Benita Chacko

'Manthan' returns in time for Amul's global launch & to retell its story to new-gen Indian consumers

The 1976 film recently featured in the Classics section at Cannes Film Festival and was re-released in Indian theatres.

Mero Gaam Katha Parey. It’s a song people across generations are familiar with. Originally part of the 1976 film Manthan, over the years the song went on to feature in several Amul ads and has become a part of the collective memory of the country. But for those who missed watching the film on the big screen, it was re-released on June 1 and 2 in select theatres, after its entry into the 77th Cannes Film Festival. 

While it may not do justice to the film’s legacy to call it branded content, in many ways the film was that, and long before the term became a part of marketing discourse. 

Branded content films are funded by brands and are used as a tool to tell their stories. Shyam Benegal’s Manthan does exactly that- it narrates the story of India’s ‘White Revolution’ that brought together many poor farmers to set up Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), the parent company of the brand Amul. Moreover, the film was financed by its 500,000 farmers by donating Rs 2 each (Re 1 in 1976 was equivalent to around Rs 31 today). 

'Manthan' returns in time for Amul's global launch & to retell its story to new-gen Indian consumers

However, Dr RS Sodhi, former MD, Amul and president, Indian Dairy Association, asserts that the film was not created with the objective of glorifying the Amul brand. 

Dr Verghese Kurien, who is known as the father of The White Revolution in India, wanted to communicate the model and benefits of the co-operative system to the masses, especially since many villagers were illiterate and traditional presentations wouldn't work. During that time, film was the only effective mass communication tool. Its goal was to convincingly tell the story of the Revolution's beginnings and communicate its benefits to a wide audience. 

It was meant to tell the story of how the co-operative movement started, promote women’s empowerment, and showcase a superior model of economic development. It wasn't just about Amul; it addressed larger issues that Dr. Kurien wanted to communicate. 

In 1980, as Operation Flood, the programme that led to the White Revolution, was being replicated across India, thousands of farmers, professionals, and technocrats were brought to Anand in Gujarat to learn about the Amul model. Sodhi recalls that the first thing they did was show them Manthan. Watching the film gave thousands of rural women confidence and trust that they could replicate the Amul model in their own states and districts despite any hurdles. 

“Manthan served as both a teaching aid and a motivational tool, effectively communicating the Amul business model in an engaging way. It also won hearts for Amul. Consumers understood that the brand was owned by poor dairy farmers. This story effectively communicated the brand's real history, its patriotism, and its purity,” he shares.

However, he insists that the brand’s messaging was completely unintentional. “The brand’s presence is very subtle and indirect. That is why it serves the purpose. Otherwise, it would be considered as an advertisement and nobody would watch it,” he says.

'Manthan' returns in time for Amul's global launch & to retell its story to new-gen Indian consumers

Nitin Karkare, executive director, FCB Group India, has worked on the Amul account since 1986. He says, if one has to label it, it can be called branded content, but the term will demean its larger objective.

“Dr. Kurien was far ahead of his time. In 1976, long before crowdfunding and branded content became common terms, he was already thinking along those lines. This foresight showcases his greatness,” he asserts.

Manav Parekh, senior vice president and executive creative director, Only Much Louder, says the film was not made with the intention of conveying a brand message but to raise awareness about the cooperative movement.

“The farmers wanted to highlight their own struggles. The film focused on the plight of a lower-caste, impoverished population who were cheated out of their rightful role. The main point was highlighting the problem, rather than just presenting the solution, which was the cooperative movement that Amul eventually became,” he says.

'Manthan' returns in time for Amul's global launch & to retell its story to new-gen Indian consumers

The brand used its song Mero Gaam Katha Parey in its advertising several times in the last 35 years making it an anthem for Amul. Recently, it was played at the Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad, when the dairy brand celebrated its completion of 50 years. Speaking of the decision to use the song in its ads, Sodhi recalls that the ad agency had suggested having a TVC based on the song in the presence of Dr Kurien.

“Amul's corporate ads showcased both the farmer side of the revolution and the consumer side, highlighting various products. While the ads were updated to be more contemporary, the original song remained a staple,” he says.

Karkare says it has created at least 10 different versions of the song since 1996, all emphasising the cooperative movement and women's empowerment. “Today, that song has become synonymous with Amul, almost like an anthem. It's inseparable from the brand,” he says.

Sodhi first watched Manthan in 1980 when he joined the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). The film remained his inspiration to work at Amul for 41 years.

“On our first evening, they showed us the film and Dr. Kurien was also present. He said, "Watch this movie, and I want you to become like Dr. Rao after graduating from IRMA." This film introduced us to Amul's struggles and achievements, and it was very motivating,” he says.

Many who had not had the opportunity to watch the film in all these years recently had the opportunity to enjoy it on the big screen. 

Sodhi believes that the re-release is going to create a very positive image about the brand and the co-operative movement. He says the film is even more relevant now, almost five decades since its original release.

“Now the Indian government has formed a separate Cooperative Ministry because cooperatives have become more relevant today. This is the best business model for these small entrepreneurs to come together and aggregate their resources and services,” he says.

Parekh agrees that it is definitely relevant as the disparity between the rich and the poor has remained and become even more stark. 

“Unfortunately, a lot of those issues that are highlighted in the film still exist, maybe in different forms, but the disparity that is being shown in the film still exists, whether it's in the villages or in the cities,” he says.

Karkare believes that the re-release will help the brand tell its story. “It's an authentic story of struggle, a facet of Amul that many may not know. While most are familiar with its products, this film sheds light on its birth, a story that's sure to touch your heart in a profound way,” he says.

Manthan team at Cannes
Manthan team at Cannes

The film was digitally restored by the Film Heritage Foundation. The restoration was funded by GCMMF and it was screened in the Classics section of the Cannes Film Festival in May. It was then re-released theatrically on June 1 and 2 across 38 cities. 

He says that with the film digitally remastered and restored for the big screen, its impact will be significantly greater, reaching a wider audience and enhancing awareness of Amul's story.

“The film was made in 1976, when the brand was relatively small, likely less than Rs 100 crores. Today, Amul is a Rs 80,000 crore brand, having grown exponentially in revenue, product range, and presence across states, cities, towns, and districts. It's omnipresent in Indian households, making it one of India's most loved brands,” he says.

Parekh says the re-release will help Amul change the way it is seen, from being outdated to appealing to newer audiences who favour brands with authenticity and purpose. 

“This shift is crucial as Amul's recent advertising attempts to modernise its image. For Gen Z, authenticity and purpose drive brand love, and this film will resonate well with them. This film is going to create immense brand love for Amul because it highlights the purity and innocence of its origins. For any brand, showcasing such authenticity is invaluable. When we pitch to brands, we often discuss their reason to exist and their purpose. This film exemplifies those concepts perfectly,” he says.

Amul's ad announcing its US foray
Amul's ad announcing its US foray

Moreover, on May 19, GCMMF announced that Amul is launching four variants of fresh milk in the US market. “The Taste of India. Now in USA,” declared the dairy cooperative in a newspaper advertisement. It has partnered with the 108-year-old American co-operative organisation Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) for this.

Amul has been exporting dairy products to nearly 50 countries for many decades. But this is the first time it is launching fresh milk outside India. Today, Amul ranks as the eighth-largest milk producer in the world and has global ambitions. The timing of the Cannes entry couldn't be better as it spreads its wings internationally.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Jayen Mehta, GCMMF MD, said that he hopes the film’s release in the urban markets will help Amul leverage the global opportunity in the dairy sector. 

“Now that the Amul model is also going abroad, the story becomes equally important. When you are trying to set up a co-operative, where private players are already there and there are caste dynamics at play. The Gujarati backdrop may or may not work for local communities in other countries but it helps in educating the educated– the policy makers. Those countries are at a nascent stage, where India was in 1976…”

In certain theatres where the film was screening, Amul offered some of its products for free. It also presented its new campaign Floating Stories at the screening. The campaign sheds light on the journey of women dairy farmers who have defied the odds and transformed their lives.

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