the toothpaste revolt

vicco vajradanti. vicco thunder-teeth… or should it be the one with thunder-teeth? ever heard of this toothpaste? can’t remember exactly when, must have been in the mid ’70s since i remember i was still in school, i switched to this new toothpaste shaking off the hold of the one and only colgate that i had known since birth practically.

i have no idea what made me take such a step. people of fifteen or so usually don’t think of toothpaste. it’s one of those things that you just find on the shelf above the basin and use without wondering about anything other than how quickly can you finish off and rinse. it comes with the groceries for the month along with nameless, faceless stuff like washing powders, detergents, soaps, talcs, you know. i was usually too busy thinking about my latest crush; or how to get my report cards signed without marks being seen by anyone; or how to become mario puzo and write the godfather; or how to conquer the problem of pimples. sometimes i thought of all of these at the same time. fifteen (maybe sixteen)… certainly not a time to ponder toothpastes. especially, since it had to be colgate.

i think my grandfather started the whole thing.

being extraordinarily keen minded, always reading, finding out new things, experimenting, and with that defiant streak in him which made him the great man he was – yeah he was really something else – he one fine day declared all toothpaste was hogwash. unnecessary. just brushing was enough. and he was quitting the paste.

pandemonium in the house. i used to live with my maternal grandparents at that time along with my uncle, aunt, cousins and a cousin of my mother’s. everyone had something to say about nana not using toothpaste.

but he remained adamant. ultimately though, he did capitulate. said it was only a habit, nothing else, and started using forhans. not the unassailable colgate.

maybe that’s what made me look at that tube on the shelf in a new way. and then one evening, somewhere between krishi darshan, chitrahar, aaj ke mukhya samachar (today’s main news), there was this really loud and almost ridiculous ad on tv. people young and old were biting off chunks of apple, cracking open walnuts with their teeth, with utter ease and a smile on there faces fixed, accompanied by suitably high decibel sound effects and a song that blared many things. all the while pictures of what was being called “jadi-bootiyon” or herbs were rushing at you and finally big smile, strong white teeth, you’ve chomped away at everything… it’s vicco vajradanti. the new toothpaste in town.

the song was so aggressively happy and and full of frantic beat, in my head it’s always vic-cohhh-vaj-ra-dannn-ti, stress on the “co” and the “dan.”

those days we didn’t have so many ads on tv, we hadn’t become the post “liberalised” nation with brands and products proliferating. if i remember right, in toothpastes, there were about four names that figured: colgate (of course), binaca (had the cutest plastic toys as freebies so yes, you persuaded your mother to buy that when you were children but it had already become cibaca and no more little toys), forhans (green and no foam), and signal (with a red stripe). of course, one had to use col…

not one of them had a commercial i can recall. from those days, that is. unilever had not yet launched close up in india, i had not yet become a copywriter who would some day work on the close up account and cogitate about gel, toothpaste, confidence, fresh breath hah! hah! mnemonic, and how to beat colgate gel.

couldn’t find a commercial from the seventies. this one has a much more sophisticated air i am sure than what we saw right in the beginning. vajradanti, i believe, is the name of one of those eighteen promised herbs.


all i remember is the vajradanti ad was the only one that stuck in the mind. it was not pretty, oh no… the tune was shrill, the pictures stark, the editing jumpy. yet. i did notice.

and maybe that “aryuvedic jadi-bootiyon” and “sampoorna swadeshi” in the lyrics struck me, appealed.

vajradanti, vajradanti
vicco vajradanti
toothpowder toothpaste

ayurvedic jadi-bootiyon se bana
sampoorna swadeshi
vicco vajradanti

sampoorna swadeshi…. totally indian. i have never enjoyed the idea of india not being an independent nation, although i have nothing against the brits. we let it come to what we let it come to. and anyway it’s our history and i consider english to be my language really. spoken for more than four hundred years in my land, two hundred of which as the ruler’s language, it is very much mine. but still this idea had something in it… maybe i am of that generation that took what we liked from those who ruled, even much was embedded in us, and yet we didn’t want to be clones, we wanted to find our own voice, style, identity. i know unconsciously i did and i believe i finally found it.

ayurvedic herbs. long before the ad story “natural” became popular and much talked about, i liked that premise. so that was also there.

the fact that my gums would bleed at times may have also been a reason.

but mostly i think it was a fifteen year old’s need to assert and yes, be different. have her say in her life. declare independence.

whatever the real reason was, i said i want vicco vajradanti toothpaste.

well, there wasn’t pandemonium, but enough laughter and teasing. who uses that strange sounding toothpaste? have you seen the ad? okay, do you propose cracking walnuts open with bare teeth? there was perhaps even an undercurrent of shock. give up colgate for… that?

i didn’t relent. i used vicco vajradanti for several years. it was pretty okay. plus it added colour to the bathroom shelf. in time, of course, the biggies got their way… and i can’t remember since when but i am back to colgate, the supreme cleaner and defender of teeth and gums. my mother i am sure sent up a special prayer the day i came back and recanted.

i have been a copywriter for many years, finding an idea that works is never easy. with ads like these i learnt you may not be slick or sound posh, you may not even have a “clever” idea, but sometimes an ad will just work… for reasons you can’t quite fathom. vicco had that mnemonic of the crunchy bite, a jingle that was so strident it did catch you, and a stance all its own. i wonder even now what really got the viewer, because something did and the paste is still around. the commercials and ads, i think, are created by modern ad agency which is part of the vicco group. vicco is a family owned business that began in 1952. they make products based on ayurvedic herbs and ideas. i couldn’t find any material on the making of the early commercials, the press ad above was released in 2013. that’s vicco’s current look. “for strong gums and mighty bite” reads the baseline. i am grinning at the second promise. bite it did, and mightily.

commercials and ad credit uploaders/vicco group

never knew there was a commercial in english. that sounds like partap sharma or someone who wants to sound like him, for that was the gold standard of voice overs. the “britness” in it… oh how we loved that, not for a moment caring that the british were sounding not quite that way any more.


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    Sandeep Sen
    November 6, 2015 at 4:01 am

    Great recount there of a herbal brand that took over the majors in toothpaste market then, of its bombarding advertisements, still comes to ear its peculiar jingle Veecco Vajraddanti!! Starting with a crescendo & ending with a bang that! Thanks was a pleasure reading !!

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      November 6, 2015 at 4:22 am

      hi sandeep, delighted you came and read this one. yes, that vicccooo vajjradanntii… “bombarding advertisements” indeed. how they stick in the head… and torment. i must go see the clearasil ads you mentioned. how hard one tried to kill those pimples, how often one failed. thanks so much.

  • Reply
    rhea sinha
    November 6, 2015 at 11:40 am

    I love your adiction pieces. I do remember these ofcourse.. the grandfather with his strong teeth!

    Just last year my husband and I were in an Hyderabad multiplex and the Vico turmeric nahi cosmetic adds started on the big screen. I was so surprised that the brand was still around and using the same jingle and theme in its ad. Anyway, soon enough when I visited the store went and bought it. Still use it for my face at times.

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      November 6, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      thanks, rhea… i wrote because you mentioned it. brand still goes strong.. i used vicco turmeric too… on my fb page a friend of my brother’s said he still uses vajradanti. it really stirred things up ha ha. vico refuses “modernise” and says lts customer base is what it’s really about. the family has its own way of approaching things. i think they were in trouble recently over some ingredient but then who isn’t, even colgate has that whole triclosan drama. first we make new stuff, then we say it’s good for you, then we say it’s bad for you. pagal duniya.

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