Advertising gives you the rare opportunity to bond with your audience exactly as you are: Lara Dutta

The actor takes us through her journey, right from being the terrified 16-year old shooting for Garnier hearing the words 'baby ka mundi kaato' to being wanted and recognised as an entrepreneur

Feb 23, 2022 04:55:00 AM | Article | Raahil Chopra

Last week, actor-producer and entrepreneur, Lara Dutta, announced a partnership of her brand Arias with @home, a retail division of Nilkamal. Arias, which launched in the skincare space, is now branching out to home décor. 
 
On the sidelines of the launch, we caught up with Dutta to learn more about the tie-up, as well as her experience in advertising, why her brand page has only 7,000 followers, how she tackled trolls, and more…
 
Edited excerpts:
 
‘One head, many hats’ is your Twitter bio. What are the many hats you're referring to?
 
When I was asked what I would want to become when I grew older, I would give multiple answers like an astronaut, a ballerina, or an archaeologist. None of them had anything to do with the other but I always wanted to keep my options open. I genuinely believed that I could excel at all three. 
 
That has been an integral part of my personality. Not coming from a family that’s within the film industry has helped. Having a background in the Air Force (her father worked with the Indian Air Force) has always made me believe that sky's the limit and one shouldn’t restrict themselves. 
 
So, for me, the many hats go from not just being an actor and producer in the film business, but also an entrepreneur. I’m also enacting various roles that one plays in real-life – a wife, a mom and everything else. Trust me, these hats have to quickly change multiple times in the day and sometimes faster than I can keep up.
 
You launched your brand Arias a few years ago. What was the idea behind that?
 
I’ve been in the modelling business for over 26 years and have had the opportunity to work with the best dermatologists and makeup artists in the world. I would have pretty much used every single brand that’s out there in the skincare space. We have the best international brands available here in India, but they have been developed or created in parts of Europe, South Korea or Japan and are not necessarily meant for Indian skin. I wanted to create an Indian homegrown brand that worked for Indian skin and the way it aged. So, I launched Arias.
 
Skincare is an extremely competitive segment to venture into, but we were lucky that we had Unilever that invested in Arias. It was a great boost for us to have them see value in the brand and invest in it.
 
The thought behind the tie-up with @home by Nilkamal?
 
It was a natural progression and transition for the brand. I am consciously and cautiously building brand Arias.  
 
 
We are launching the home care collection which will be followed by Arias Kids later this year. It’s been an incredible learning experience as an entrepreneur and I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. Today, people know me as Lara the actor and the former Miss Universe. I hope in the next decade people will also recognise me as Lara the entrepreneur.
 
With the Nilkamal Group, I'm completely involved in the new product range - whether it’s the design, marketing or packaging. It’s my brand and not an association where we license the name out. It’s also a complete extension of my personality and consists of products that I would like to see in my house. 
 
What’s the target audience you aim to reach?
 
We want it to be an aspirational brand for the mass market. Arias @home will cover everything from furnishings to décor to cutlery and crockery. Nilkamal has a huge presence across the country and should be launching 17 new stores soon. We want to make Arias @home affordable and a member in every household. That’s what we were doing with the skincare range too. 
 
You've done all sorts of advertisements and endorsements from the 'aapke toothpaste mein namak hai' for Colgate, one with your husband Mahesh Bhupati for a jewellery brand, to one recently for Oleev Active. Would you be able to list the number of brands you’ve endorsed or recall the first ad film shoot? 
 
No, I don't know the exact number of brands that I have worked with. I started off endorsing brands at the age of 16, as a model. I have pretty much endorsed every single product that exists. 
 
My first ad film was in 1995. I had just won the Gladrags Super Model contest. It was in the summer holidays between my 11th and 12th grade in Bengaluru. I came to Mumbai for the competition and won it. Then, within the same week, Garnier was entering India and was looking for a fresh face for its skincare range. They saw me at the contest and asked me to come for a screen test. It was on the ground floor lobby of its office building. They put me in front of the camera and a week later I was signed as the face of Garnier in India, a contract which I held for four years.
 
Any fun anecdotes from an ad film shoot that stay with you to this day?
 
The first film itself was really interesting. It was shot by Barun Da (Barun Mukherjee) who was the king of shooting skincare advertisements. I was terrified and clueless because I hadn’t been shot for anything in my life. His way of operating was that he would spend one entire day on lighting. He wanted the model to be present for this because he wanted to light the model’s face and see how it worked. I had to sit in the studio for 10 hours in front of massive lights. 
 
Since my family is nowhere connected to show business I was alone on set. The fun part was that there were these light men who kept saying ‘baby ka mundi kaato’ (literal translation - cut the head of the baby). I was terrified and was wondering what that meant. They were referring to the light stands. Those lights came by different names and the smallest one was called baby. They wanted to put a filter that cuts the light off the baby light stand. 
 
Another incident I recall was when I was shooting for a toothbrush brand. It involved me surfing in the sea. We shot a lot of it in Kashid but there were no waves, so there was no surfing. So, we shot the surfing part of it in a studio in Mumbai with a water tank that was built and me on a surfboard. It was a complete shit show! Then, there was no concept of being able to create those waves. It just involved a lot of water being blasted onto my face.
 
After incidents like these, what’s your view about advertising? Do you still like it?
 
I love it! That’s probably because my career foundation came from advertising. I have great respect for the advertising community and have wonderful friends who are copywriters.
 
Even now, I find it exciting and got exactly that feeling during the last ad I shot for Oleev. It’s very different from shooting a movie as an actor. 
 
 
You’ve been a part of advertisements, films and now even OTT. How do you approach each of them and how different are they?
 
A lot of times in an advertisement you’re not playing a character, but playing yourself. It’s one of the rare opportunities you get to bond with your audience exactly as you are. In a film, the audience relates to a character and not the actor directly whereas in advertising, you can expose your true self.
 
Have you turned down any brand/category?
 
Yes, I have. I don’t associate with alcohol brands. It’s not because I’m a teetotaller but because I think content is really important. Whenever ads come to me, they need to be out of the box and I haven’t seen that with alcohol brands’ advertising. 
 
I won’t advertise cigarettes too.
 
In the recent past, I was approached by a brand of sanitary napkins and I turned that down as well. I genuinely believe that it’s time we address the ecological impact that it creates and today there are other options available like menstrual cups which are much better. I want to be able to promote these kinds of products in the future. 
 
I believe in walking the talk. If I’m not going to use the product, I won’t endorse it.
 
There's a thought that consumers don't care about a brand's social media pages unless it's about raising a complaint. You have more than 1.2 million followers on Instagram and 3.2 million on Twitter. While your brand has less than 7,000 followers on Instagram. What can brand pages do to create more of a following?
 
Even with my social media accounts, it’s organic growth. There are no inflated numbers of followers. It’s never about having a following of 10 or 15 million if the followers don’t exist. Regardless of the number of followers, the engagement with a post tells the true story.
 
I have been on social media for several years while Arias’ social media page has been around only for two and a half years. The idea is to grow it organically. As a brand, we understand the importance of reaching a larger audience and boosting posts, but even that needs to be done organically. Anything posted on social media goes up only after I approve it. We are still learning and as the brand grows, we’ll have experts that come in to share their expertise. 
 
Trolling is a much-talked-about topic on social media and celebrities usually face a lot of it. How do you handle it? 
 
It’s part and parcel of being a celebrity. Trolling existed even before social media did, while my career has been around for 26 years. However, it’s more prevalent now, since people are hiding behind a mask on social media by using anonymous accounts. 
 
I genuinely believe that handling it boils down to who you are as a person and more importantly the people who surround you. If you have the right people, who are not just 'yes men' feeding what you want to hear, then you’re confident about who and what you are and it’s easier to deal with the trolling. 
 
I have never really dealt with meanness on social media. There are casual comments that are made about ageing and that’s part of life. 
 
You have worked with several brands during your career, but would you have any dream brands to work with? Could you list three of them?
 
I would love to work with Mahindra & Mahindra because of what they are doing with their range of EVs. Then comes the Tata Group, with whom I would also want to be associated. I am proud of these brands as an Indian. I'm also very fascinated by the biotechnology space and would want to work with a brand in it. Along with digital currency, blockchain and the Metaverse, I think it’s going to be a big focus in the next couple of years. 
 
If you had to describe brand Lara in a sentence, what would that be?
 
Reliable, honest and in it with you.