ko pehchaan kar toh vaar nahin karta. Kab tak karenge khilwaad apne bachhon ki zindagi se?' he demands angrily, adding, 'Ek baat sab kaan khol kar sun leejiye. Paanch Janvari (January 5) aur nau Farvari (February 9) ko ek bhi bahcha aisa na ho jise dawa na pilaayi gayi ho. Kyunki desh mein agar ek bhi polio ka naya case nazar aaya, toh hamaare liye bahut sharm ki baat hogi. Chaliye, thaan lein ki polio ka naam-o-nishaan mitaa denge.'

An angry Bachchan is something that Indian audiences are hugely familiar with. But an angry Bachchan in an ad - that's a new one. Post-KBC, Bachchan has featured in innumerable ads as an endorser, but it's always his kindly friend-philosopher-guide persona - exemplified in KBC - that has shone through. Never anger.

On second thoughts, it really would be wrong to term it as anger alone. It is anger tinged with anguish, anger that stems from exasperation. "There are times when you speak harshly even to those dearest to you," says Piyush Pandey, group president & national creative director, O&M. "That is because you love them and care for their wellbeing, and you feel let down when they are harming themselves. That is the sentiment in these ads. Bachchan has a hurt and disgusted tone, but people will realize that yeh apna koi bol raha hai." Looking at it, Bachchan's anger in this campaign actually draws from his friend-philosopher-guide and 'father figure' images, which is why it works. A less 'trusted' celebrity could not carry the thing off as convincingly.

Interestingly, the campaign idea itself is rooted in disappointment. "All these years, the number of polio cases in India were going down," Pandey explains. "However, this year, there has been a rise in the number of reported cases, which is a clear setback. And when I heard of this, I personally felt very disappointed with the loss in momentum. Just when we were winning, the disease is coming back. Which is why we sat down and said that it's time to shake people up. So let's do a hard-hitting campaign to get the energy back and pull people out of complacency."

The figures aren't in the least bit flattering for India. In 2000, the number of reported polio cases stood at 265. In 2001, the figure remained fairly constant (268). But so far, in 2002, the number of reported cases is 1,211 - and likely to go up by another 200 or so. "There are very few countries remaining where the polio virus still exists," reveals Pallavi Mishra, client service director, O&M. "The virus exists mainly in India, in some countries in Africa, and a few countries that are in the midst of Civil War. The maximum number of cases is in India, particularly Uttar Pradesh."

Quite clearly, inertia has set in. Mishra informs that people living in areas that have not reported a polio case for a couple of years do get complacent, contributing to a poorer turnout at the vaccination booths. And then there is the issue of awareness. "It's like this AIDS thing about me not getting infected. People believe mere bachhe ko polio nahin hoga," remarks Pandey. "There are pockets of population not reached through media, and they pose a huge problem," Mishra adds. However, this year, UNICEF has mandated Thompson Social & Rural and Ogilvy Outreach to help connect with these "media dark areas".

One purpose of the campaign is to serve as a motivation for the people on the field. In fact, in one ad, Bachchan says, 'Pulse Polio waale phir wapas aa rahen hain. Aur suniye, yeh bewakoof nahin hain jo baar-baar aate hain. Inka kaam hai desh ke ek-ek bachhe ko dawa pilaana… Ab inki aur apne bachhe ki madad keejiye.' Incidentally, for successful eradication, every child under the age of five has to be immunized at the same time, which explains the national immunization days. And in India, the national drive against polio takes place in winter "because the vaccine needs a cold chain to keep it potent, and that is quite difficult to maintain across the millions of villages in the country", Mishra explains. "Also, this is the time when the polio virus is most susceptible."

Bachchan is, without doubt, the heart and soul of this campaign. Utterly convincing, he puts his repertoire to great use, persuading with a whole range of emotions. The way he says 'Chaliye, thaan lein…' differently in each ad is wonderful - especially the one where he doesn't complete the sentence, instead ending it with a trademark, 'Haan'. Interestingly, one of the ads has him applauding those who came out on January 5, although he quickly warns, '…jung abhi khatam nahin hui hai… Jitni baar bhi dawa pilaani padegi, hum utni baar dawa pilaayenge.' His passion is infectious.

"I have always wanted to work with him on a public service campaign, and we are fortunate he agreed to be a part of this," Pandey smiles. "What a professional! He took just one look at the scripts. And if you see, each ad is just one single shot. The way he improvised was amazing. We wrapped up the thing in two-and-a-half hours." The campaign has been produced by Sunil Doshi for AB Corp, and directed by Santosh Sivan. "Everyone has put their heart into this one," says Pandey. "We want to be in a position to say that this campaign made a difference." © 2002 agencyfaqs!

First Published : December 23, 2002
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© 2002 agencyfaqs!