Who was the inspiration for 'Sanjana' in Pepsi's iconic 90s ad with Aamir Khan and Aishwarya Rai?

The ad that starred Aamir Khan, Mahima Chaudhary and Aishwarya Rai became a rage and many parents named their children Sanjana, Sanju for short.

By  Storyboard18Sep 6, 2023 9:22 AM
Who was the inspiration for 'Sanjana' in Pepsi's iconic 90s ad with Aamir Khan and Aishwarya Rai?
After 1994, the brand worked with Prahlad Kakkar because of his associated work with veteran film director Shyam Benegal. Pepsi’s ‘Yehi hai right choice, baby’, was directed by late film director Mukul Anand and was released in 1992. It starred Bollywood actor Juhi Chawla. (Stills from the ad)

Storyboard18's Brand Blitz Quiz, India's First Panel Business Quiz, decided to have some fun with brand geeks from the Indian advertising and marketing community. We got Sai Ganesh, founder, India Wants To Know and the quiz master of Brand Blitz Quiz, to quiz angel investor and business strategist Lloyd Mathias; communications strategy consultant Karthik Srinivasan; and indie creative shop Talented's creative and founding member Sanket Audhi.

In what we call the pilot episode, Ganesh played a familiar Pepsi ad from the 1980s featuring Canadian-American actor Michael J. Fox. His question to Audhi was to recall the actors who were featured in the Indian version of the same ad, made in the 1990s. Aamir Khan, Mahima Chaudhary, and Aishwarya Rai appeared in the commercial.

In the ad, Khan is seen playing chess at his home all alone. He hears his doorbell ring and sees his beautiful neighbour, played by Chaudhry, at the door. She is seen asking him to get her a bottle of Pepsi. In order to impress her, Khan goes out in rain, battling his way through hurdles he ultimately manages to get a bottle of the beverage. When he gets back home, the doorbell rings again and Chaudhry, who's waiting for Khan to return, says, “It must be Sanju.” That's when Aishwarya Rai enters the scene and says, “Hi, I am Sanjana. Got another Pepsi?”

Mathais, former marketing head of Pepsi, recalls why Rai was named Sanjana/Sanju in the ad. Vibha Paul Rishi (currently independent director, ICICI Bank), who was the head of marketing at Pepsi India then, had just delivered her daughter whose name was Sanjana. She called her daughter Sanju. A month later, as Mathias puts it, another “young Sanjana was born.” Rai featured in the commercial much before she was crowned as Miss World in 1994.

Several media reports indicate that there were more than twice as many Sanjanas born in 1993 as in the preceding three years. The reports also stated that almost 50 girls were named Sanjana in 1993 after the ad was aired. The obsession over Rai and her character was real, it seems.

Lloyd revealed another fact. At the time, there was a global policy at Pepsi that the brand would work only with mainstream Bollywood producers. Pepsi's Sanju ad was shot by Bollywood filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra and was played out in cinema halls across India. But Lloyd says that in actuality less than two percent of the audience watched it on cinema screens. Instead India watched the now iconic ad on their television screens at a time when TV was booming in a post-liberalisation era. It successfully brought the largeness of Bollywood to advertising and the small screen.

After 1994, the brand worked with Prahlad Kakkar because of his associated work with veteran film director Shyam Benegal. Pepsi’s ‘Yehi hai right choice, baby’, was directed by late film director Mukul Anand and was released in 1992. It starred Bollywood actor Juhi Chawla.

Watch part one of the pilot episode here:

First Published on Aug 21, 2023 4:44 PM

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