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.

deo ad 1

deo ad 2

deo ad 3

deo ad 4

deo ad 5

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deo ad 7

deo ad 8

deo ad 9

deo ad 10

 

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!

19 thoughts on “My Biwi Sanskari-est

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    Reply
  2. parijaatmanas@gmail.com

    Very interesting funny and insightful read.Am not surprised that it took a woman to make the Havell ad.Kudos to Gauri Shinde and kudos to u too!
    Sent from BlackBerry® on Airtel

    Reply
  3. sindhu sree

    The intention, of the blog and the Havells ads, seems to be addressing a deep-seated stereotype, definitely. I agree with the absurdity of the other ads you talked about which are laden with cliches. You do need a strong statement to counter a century-old evil. What seems as a harmless comment from a sweet husband stirs the froth of a collective understanding of a woman’s accepted role. The Havells ads do quite that! However, I differ on one point you made.

    “For delivering a tight slap to the women who take great pride in cooking for the entire family.
    “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!”

    This statement puts women who cook on the offensive. Why should cooking or caring for the family (devoid of gender attachments) be considered non-important things? By nature, someone in the family has to do that, right? A woman who takes pride in cooking is no less than a woman who takes pride in going out to work. I think what both of them deserve is dignity of labour. Aren’t we innocuously judging women based on what they do with their life, otherwise? Why should there be pressure on anybody, male or female, to make the decision of working or not working (I am not bringing patriarchy into this)? That’s an individual choice.

    Moreover, if we are talking of equality, the man should cross over his cushy pillows and come to the other side to cook, for himself first, if not for the entire family (The Havells ads subtly tried to drive this point in their ads. Not that women who cook are not evolved enough).

    Reply
    1. heartranjan Post author

      Yeah, in that line, I was alluding to the women in the ads who are proud to churn out an entire table full of food. In my haste, I hadn’t worded it properly. I obviously didn’t mean that.

      Also, I deleted that line now. Which might result in you seeming like a loony ranter. Sorry about that. 😀

      Reply
    1. heartranjan Post author

      Coming tomorrow. Had written this a while ago and wanted to post it.

      Bad timing, I now realise. 🙂 On 16 May 2014 19:23, “Heartranjan's Blog” wrote:

      >

      Reply
  4. Dattatreya Mandal

    I partly disagree with the last part of the post. Havell’s ads do not kick ass, they suck ass! Why you ask? Well, for one – they shove their political/equality agenda down our throats in a rather militant manner. For example, the first ad shows a man reminiscing about his mother’s cooking; in no way does he ‘disrespect’ his wife – yes, he was being insensitive, but not on a level that warranted a reaction of putting an entire mixer on the table and haughtily trotting away with the parting line of ‘patni chatni’. As for the second ad, it is completely nonsensical! The poor man was tensed for god’s sake, and he asked a simple favor from his wife. And, perhaps he would have done the same thing for her, when she was having those panicky moments. Once again, a totally unrelated comment – ‘istree, stree’, as if asking a simple favor is equal to destroying the very fabric of equality and womanhood! And, finally as for the third ad – yes, I think the wife’s reaction was pretty justified, just because of the guy’s irritatingly noxious tone.

    Rant ends.

    Reply
    1. Nidaa Mohamed

      First Ad – When someone (wife) does you a favour, you don’t just say that ‘there was someone else’ who did better. This comparison s plain rude and unfair.

      Second Ad – He sweet-talked her to iron his shirt and was playing on the phone with a pleased expression on his face. You ask for a favour when you’re too tired/busy. OK, fine. You can ask for a favour when you are just plain lazy too. But there is a difference in asking for a favour and expecting something to be done jus because shes the wife. You saw the shock on the husband’s face when she refused. It reeks of entitlement.

      Reply
    2. Nidaa Mohamed

      Imagine if a friend requested you to drop her somewhere and you agreed. On the way she/he says something like “Wish I had asked XXX to drop me. His/her bike is much better and faster”. Normal people feel bad in such a situation. Would you?

      Reply
      1. Dattatreya Mandal

        The last part of personal judgment/question was not needed at all. And, if you carefully browse through what I said – in the first ad, clearly he was being insensitive. But it was not an issue of gender equality or so forth, and hence the ad would have been perfect with the tagline – ‘don’t be apathetic to your wife’, but the ad contrived the message to -‘respect to women’, where no element of respect was intruded upon.

        And, as for the second ad, your views clearly don’t make any sense to me (personally). “He sweet-talked her to iron his shirt” – how did he ‘sweet talk’ her into her into DOING IT, when she didn’t do it. Rather, you can say he was sweet to her in asking a favor, as he was both panicky (for his new promotion) and a bit lazy. And, of course he was expecting her to iron the shirts, as she is his wife (and a wife should also expect the same small favors from her husband, when the situation is reversed – there is nothing wrong with small expectations in a relationship of years) And lastly, there is nothing, and I stress NOTHING in the ad that is remotely related to the whole ambit of ‘respect for women’. Rather with the wife’s nonchalantly vindictive reaction, it portrayed a regressive part of a domestic relationship, which ‘poses’ as a progressive behavior.

        Reply
        1. Dattatreya Mandal

          And, in context of the first ad – are these statements ‘politically correct’, if a wife/girlfriend say them to her partner – “my father was far more understanding than you” or “had greater wealth than you” or “my father is the numero uno man in my life” or “why can’t you be more like my father”? Well, I have a sneaking suspicion that yes – they will be considered as ‘correct’, because a woman says it. But the rules of insensitivity are conveniently constructed when it comes to men. And, that my lady – is mighty odd!

          Reply
          1. Nidaa Mohamed

            No Dude! Even when a woman does it its not right. And Im saying this being a woman. Personally I think that drawing unfair comparisons between wife/mother or husband/dad is not only unfair but also disgusting. But even if you do tend to compare, there is no need to say that aloud (again this is what I think). And duh, if the gf/wife say things like that, guys should tell them to stuff it or tell them to go back to her dad.
            And rules of insensitivity are the same for everyone. Everybody feels bad when they are treated unfairly. Some cry, some shout back, some stay silent. Its nothing to do with gender.

        2. Nidaa Mohamed

          “where no element of respect was intruded upon.”
          Really? The guy is virtually telling the wife that shes not as good as HIS mother. Telling someone (no gender here) that they are not as good as someone else isn’t disrespectful? Just because this mother/wife comparison is sooo common and going on for centuries doesn’t mean that its right.
          And second Ad – Why this ‘laziness’? Because someone else is there to do it for you? Wife is not obliged to do things for him. Her wish. (Same way no obligations for the hubby either). She had every right to refuse (Who knows, may be she was sick and tired of these constant ‘favor requests’.

          Reply
          1. Dattatreya Mandal

            In every way you are iterating my points. In both of your paragraphs you have mentioned “no gender here” (which I wholeheartedly concur with). Then how come the Havells ads end with only ‘respect for women’ tagline. Isn’t that the topic in discussion here? And, that brings me to my earlier mentioned quibble with the advertisements – “they shove their political/equality agenda down our throats in a rather militant manner.”

            It is the ad makers who bring the issue of gender here, whereas in both scenarios (of the ads) – the respect, insensitivity, laziness and expectation parts had nothing do with gender or equality (in real time, both parties tend to take part in such behaviors). So why only ‘respect for women’ and not ‘respect for all’ or even ‘respect your spouse’?

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