Leading man in hot water over soap ad

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A heartthrob for hundreds of millions of Indian women, Khan, who usually plays more macho roles, is to appear sitting in a bath surrounded by floating rose petals as the new Indian "face" of Lux beauty soap.

Khan is not the first man to appear in a Lux campaign. Paul Newman was the unlikely face of a Lux campaign in the West. "But I'm sure he wasn't in a tub of water with rose petals around him," Khan told the Hindustan Times.

Khan, star of countless romantic dramas, among the most famous of which are 1998's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and 1997's Dil To Pagal Hai, usually ends up with the girl. But this time he is following Bollywood actresses including Asihwariya Rai, Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta, who have modelled for Lux before.

Although a minor storm of excitement has been whipped up over Khan in the ads, doubtless by Lux's marketing division, television commercials which depict men in a sexually provocative way are not new in India. In fact, Khan, bare-chested in a bath with petals, is pretty tame. One advert showing now in India features a roll call in a school sixth-form. The teacher calls the name of a particularly attractive boy, and the girls shout, "Yes sir! Yes! Yes!" as if mimicking cries of orgasm. The advert, strangely, is for wristwatches.

In a recent underwear ad, a male star came off stage and tried to relax dressed only in tight Y-fronts. But his female fans broke the door down and the man was shown with his near-naked body covered in red lipstick kisses.

In India's conservative society, to show women in such provocative poses would be unacceptable.

Those behind the new Lux campaign say they used a male star because the soap is aimed at women. Why would women want to look at a beautiful woman, when they could admire Khan's chest, the advertisers asked.

The worst offender is Bollywood's biggest star, Amitabh Bhachan, who appears in so many ads it is not unusual to see him appear in three in a row, for chocolates, pain-relieving ointment and soft drinks.