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Most Controversial Ads Featuring Bollywood Celebrities

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It might appear to those unfamiliar with history that Indians have gotten overtly sensitive over the past few years. However, that is not the case. Sure, the Padmaavat controversy was unprecedented. Never before in the history of Independent India had people blatantly threatened to behead a public figure or attacked a noted director like Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Never before had political goons appeared on national television and flaunted their swords. However, when we look at television, brand endorsements and advertisements, we see that there were many such shorts that were taken off the air for some reason or the other. In fact, some social media trends against these ads even caused a drop in the brand’s stock price – albeit only for a day or two.

Take that infamous Jack and Jones advertisement featuring Ranveer Singh. The advertisement which aired in 2017, showed the Bollywood hunk carrying a woman on his shoulder with the caption: “Don’t hold back. Take your work home”. Any normal person with half an iota of common sense would have understood how inappropriate this ad was – even before #MeToo arrived in India. Tamil actor Siddharth severely objected to this advert, even tweeting against it. “A new low for women’s rights in the workplace in India. What were they thinking? #Fail,” he wrote on the microblogging platform. This led to an avalanche of tweets and the company finally withdrew the offensive advert. They also apologised for the same.

Let’s step further back into history. Now, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is one of the most dignified actors in Bollywood. The Devdas actress had even refused to endorse fairness creams because she felt that it was racist. Way before Priyanka Chopra arrived on western shores, Aishwarya had been the unofficial ambassador for India. However, the actor had starred in an advert for Kalyan Jewellers which showed her sitting regally like a Queen while a dark-skinned child held an umbrella over her. The advert was called racist when it launched, and the brand went on to withdraw the creative from their campaign.

Then, of course, there are some adverts that get into trouble only because we like to pretend we’ve never heard about sex or pleasure. Bollywood’s Khiladi, Akshay Kumar had starred in a fantastic advert for a denim brand wherein he had walked the ramp in his jeans and headed straight towards his wife, Twinkle Khanna. Twinkle had unbuttoned his jeans and this caused much hullabaloo at the time. Obviously, this was way before AltBalaji and mainstream cinema normalised sexual pleasure and more. A social worker had even filed a case of obscenity against the brand and the two actors but nothing really came out of it.

Akshay Kumar jeans unbuttoning by Twinkle in Lakme Fashion Show
[Source: Fact Without Know]

Talking about foolish controversies, there was the time when Amitabh Bachchan had starred in an ad for Parle’s Kacha Mango Bite wherein he can be seen pelting stones at a mango tree. Pretty wholesome and normal, right? The Advertising Standard Council of India didn’t think so. They said that this ad might encourage children to imitate Bachchan and throw stones at real Mango trees. The commercial was taken down.

Then, in the early 90s, Malaika Arora and Arbaaz Khan had starred in an advert for Mr. Coffee Instant Coffee. The actors were posing intimately in the print ad and the caption read: “Real pleasure can’t come in an instant”. This ad was criticised for being obscene, which can be expected given the time it was released but people even said that it was misleading!

Any talk about sexy adverts would be amiss if we didn’t mention the OGs. Any 90s kid will know about the whirlwind romance that Bipasha Basu and Dino Morea had. They were sex symbols at the time and continue to hold that honour. In an advert for an international underwear brand called Calida, Dino was shown pulling off Bipasha’s panties with his teeth. This ad would have caused a riot today so one can only imagine what a ruckus it caused then. The advert was promptly pulled down. In the same vein, the most controversial ad to ever hit Indian shores featured hotties Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre who were supermodels at the time. The two celebrities had posed naked for a shoe brand wherein they were hugging each other in the nude with only a python around them to cover their modesty. This ad literally brought the nation to a stop and is remembered even today.


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A post shared by Milind Usha Soman (@milindrunning)

Condoms have also been a major issue in the world’s most populous country. While Pooja Bedi was the first mainstream actress to endorse condoms (the ad didn’t go down well, duh), it was Ranveer Singh who ruffled feathers when he began promoting safe sex. He has stopped working with the brand, Durex, following his marriage. However, the ad that caused an outcry was a condom print ad featuring Sunny Leone. There has been a running joke in India that sex toy sales shoot up in Gujarat during dandiya season and Manforce hinted at that when they based their condom ad around Navratri. The ad was promptly withdrawn after much outcry.

Then, of course, there are ads that promote religious harmony but that’s a space that always causes controversy. Any advert that promotes a ‘silent’ Diwali is always the subject of much trolling.