Monthly Archives: May 2014

Khotti

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Every trip to Bhubaneswar is a reminder of how much the place has changed.

Bhubaneswar’s position in the growth curve implies a greater change than developed places. And as part of my walks around the city, the lack of this particularly fond Oriya culture of khotti struck me like a blow on the face.

For decades, khotti was an integral part of being an Oriya. As much a part as sleeping in the afternoon and eating a heavy dinner. A khotti had important social implications, it changed the way people looked at you. It was the place legends were created, reputations were built.

A khotti, at its most basic definition, was a congregation of friends in the evening, to chat and spend time together. Every person with a social life belonged to a particular khotti – some to more than one.

The location of the khotti played an important role in its popularity. The most popular ones were formed next to paan shops and Omfed (Orissa’s milk federation corporation) stalls. Some khottis were held near old temples, the more youthful ones near parks. Some were strategically held in front of ladies’ hostels – the men in a constant fight with instincts, attraction, and genes – to win the affection of comely women who lived across the road.

Large grounds worked favouribly for the establishment of the khotti, often lending its name to the organization (Police Ground Khotti, Football Ground Khotti). If there wasn’t a ground around, a tree was the requisite. No khotti was complete without a tree overhead. If there wasn’t a place to sit, bikes and scooters would be made to stand, and on top of them, the members would take their place, passing around cigarettes, or gutkhas, or whatever else the group chose to kill themselves with.

 

 

 

It is difficult to put a finger on why the khotti culture became popular.

But perhaps the most important reason was that there was nothing else to do. Back in those days, Bhubaneswar had no malls, no coffee houses, no book stalls, no pubs. In addition, internet wasn’t available everywhere, and at such breakneck speeds. Gadgetry was restricted to phones that could play songs, YouTube was a website you wouldn’t open if you were on a miserly internet plan.

And since there was nothing else to do in the evenings, every male member of the society attached himself to one or the other khotti. And once you joined a khotti, you lived with it through thick and thin, through earthquake or cyclone.

Khottis gave middle-aged men the freedom from their wives. They could bitch, smoke, chew paan and gutkha, and merrily paint the world red. Youngsters achieved the coveted feeling of ‘belonging’ to something, even if it was a motley crew of disillusioned college-goers.

A khotti had social presence too. Most khottis would have a Ganesh Puja/Saraswati Puja pandal attached to themselves. Cricket was the game of choice among the members of most of them. And after the game was over, the discussions would begin. Most discussions were bi-dimensional – bikes and girls.

With the advent of mobile phones, khottis became centres of hours of discussions around phones. There was always that one guy who had a posh phone, and in an era before Whatsapp, had nothing to hide in it. His friends played games on the phone, while others tried to fix deals with their acquaintances to buy or sell phones.

 

 

And every khotti also came with its own set of particularly peculiar characters. There was always the bhai of the khotti. With names like Jacky Bhai, Kalia Bhai, and Tippul Bhai, these bhais weren’t the sort who would organize serial blasts in the city. Not for them such violence. They concentrated on matters like sorting a guy who ogled at one of the khotti member’s ‘girl’ – even if she wouldn’t know of the gentleman’s existence. Or scaring a bunch of kids who wanted to play cricket on the same pitch that they did. Khotti bhais limited themselves to civilized disputes.

And every khotti also had the one idiot. The guy who spoke slowly and was automatically considered dim-witted. The entire evening would be spent in kicking his ass, asking him to get cigarettes from the shop, or laughing at fictitious stories of how small his penis is.

The bhai of the khotti would begin it, and on and on it would go, till darkness began to creep into the day, and everyone began to leave for their homes. If there was a reason to celebrate (somebody got hitched, got dumped, or identified a girl as his own), the night of revelry would begin from the khotti itself.

 

There was a sense of duty about the khotti. If you didn’t turn up for two days in a row, people would raise aspersions on your loyalty to friends. Everybody from college freshers to middle-aged married men belonged to one khotti or the other.

The khotti was the place where disputes were settled or created. The epicenter of rumours, the black hole of privacy. The most scandalous gossip, the most dramatic of stories – all originated from the khotti.

Of course, everybody else hated it. If you were lucky enough to have a girlfriend back then, you had to lie to her about it. Fathers considered the khotti with as much love as a stroke of polio in the family. And mother grumbled and complained about it throughout the day.

Mother: ‘Where are you going?’

Son: ‘Police ground khotti.’

Mother: ‘All day what you do at that khotti? All bunch of donkeysgettingtogethertoruinsocietyifonlyyouspentthatmuchtimeonstudiesyouwouldbe…’

 

And yet, in spite of the entire world talking ill of your khotti, you went to it everyday. You shared the laughs and the jokes, the bacteria from the street food, the shade from the same tree. For nearly every male in Bhubaneswar back then, a khotti meant the world.

 

And yet, I rarely see a khotti these days. There are malls, and the tall buildings that come with ‘development’. Technology has reached a stage where you could have a Google Khotti on your mobile phone. And yet all of these factors have eaten into khottis. Corners in streets have shops in their places. Buildings have sprung up from the ground. Streets are wider these days, shops have been razed to make place for hideous Vending Zones – where a bunch of shops are thrown together with an overarching colour of dirty dark green splashed across them.

Time has gotten dearer, and a million tiny things jostle for attention through the day. And just like that, in a few years, the custom seems like it belonged to an ancient time. A time when you stepped out of your house in the evening to be with your friends. To indulge in their idiosyncrasies, to laugh at their jokes even if they were narrated for the hundredth time.

Back then, your khotti determined your social life. In today’s time, you have to update a status, tag your friends to it, and watch sadly as five people ‘like’ it, three of them being your cousins.

My Biwi Sanskari-est

There is only one good thing about the IPL.

Actually, make that two.

  1. You get to see Preity Zinta.
  2. Some of the best ads of the year are out in this season.

There isn’t much I can say about Preity Zinta, but I can surely talk about the ads. From the iconic Zoozoos, to the hilarious Manoranjan ka Baap campaign, the IPL season is bonanza time for advertisers, copywriters, and marketers.

But watch the ads on a daily basis, and like Bishan Singh Bedi on acid, you begin to see patterns. Large, swirling patterns that pop out of the TV screen and come dancing in front of your eyes, like a prop on a Tim Burton movie.

You realise that there is no real fresh thinking when it comes to representation of people.

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Now, before you begin to accuse me of being judgemental, let me tell you that I am not being maniacal about it. Having worked for a few years as a Copywriter, this is certainly not the first time I am talking about ads (subtly plug in video of a Stand-Up act here).

I understand that there is a line between representation and stereotyping. That as an advertiser, you have a very limited time to sell your wares, and you have to use an image that carries across your point in the most effective way, in the quickest time possible.

Meaning, clichés.

Used images. Now, if I showed a sardar singing Thyagaraja keertanas, it might merely confuse the watcher. And so we resort to images that most draw a likeliness to what they’re likely to see.

I understand all of that.

Only, after a point, it gets too stifling.

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And among all the representations in Indian advertising, if there’s one that truly makes me want to pull my hair out in frustration, it is how women are shown.

According to the 2011 census, 48.28% of the country are women. Which comes to 614.4 million people. And yet, the Indian advertising sector, intuitive, dynamic, and whacky as they project themselves to be, choose three major ways of depicting women in advertising.

The three major categories are:

  • The Unattainable Indian Woman
  • The Slutty Indian Woman
  • The Caring Indian Woman

[Readers might note that I am not including the women who want to get fair. I think by now we all agree that ALL women in our country want to get fair, and that is the only way to get successful in life. (Subtly add link to earlier blog here)]

 

  1. The Unattainable Indian Woman

The Unattainable Indian Woman is placed on an altar. An altar that is higher than the rest of us (meaning, male). We need to aspire for her. Everything we consume – from toothpastes, to motorcycles, to hair gels, to cement – are all different means to attain the Unattainable Indian woman.

And as a result, every single ad you watch, will somehow be related to impressing a woman.

Want a new toothpaste? Here, use Close Up. Who knows when you might get a chance to blow some air into a girl’s mouth? Want a motorcycle, here take Bajaj Pulsar. It is definitely male, and as soon as you buy it, a woman will drop down from the sky, remove her saree, put on a short skirt, get behind you, and pout at the camera.

And on and on it goes, till it reaches an absurd level.

Take this advertisement by JK Super Cement, for example.

It shows a woman come out of the water in a bikini. And that’s it.

But before you scoff at the brainlessness of the ad, are you sure you understand it’s hidden meaning?

jk super cement ad

 

  1. The Slutty Indian Woman

The second category of women shown on Indian advertisements are the loose-charactered sort. The sort that would make Baba Ramdev shut his right eye because the very sight of such ashleelata could curse a man, resulting in him being born as an armadillo in the next birth.

The Slutty Indian Woman has only one maqsad in life – to be slutty.

And so, whether she’s married, has a boyfriend, or even a child – don’t matter. If you use the right product, she will fling away the moh-maayas of the world that are holding her back, and run towards you.

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Also, it must be noted that the Slutty Indian Woman will not just smile at you. She’s slutty, remember? She will bite her lower lip, run her hands through her hair, close her eyes, and breathe deeply. And then she’ll slowly slide her hand into your shirt.

All because you bought that hair gel for 12 rupees.

 

  1. The Caring Indian Woman

This is the most common, and quite naturally, the most frustrating sort of Indian woman that one gets to see in our badvertisements.

This Caring Indian Woman wants nothing in her life. She is happy washing the children’s clothes (boy’s obviously! The girl is braiding Barbie’s hair, while the boy gets dirty in the mud outside). But don’t you worry, kiddo.

Magic Mommy will bring out the greatest detergent invented since Michael Jackson’s dermatologist and bleach it clean, till it reflects light off the sun, so much that the neighbours experience a solar eclipse.

And the Caring Indian Woman cares for everybody. Husband returns from work, must be tired. Let me stir something up for him!

A nice fruit juice that has all the minerals and nutrients required to pass a green light through his body and have him spring back to his feet, perhaps? Or may be a chai that has been made from the best tea leaves (picked by Caring Indian Women in Assam), so that he can go from Kamaal Rashid Khan to Salman Dabbang Khan in a matter of seconds.

And what about meals!

Oh God! What is a Caring Indian Woman if she doesn’t cook meals? So when the husband decides to invite his (male) friends over for lunch, Wifey will use the best oils, the catchiest masala, in the best possible utensils, and serve it out for all to see. Even Aishwarya Rai who has done many more films and enjoys a far superior career than her snail of a husband, will coyly point out to you that she uses Pigeon appliances to keep their love-nest happy.

So that the husband can gloat over his wonderful wife, while the guy next to him curses his wife for not being up to the mark.

caring indian woman

 

Doesn’t it make you want to puke?

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Which is why, the recent string of ads by Havells had me impressed.

Women in rural India probably work harder than their male counterparts – helping out in the fields AND cooking at home. Women in urban India (especially the kind of families you are targeting) work too. And even if they don’t, there are other things on their mind than cooking wholesome meals for the entire fucking mohalla!

Women go to offices too, you tequila-shooting, goatee-wearing morons. When will you ever learn?

And that is why, the new series of ads by Havells kicks ass! Enjoy!

Kaun Hai Jo Summer Mein Aaya…

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What makes a mango special?

I have thought about this quite a bit, and I realise there is no one single reason for it.

Take the fruit itself, for example. Fleshy, curved, juicy – something that makes you want to hold it in your hands and bite into it. Keeping my creepy analogies aside, there are a few more points that make the mango special among other fruits.

The joy of biting into a fruit is enjoyable in itself – apples, watermelons, and bananas – but the thing about a mango that I appreciate is its democratizing nature. Whether you’re a rich man or a beggar – there’s no clean, posh way to eat a mango. You have to dip your hands into the pulp, put it into your mouth, scrape out the pulp while pulling the peel out of your mouth. You will have to lick the juice flowing down your mouth, wipe it with the back of your hand. There’s simply no other way.

Then there is the fact that is available only in the summers. Unlike its ubiquitous brethren, the mango is among the few respites in a season that has nothing else going for it. When the only stroke of luck is in the form of a bad luck resulting in a sunstroke. Amidst such gloom, like Preity Zinta, the Mango floats into our lives for two months in a year and leaves us with terrible tasting soft drinks for the rest of the year. And after spending ten months of the year trying to make do with those soft drinks, when it is time for the Mango to come into our lives again, we celebrate.

And also, to an extent, that it is found in areas with tropical climate. Like God took pity on us and said, ‘You people are toiling under the sun every year. Here, take some mangoes.’ The mango is a giant orange lining in this grueling weather without any clouds.

It is surprising that with all these qualities of the mango – its saffron colour, the promises it holds, the joy it brings – the BJP has made no references to it at all. The only party with any semblance of aam in it, is the one that the party is at loggerheads with.

I have never liked giving titles to fruits and vegetables. I could never make peace with the idea of the Brinjal being the King of Vegetables, for example. The Brinjal always appeared to be a shady person with many names (Egg plant, aubergine, brinjal). Someone with an evil scheme up his evil mind.

But when someone says that the mango is the king of fruits, I can accept it.

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The first signs of the coming summer are the mango drink ads.

When the stale ads that have been running through the year are replaced by ones that will run for another year, you know that summer is knocking on the door.

And yet, in spite of three major mango drink companies in the market, not one of them has managed to capture the imagination of the nation.

Frooti had the first mover advantage, thanks to the nostalgia associated with the Mango Frooti – Fresh and Juicy campaigns. And yet, none of their recent campaigns have registered a strong recall value.

There is Maaza, which ran a half decent campaign with Satish Shah. It helped that the man looked like he could devour a dozen mangoes just for the fun of it. He had the expressions, and the belly for it.

And finally, there is Slice. The worst of the lot. Firstly, there is the taste – synthetic, unnatural. Then there is the colour, a bright shiny orange that no mango in the world actually has. And then there is Katrina Kaif, sipping on mango juice in a series of ads that are neither creative nor titillating.

If Freud were alive, he’d sit up and take notice of the ads. Of images of a pretty woman holding a mango in her hands, closing her eyes, whispering, and licking her lips. He’d no doubt notice the fruit in her hand and leave no stone unturned as to which body part the makers of the ad are alluding to.

But since Freud is no more, there is nothing in the ad to interest me.

And yet, I think the greatest campaign for a mango drink company would be to stop this facade of pretending to make their shit from real mangoes. By now, even kids are aware of processed food and packaging, so who are we kidding?

Now that, would make a man go 'Wow!'

Now that, would make a man go ‘Wow!’

 

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Even if the love affair with mangoes began in childhood, quite recently, me and Mango went to a nearby temple and had a second marriage of sorts. We strengthened our bond, took a new set of vows.

And all this through a random discussion online about eating mangoes after smoking pot. The benefits of mango as a push-upper were being debated, and me and Sarthak, my friend in boredom, decided to test it on ourselves.

It helped that the weed we were smoking was called Mango Weed. And so a joint was smoked, a mango was cut, and eaten. And it was in that moment, when I fell in love with mangoes all over again. The sweet, sticky taste of mango, combined with the pristine, clear feeling of having no thoughts scrambling about in your head.

I cannot scientifically assure you that it gets you higher – I wouldn’t be sitting here writing a blog if I had those capabilities. But I can assure you that it is a blissful feeling.

And this year, the European Union banned the import of mangoes to Europe. The British are still debating about the impact of the ban, and it might just be revoked.

But until then, it is good news for us. The ban might cause a surplus in mangoes in India, resulting in more mangoes at lower prices.

So go ahead, buy a few mangoes. You can spend the winter looking at Katrina Kaif’s videos in 1080p HD.