Tag Archives: Representation of women in Indian advertising

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.


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.


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

deo ad 6

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?


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!