Freedom in a soap

Read more below

By The girl in the waterfall — ALYQUE PADAMSEE takes t2 through a demo that became an iconic brand campaign As told to Priyanka Roy Which iconic advertisement would you like to know more about? Tell
  • Published 21.06.11

Liril — the soap that reminds us of a girl frolicking under a waterfall and dancing carefree to an infectious jingle. For 25 years, India was hooked to the ad — and to the soap. Ad guru Alyque Padamsee took the less-beaten path to create an

advertising campaign that was both iconic and groundbreaking. At last count, the Liril ad had more YouTube views than Sholay’s Mehbooba!


In 1975, Hindustan Lever was looking for a soap that could be a premium soap. They had popular soaps like Lux, Lifebuoy and Rexona, but nothing in the premium category apart from a Pears, which was again largely restricted to winter. They came up with Liril, a lime soap that they hoped would have a wider appeal.

The next step was to market the soap to the right target audience. We at Lintas put on our thinking caps and I suggested that we do a bit of research. I said I wonder what the Indian housewife thinks about when she closes the bathroom door. Because that’s probably the only 10 minutes in the whole day she gets to herself. The rest of the time she is cooking and cleaning and scrubbing and working for her family.

The research unveiled that when she has a bath, the Indian housewife tries to get away from it all — family responsibilities and the drudgery of housework. There were some who would start singing the latest Bollywood numbers while there was one who even day-dreamed of Amitabh Bachchan coming on a white horse and carrying her away! From this research, we came to the conclusion that, for the Indian housewife, a bath was a way to escape the world, the only time she could be with herself and more importantly, be herself.

That gave me the idea that we could create a fantasy where she could escape to emotionally when she was having a bath. As a young boy, I loved watching Tarzan films and his girlfriend Jane always used to have a bath under a waterfall and come out looking so fresh. I said why don’t we adopt that idea because we were looking to market Liril from the freshness platform. Most of the soaps of the time focused on complexion, getting rid of pimples and so on. We wanted to talk about a bathing experience that creates a fresh new woman out of you. That’s when we decided on the girl under the waterfall concept.

The next step was, of course, casting for the film. Which was very difficult because we had to have a girl who, firstly, loved water and second, she had to be someone who could keep her eyes open under a waterfall!

After a search of more than a hundred girls, we finally found Karen Lunel. She was very tall — some 5’11” — and she had this fabulous smile. She was always full of life and to top it, she was a great swimmer. We put her under this raging waterfall in Kodaikanal in the month of November! She was freezing. What (producer) Kailash Surendranath did was to give Karen sips of brandy in between the shots to keep her warm. Every five seconds, we would pull her out and give her some brandy and put her back in. By the time we were five or six shots down, Karen was quite drunk and we had to be careful that she didn’t drown! That was quite an experience.

Once we had shot the ad, the next step was to select the music. We got Vanraj Bhatia and he did a super piece — the La la la jingle — that everyone fell in love with.

We didn’t want the ad to have a story; we wanted a montage of some really refreshing moments. The girl is in the waterfall and we cut between the waterfall and her shower in the bathroom to convey the feeling of freedom and freshness. The ad just stood for sheer, unbridled exuberance and enjoyment. At the end of it, we all knew that we had a winner on our hands.

But nothing was possible without the approval of the client. When we showed it to Hindustan Lever, one of the product managers said: ‘But Mr Padamsee, how can we show the Indian audience an ad with a girl in a bikini bathing under a waterfall?’ I stuck to my guns and said that we would put it on air and see what the viewer reaction is. If the feedback was negative, I promised that we would pull it off.


We put it on air and it was a huge hit. Everyone loved the ad, loved the jingle, loved the girl in the waterfall. We didn’t have to make a single cut in the ad. There was no opposition because Karen’s sexuality wasn’t in-your-face like Mallika Sherawat. The Liril girl was really the girl-next-door who wasn’t sexy, but epitomised a young girl who wanted to have fun.

Karen Lunel was our Liril girl for over 10 years and then many famous faces took over. Altogether, the same campaign ran for 25 years. The great thing about the ad is that it became an icon and an inspiration for the new Indian woman who was carefree, very bindaas. For her, the soap became more about freedom than about freshness. The women identified with that and tuned in and the men tuned in because they wanted to see Karen!

We got a lot of positive feedback. I remember someone came up to me and said: ‘Alyque, whatever else Liril is, it expresses the French term of joie de vivre (joy of life) like nothing else ever can’. A lot of young people tell me even now that they grew up with the Liril girl.

The recall of the ad was so high that people would say that they had watched it even on the days when it did not air! It impacted their emotional retina in such a way that they felt that they had seen it even when they hadn’t.

There have been many Liril girls down the years but for me, Karen Lunel was the Liril girl, much more than either Preity Zinta or Deepika Padukone. It became a joke at Lintas that if you are chosen as a Liril girl, then it is a sure-shot ticket to the movies! It became quite a thing to be the Liril girl; there have always been top models that have fallen over themselves wanting to be the Liril girl.

Within 18 months of the campaign, Liril became the top-selling soap in the premium category and it remained so for 25 years. Then, when I left Lintas, new people came on board and they started fiddling with the old campaign. They had a campaign where the girl was running around in the rain, but they failed to capture the freshness and the freedom of the waterfall ads. It just wasn’t the same. When that didn’t work, they started positioning it as a sexy soap saying that you smell so fresh after a bath that your man will chase you around the whole room! That ad was done with Deepika, but it flopped miserably.

Now, they have a campaign that says that Liril arouses 2,000 points in your body. I didn’t even know that I had 2,000 points in my body! If the ad campaigns have been mediocre, Liril’s product extensions — they had an Orange soap and one that was Icy Cool — have diluted the original image and positioning of the brand.

Even today, the girl under the waterfall remains fresh in people’s minds. I think that if Liril re-introduces that imagery again, the brand will get a new lease of life. Getting the girl out of the waterfall is like getting the flute out of Lord Krishna’s hands. It’s such an integral part of the Liril brand image.

Liril is the only brand in my entire career where I made a commercial which was nothing but a demo and yet it worked. It became part of the Indian ethos. You could watch it over and over again for 25 years and never get tired of it.

the liril girls


The first Liril girl — the most enduring Liril face. A successful model, Karen went on to become an air-hostess. The mother of one now lives in New Zealand.


Few can forget a nubile Preity in green tee and denim shorts dancing under a waterfall in the mid-90s. Bollywood happened soon after.


The Om Shanti Om stunner became associated with the brand more than half a decade ago, becoming the face (and body) of Liril Orange.


The Liril ad shifted from the water to the road with this leggy beauty. A model for the soap’s shower gel variant, the former Miss India moved on to a less
successful movie career.


She traipsed from the Sahara to Antarctica to advertise Icy Cool Liril before facing the arclights for films like Page 3 and Khosla Ka Ghosla.