The icon who had held her stead for an astonishing 30 years is the Liril girl. Shrinking attention spans and shifting trends notwithstanding, she continues to epitomize exuberant freshness. The ubiquitous waterfall has morphed into a glacier. The signature tune Laa la la la laa has been tweaked to Uff yu maa. Why, its not even the customary lime-green anymore. Variants like Icy Cool and Orange Fresh have brought in new hues. But the effervescence of the Liril girls – from Karen Lunell to the current nymph, Dipika Padukone – is comfortingly familiar.
It was in 1975 that Hindustan Lever Limited added a twist of lime to soapsuds, and created Liril, the first ever “lime freshness soap”. Research, meanwhile, had thrown up a startling insight that the only time the Indian housewife got to herself was when she closed her bathroom door. That’s when she daydreamed about escaping a humdrum life.
“The creative rendition of that insight was a girl bathing in a waterfall” , says Alyque Padamsee, ad pundit and creator of the Liril girl phenomenon. But then came the tricky part – getting the right waterfall and the right girl! “Some couldn’t keep their eyes open under the waterfall. Others didn’t exude the right energy. Yet others had qualms about donning a bikini.” Then entered Karen Lunell. With permission from her employers, Air India, the crew flew to Kodaikanal. That’s where they had found a waterfall, which was perfect in every way.
When the ad was released, the audience was bowled over. The blithe water sprite, the dancing waterfall, the catchy refrain – everything was new and thrilling. The Liril girl became the metaphor for freshness and at a deeper level, for freedom from the mundane. It struck a winning chord with the Indian woman and Liril zoomed to the top of the premium soap segment.
Karen’s romp in icy waterfalls continued for close to 10 years. Says Kailash, “With each film, we experimented with new techniques like flash cuts and slow motion. But we never took her away from the waterfall”.
Anjali Jathar was still in college when she was signed on for Liril. She was thrilled, but nothing prepared her for the ‘waterfall’ ordeal. She enjoyed every moment of the filming, including the time in Nepal when she almost drowned. “My raft had capsized and one of the overzealous Nepalese assistants in an attempt to rescue me, ended up pulling me into the rapid. He probably didn’t know I was an excellent swimmer. In the end, I had to kick him and swim to safety”, she laughs.
An unrivalled market leader in the 1970s and 1980s, Liril was facing a testing time in the 1990s. The woes began with a stagnant market and aggressive competition from a slew of me-too brands. Besides, the girl-in-waterfall had become predictable. To infuse variety, Liril introduced a shower gel, Liril Active Gel.
Out went the waterfall and in came a car wash, and a new Liril girl – Pooja Batra. The film had the leggy Miss India pull into a deserted car wash, looking worse for wear. Then, the Liril Gel gives her an idea and she jumps and dances in the burst of water, ending up as fresh as a daisy.
While this was a marked departure from the previous Liril imagery as well as the jingle, it wasn’t curtains for the waterfall yet.
The waterfall gushed once more in the next film and under it danced the dimple, exuberant Preity Zinta. Preity had shot to fame as the impish collegian in the Perk film. With Liril, she got a chance to display her bubbly charm as well. It was a rockstar in the jungle theme. So she drummed on plants, blew on reeds, swung on vines and generally let her hair down.
Unlike the previous Liril girls, however, Preity didn’t turn blue in the icy waterfall. The film was shot on a set where a waterfall was created complete with exotic jungle plants and acrylic stones, because she couldn’t swim!
In 1999, Liril turned blue for the first time with Liril Rainfresh, a blue variant of Liril...