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Irrfan Khan’s creative journey through the eyes of advertising veterans

The advertising industry fondly remembers Irrfan Khan, who passed away after battling cancer, to eternity for his contribution to art and creativity. A few who got the opportunity to work with him for ad shoots share their memories of him and talk about his professionalism, humility and dedication towards work

Irrfan Khan

‘Parde girne ke baad bhi, taliyon ka shor nahi tham raha.

Lagta hai koi zindagi ka kirdar ache se nibha ke chala gaya.’ — Anonymous

It’s rare to come across actors whose eyes can gaze into your soul and make a connection for a lifetime. Irrfan Khan was one of them — establishing that backgrounds and stereotypes of appearances do not and cannot confine an actor. The versatile actor left us too soon and now we have to make peace with his absence and only cherish the legacy of work he left behind. Khan died at 53 yesterday, after battling with cancer for two years.

Khan, who started his career with theatre, established a place for himself in Bollywood and Hollywood—and also became a household name through his art of naturally effortless and authentic conversations he created in ads.

Khan was known for his long-term partnerships with brands. He didn’t just grab any brand to endorse in his advertising journey. But whichever brand he got associated with, he made sure his ads got as appreciated as his movies.

He started his advertising journey with Hutch ads in early 2000 and continued to endorse the brand even when it was rebranded as Vodafone. His monologues in the Vodafone ads — ranging from ‘Hutch ka chhota recharge’ to ‘Kabootar mehenga pad jayega’ and ‘Kewal girlfriend ko I love you bolna hai’ — helped establish massive recall for the brand in the Indian market.

Rajiv Rao

Rajiv Rao, former National Creative Director, Ogilvy India, worked with Khan on the Vodafone ads since the beginning. He recalled one sweet incident. “We were supposed to shoot in the night in Delhi for the Hutch ad. But he couldn’t make it to the shoot for some reason and came the very next day. The shoot happened in Connaught Place in Delhi in a tiny tea shop. We shot the ad in the middle of the day in the Delhi heat, where he was supposed to have a ‘cutting chai’. I remember he had worked all night. He still came and made our shoot happen without complaining. He was excellent at the shoot.”

“Irrfan was very accommodating and easy-going throughout the shoot. There was a crowd outside the place as they knew Irrfan was there, which was another big thing to manage then. It was a tiny space with the entire crew inside. He cooperated with us and didn’t throw a fit. We were sweating a lot. Like this, we have done a lot of films with him at different odd locations during late evenings or nights,” he said.

Hutch ‘cutting chai’ ad: 

A few other Hutch and Vodafone ads:

Shashank Chaturvedi

Shashank Chaturvedi, Executive Director, Good Morning Films (popularly known as Bob), had worked on the Vodafone ads with Khan during those times. He recollected, “Being such a big artist, he was very humble and even used to give us extra time during shoots. He used to go out of his way to help people. People used to come to the sets to meet him. He talked to them and gave guidance and hope. He was totally into art. These are all little things that made an impact on me. I have seen him talking to strugglers, including me, as I had just started my career in 2002-2005. He even motivated me to write features.”

Chaturvedi said he used to make the scripts his own. “You can’t write for Irrfan Khan. Irrfan Khan is Irrfan Khan. He knew how to communicate with the Hutch audience. In just 2-3 takes, we used to shoot his films. At times, we have even shot two films in a go. He was very accommodative during his shoots,” he added.

Hemant Shringy

In fact, in his early days of career, Hemant Shringy, now the Chief Creative Officer, BBDO Mumbai, was working at Ogilvy back then and got a chance to work on the Vodafone ads with Khan. Talking about Khan, he said, “It is such a sad news and what a grave loss. I was fortunate enough to work with him twice. Usually, they were him giving long monologues to the camera. And I remember thinking that since he seems so effortless, he must be surely taking the essence of the message and saying it in his words. But he had come on the set having learnt all the lines by heart, and they came out flowing like he was just thinking aloud. He showed you that effortlessly doesn’t mean less effort.”

Shringy said the second time he got to work with Khan was 3-4 years ago while working on Glenmark’s Candid powder ads. “And again it was so lovely to be around and see him create magic. He was so easy, on and off-screen. He was truly loved and he will be truly missed,” he said.

Candid dusting powder ad with Khan:

Another brand that was built with Khan’s effortless acting in ads was the electronic brand Syska. It became a household name in India because of Khan’s presence in the ads. His originality, authenticity and credibility reflected in the ads, which helped the brand make a connection with the audience. Syska and Khan worked for almost six years together. IBD India is the agency that has created all the Syska ads until now.

It is praiseworthy about Syska that it did not leave Khan’s side even when he fell ill and had to go to England for treatment. More than a business relation, the brand and the actor had formed an emotional relation over time. Sources told BestMediaInfo.com that there were many people who told Syska to end the partnership with him as he wasn’t able to shoot the ads with the brand for quite some time. But there was no way the brand would have abandoned him like this.

The last Syska ad shot with Khan in England:

Syska posted a tribute to Khan on Instagram:


A post shared by Syska LED (@syska.led) on

Rahul Gupta

Being very professional and committed to his work, Khan unbelievably shot his last film for Syska in England during his illness. Rahul Gupta, Founder and Managing Director, IBD India, said, “When he was unwell and was in England for his treatment, we went and shot our last commercial with him. Even after being unwell, he was such a positive human being. He had so much energy and vibe. We have always thought that he would come out of it. In fact that shoot night in England, he had to be re-admitted. It shows his commitment.”

A few other Irrfan Khan ads with Syska:

Gupta went on lamenting and said, “It has been really disturbing at least for me. I have been working with him for 5-6 years now. It’s a long relationship we have had with him. He’s been synonymous with Syska. For us, more than a monetary kind of a thing, it’s an emotional relationship. He’s been the face and the voice of the brand. He’s been very instrumental in the brand’s growth. In last one year, we couldn’t do any commercial because he was unwell.”

Not limited to just Indian ads, Khan also worked for the biscuit brand Lu Bakeri from Pakistan to promote its ‘Nankhatai’ range of biscuits.

Lu Bakeri ad film with Khan:

The other brands that Khan worked with were Denver Envy, Indiamart and Edelweiss Group and Aegon Religare, 7UP, KEI Industries and Mastercard.

For Edelweiss #BeUnlimited campaign, Khan shot an ad film two years back:

Rhea Prabhu

Remembering working with Khan for the Edelweiss film, Rhea Prabhu, Producer at Equinox, said, “We shot with him for two days at Richardson and Cruddas at Byculla Mumbai. Ram Madhvani was the director. We arranged a meeting with him once to take him through the scripts at his home. He was very professional and hospitable. He had all the valid questions while going through the storyboard, understood the process of shooting the entire scene in one take with multiple cameras, etc. I have been very fortunate to work with someone like him.”

Sumit Bedi

Sumit Bedi, Vice-President, Marketing and CX, IndiaMART InterMESH, said, "Khan was roped in as the brand ambassador of IndiaMART back in 2014. Getting him on board created a great impact in building our brand identity. With him, we had launched our brand campaigns ‘Kaam Yahin Banta Hai' and later 'India ki Khoj'. Khan was the kind of actor who was capable of turning in great performances even in 30-second ads and it was impossible for audiences to not warm up to the characters he portrayed so effortlessly. The world has lost a talent that was once in a generation and transcended borders.”

In the Mastercard ad, through his simplicity, Khan explained the usage of the card like a cakewalk. He was the first Indian actor to endorse Mastercard.

The Mastercard ad:

He has also worked with KEI Industries for the campaign #JodeDilKeTaar.

Here are the ads:

In 2014, Khan was also seen in a 7UP ad grooving to some music with Raveena Tandon.

Here’s the 7UP ad featuring Khan and Tandon together:

One of the Indiamart ads with Khan:

Envy ad:

Aegon Religare ads:

Piyush Pandey

Piyush Pandey, Global Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy Worldwide, is not there on social media, but through his friend Anant Rangaswami, he sent across a message on Khan’s demise on Twitter.

The tweet:

To end, quoting Khan from his movie Namesake, “Remember that you and I made this journey together to a place where there was nowhere left to go."


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