Category Archives: advertising

The Great Indian Tradition of Hypocrisy

An Ad posted by Dastkar, a Non-governmental organisation, promoting ethnic weaves. The caption that appeared with the original picture says, 'Wish more young girls would learn to wear this beautiful and becoming garment'
An Ad posted by Dastkar, a Non-governmental Organisation, promoting ethnic weaves. The caption that appeared with the original picture says, ‘Wish more young girls would learn to wear this beautiful and becoming garment’

Don’t you just love these little posies posing in some gorgeous Andhra saris? Look at them giggling and leaning on one another, truly happy and enjoying the moment! Except that it’s just not right. Not right at all. 

If you will, look at the first one on the right in a blue sari, the one holding the ‘pallu’. The pallu is the free end of this beautiful drapey drapey garment that is the most showy, most versatile too. Feeling cold? put it over your shoulder and use it to cover your torso. Rain or sun? use it to cover your head. Use it to cover your head anyway as a mark of respect if you happen to meet either orthodox elders or if you end up going to a temple or even a religious ceremony. Use it to wipe your face, your child’s face, or anything at all. Finally, as our B’wood movies make it amply clear, use the pallu to cover your lover’s face and play peekaboo, or when nervous, take a corner and twist and untwist it to make your state of mind appear pretty. For a ‘come hither’ look, just let the whole thing drop… but take your time to sing a song while you’re at it. And, the rainier it is, the better. Of course, you will need it in times of emergency as the hero gets hurt and the situation will demand that you rip off a shred of your pallu and use it as a tourniquet. Then, when he has stolen your heart by saving you from the lecherous villain, he will pull you close to him with the help of? Pallu, yes, exactly.

We can’t see the pallu of any of these little girls but one. And that one has already caught on to one of the most common techniques of keeping it in place. You either pin it up right behind your shoulder after pleating it into a fan and end up looking like a school teacher or an air-hostess, none of which are bad I must say. But then, there is a dressier version. You could run it across the shoulder over your back and KEEP one of your hands forever occupied in holding the corner right above your crotch. Always. Believe me. Yes, you could let go of it once in a while and let the pallu cascade down your shoulder but of course, if you are doing anything other than sashaying across through a garden party where you are not the host, this is not practical, you’ll see. 

But, of course, in the name of Indian-ness and what have you, since even Hollywood finds the sari so interesting, even Maria Sharapova wore one (she, of course, wouldn’t wear one to court though, I mean tennis) and since Rohit Bal and the likes of him find it so graceful and sensuous, it’s only natural to catch our young women really young and use gooey images such as above to lure them in. I for one, can’t imagine wearing a sari in the hot hot hot Indian climate, on crowded as hell Indian streets. I am personally biased against a sari since I can neither lift my weights in it nor walk my dog nor can I cook in it. Sitting pretty is a whole another matter. 

But why pull little girls in? This is my big question for Dastkar. It’s hypocrisy and you know it why. If the same girls had been dressed in adult clothes from the Western culture across the seven seas, we would scream ‘sexualization of little children’ or westernization of young girls. Even if at least some of those clothes let the girls be girls: be boisterous, be bodily free, not wanting to keep adjusting a piece of fabric hanging over their crotch. I know my language is stark, I know our mothers and grandmothers all wore saris at all times (well, not my mother but my gran definitely did and my aunt still does, even when she goes to bed) but I did never see them walking, running, breaking into a jig, climbing over a fence, skipping over a piece of furniture. Of course, some in my hometown have chosen to combine tradition with modernity by wearing sneakers over a sari (pallu in the front: Gujarati or Bihari style), but I would not say it’s a great idea. You still can’t go hiking in a sari. 

I know what you’ll say: that you can’t go hiking in a pencil skirt either. And this is where I come to the real point. Sari is great at times when you would rather go with Indian formals. Salwar Kameez is great when you are already late for that 9am Borivli to Churchgate local, pencil skirts are great when you are meeting up with those French delegates your boss wants you to host, trousers are great when you mean business and are going to be frantically busy. But, these are adult roles, aren’t they? 

Little girls should be running around, playing, hopping, skipping, and doing all the things their adult selves would have to painstakingly find time for. They should be carefree, not bothered about those pleats at the front and whether then can climb a flight of stairs without tugging at their crotch or whether that pallu will fall off showing some errant strap or another (To note here that the girls are not wearing a blouse, or at least that’s the impression I get – not cute. Not done either). And to wish for such a mad proposition to catch on is madness itself! 

You know, if you so badly want to promote wearing a dress that is 5.5 yards long, that requires you wear a blouse and a petticoat underneath, that requires constant care and attention by the wearer, why don’t you go ahead and make it compulsory in schools. 

Another question, how about you encourage young boys to take to wearing dhotis or mundus or whatever it is that adults wear? 

Stop, just stop treating women and girls and children like objects of pleasure, will you? And don’t lean on tradition to justify doing so. 

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Worry that kids are always watching you!

It is said, ‘Don’t worry that children never listen to you. Worry that they are always watching you’. This video by Child Friendly Australia just elaborates that point in a much deeper way.

I think advertising is depicted as the coolest profession around the world – Mad Men’s popularity notwithstanding. Across films, across genres, whenever one wants to show a hero as witty, smart, stylish, rich, of course with a lot of women hovering around, he is shown as an advertising executive. Of course, some Bollywood movies take the cliché further by usually making him work on an ad campaign for condoms: ref – Jhankaar Beats. I think I came across this cliché in some chic-lit humour as well with a woman protagonist. But then, we have also had What Women Want, haven’t we? There are too many to actually count. Makes sense by the way, how appealing is a hero working in his cubicle day in and day out, sweating out his engineering degree? Or that of a tax collector? Or an accounts officer?

Although, what I understand of it is that it is the most value-destroying endeavour there is on this planet. Success in advertising depends on the extent to which you can lie and to which you can dress it up so that it manipulates people into buying your product. When I say value, I don’t mean value as money. I mean value as values we try to inculcate to nurture a better society. You think I am stretching it too far? Am I really? Do you really think hot women will buzz around you like bees if you buy a particular bike (Pick any. They all use the same peg)? or wear a particular deo (Axe, the worst offender)? Do you think you can get ‘intimate’ with someone by sharing a bar of chocolate – (the Kiss Me campaign by Dairy Milk)? Do you think telling convenient white lies makes you smart and desirable (Virgin Mobile)? Do you think insulting someone by calling them ‘uncle’ makes you the happening youngster (Samsung)?

And, I must dedicate a special para to the fairness cream ads. I think these to be the lowest form of advertising. In fact, let’s call a spade a spade: advertising is a euphemism for creative lies. If any of these companies came out with the absolute truth about their products, they will start a much healthier trend. Advertising should be about communication and information and a proliferation of responsible and healthy ideas. Everyone rues materialism, capitalist consumerism, superficiality in our public lives at some point of time in their lives. We must keep in mind that advertising is a vehicle for all of these.

The media initiative cited above is a healthy trend in the direction of creating a more authentic world.