In mid-1995, Tuffs shoes ran a half-page ad in the Times of India featuring supermodels Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre in the nude except for their shoes and a strategically positioned python wrapped around them. The brand, the advertising agency Ambience, the founder of the agency, Ashok Kurien, the models and all involved with the ad were taken to court for obscenity.

India Today reported in September 1995: "When Soman and Sapre admitted on 27 July that they had posed in the nude for the Tuffs shoes campaign, the moral mafia descended on them. They were charged with violating the Indecent Representation of Women Act, 1986, and subsequently under Section 292(A) of the Indian Penal Code."

Ashok Kurien recalls how the case dragged on and the judges kept changing and in one such hearing, when the judge asked, “Who has seen these two people during the photography session and can say that they did not indulge in any sexual activity?”, a voice from the back shouted, “The python”.

Even the Wild Life Protection Act was invoked to fight the case for the poor python. The ad, which was done in a tasteful manner, ended up being in a long drawn court battle, only to be dismissed fourteen years later.

The Times of India has this amusing anecdote of what happened outside the courtroom in 2004: the crowd overflowed outside the court as bystanders gathered for a peek at the duo. The final gem came when an old woman who was present in court and did not recognise the models, asked Soman, “Who are all these people waiting with you? What have they done?”

“Koi chor log honge (Must be some thieves),” he replied with a smile.

If nude models and a python caused a furore, yet another ad saying “Nude Models Wanted” was a big hit, this time with mothers.

This small ad written by Chris Rosario for Trikaya’s client Johnson & Johnson in 1993 was a call for baby models. The copy of the ad is a work of art: “Figure: Chubby; Hair: Preferably; Chin: Double; Eyes: Brown; Skin: Peachy; Age: 8-12 months. Candidates should be carried to Trikaya Advertising on Sunday, 12th September, 10 am to 2 pm.”

This small ad was rated as the ad of the decade by the advertising fraternity. Fortunately, it did not provoke any court case.

Wild Stone commercial

Brands such as Axe have used man-woman attraction to sell the world over. An Indian brand Wild Stone decided to add an Indian twist to its sales story. Indian language porn literature is full of illicit sex with ones neighbour’s or brother’s wife – the eponymous sexy Bhabhi. There was a very popular soft-porn website called Savita Bhabhi. As an ode to Savita Bhabhi, the Wild Stone ad is set in a locale where there is celebration underway, for example the Durga Puja.

The attractive young woman, obviously married, is carrying a tray of flowers. She collides with a young man who has just emerged from his bath fully drenched in Wild Stone deo. The smell of his deo sends her into a world of fantasy, she is rolling in bed with him… the film cuts back to her collision and the brand name flashes: “Wild Stone. Wild by Nature.” The brand sublimely offers the promise of illicit sex with attractive strange women if you use the deodarant.

This ad too was hauled in front of ASCI and was told to amend its storyline.

Amul Macho commercial

In the 2000s, ASCI has been facing a lot of flak from consumer advocates for excessive use of sex for selling two particular types of products: undergarments and deodorants.

It is a village water tank. Women are having a bath, washing clothes as the music starts. “Yeh toh bada toing hai,” and in walks an attractive shapely young woman. She is curvaceous with a look of a cat that had eaten a bowl full of cream – played to perfection by Sana Khan who went on to star in Bigg Boss with Salman Khan.

To the astonished looks of her fellow villagers, she opens her bag of dirty clothes to pull out a pair of blue men’s briefs. She then starts washing them erotically, pounding them on the rock as the women around shriek in mock terror. She finally holds the clean pair for all to see and the clincher promise flashes: “Amul Macho. Crafted for Fantasies.”

The ad caused a great deal of excitement till ASCI ruled that it was obscene. “Yeh toh bada toing hai” went into the popular lexicon.

The Fastrack commercial

One of the brands that has tried to push the limits of societal understanding of difference has been the brand Fastrack. In an ad created by Lowe Advertising which ran in 2012, the brand shows a closet shaking vigorously.

When it opens, out walks a young girl adjusting her clothes, and if you thought you would now see a young lad coming out, you were mistaken. Out walks yet another girl, again adjusting her clothes. “Coming out of the closet”, demonstrated in very explicit terms. The brand has spoken in the past of moving on!

…We can expect more brands to start looking at dimensions that may have been seen as too liberal in the past. The challenges of the kind faced by Tuffs and KS will continue to remain. But if societal mores are changing, brands can stay rooted in the past or can try and stay one step ahead of the consumer.

As Harish Bhat, Member Group Executive Council, Tata Group, observed when I discussed the Fastrack campaign with him: “Just as good writers capture the fringes of society very well and bring them to life, does advertising have the courage to do that? Or will advertising stay in the middle of the road?”

Excerpted with permission from Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles: India Through 50 Years Of Advertising, Ambi Parameswaran, Pan Macmillan.