Thursday, February 26, 2009

Celeb Brand Ambassadors? Not Again….. Puhleeeeeze!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the validity and effectiveness of the glam, celeb brigade, doing their number as BA in the critical Social Sector space. Are they effective?

“Behen Lagta Kya?”
“Nahin, Mehman Lagta …”

Dialogues from the latest pot-boiler coming out of tinsel town? Naah, lines from a new TVC scripted by Prasoon Joshi, directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and – most importantly – delivered [with trademarks, mannerisms and punch] by Bollywood’s Little Big Man, Aamir Khan! For guys who came in late, no, Aamir hasn’t switched lanes but playing out his new role as brand ambassador for Incredible India’s Atithi Devo Bhavah [Guest is God] campaign. In recent times – and especially post-TZP – the thinking star has been popularly perceived as a caring, sensitive, responsible and socially aware individual who, with his iconic presence can make a difference in altering beliefs, attitudes and mindset relating to causes and concerns, in the public domain. Be that as it may, do celeb brand ambassadors, [as a rule] help further the cause they push? Are they really effective, credible and represent the mission played out … or is it [like the corny and frivolous celeb endorsement circus] more TRP-driven, more entertaining than purposeful? In short, when celebs support causes – who benefits?

Lets for a moment, look westwards. How about starting with the hottest of the hot, Angelina Jolie! Forever inspiring stories like ‘Brangelina Fever Grips London’ or ‘Why Armed Guards Stormed Their Bedroom’, Jolie has been a Goodwill Ambassador with the United Nations for ages. She always pays her way and her work with the refugee commission is simply amazing. On international issues, she is said to have more clout than many UN diplomats! “I see Angelina as the perfect humanitarian advocate. She brings an immense amount of international focus, but she never seeks to use it for her own benefit. On the contrary she transfers the spotlight directly to civic society advocates and makes them more powerful, effective and result-driven”. That was Gavin Simpson, a key member of the activist group – Witness, who worked closely with Jolie during her visit to the West African country, Sierra Leone. Other notables from Hollywood include Audrey Hepburn [UN] Danny Kaye [UNICEF] Humphrey Bogart, Bono, Sean Penn and a host of others.
What about the celebrity activism, vis-à-vis brand ambassador scene in India? Well, there’s the famous Big B for Polio, Koena Mitra for children’s orphanages, Shilpa Shetty for animal rights, Preity Zinta, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, along with a host of others... Point is – are they credible? Film-maker Muzaffar Ali believes it all really depends on the “sensibilities connect.” If that synergy is missing, it is at best, tokenism; at work, mockery. He cites the case of Big B’s stint as BA of Uttar Pradesh. Did it work? “Here was a superstar, living and working out of Mumbai, suddenly waxing poetic about UP. How on earth could it ever strike target?” Regarding Aamir, there is credibility, (he believes), due to the image and sensibilities connect. “The man, his persona and the cause he is espousing fuse. Conviction and track record is the key. No star or celeb can act out this role. They can’t fake it.”

Film-maker Rituparno Ghosh agrees. “For example I can’t think of a better BA for promoting the Hindi language than the Big B. The fit is perfect. Yes, the profiles have to jell.”

Future Group’s CEO Santosh Desai looks at it differently. “Let’s not get cute, coy and pretend. Most social sector advertising is largely cosmetic and tokenism and there is no real, focused effort to make a change.” Desai then goes on to really slam the current Aamir Khan TVC doing the circuit. “I think it is a terrible ad, with this didactic lecture… it’s really and truly an embarrassingly bad ad! I am surprised because Aamir normally doesn’t do corny ads, stuff where hectoring and heavy-duty messaging is on the cards.” Desai then goes on to explain what he believes is the ‘politics’ behind Public Service Advertising. “There is this popular belief that since it is an important cause, important people must say something about it, denounce it or at least play some role in it. They fall back on the tired cliché of ‘when celebs talk, people listen’. They may listen but do they hear, react and act as told to?” The other problem, Desai says, relates to the fact that these biggies are doing it for ‘free’. In short, the aura, hungama, myth and buzz around it frequently overtake the action, totally defeating the purpose.

At the end of the day, one thing is clear: Celebrities – unquestionably – open doors and to deny their clout in the popular culture space is to be dumb, myopic, cynical or plain, in-denial mode. They definitely bring a very special buzz to the cause they espouse and if they are the right person – respected, committed, informed and involved – they have no substitute. Incidentally (if you observed) the operative words are ‘if’ and ‘right’!! 


Thursday, February 12, 2009

You Got Male!

Is the new Indian woman looking 'differently' at the male? Is the new Indian male looking 'differently' at himself? Is voyeurism suddenly going unisex? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri probes the new-age phenomenon firing up ad-world!

Actually, Salman Khan started it all. Declaring a flamboyant fatwa against shirts, he converted flaunting his bare-chested, well-toned machismo into a sexual statement that drove a zillion female fans wild while earning envious looks from the guys. Today its come to a situation where (like the gasp-pant Zeenie baby of the seventies) many can’t recognise ‘Sallubhai’, fully clothed! Presently John Abraham’s red-hot number in Dostana, is giving both hotties Shilpa and Piggy Chops a run for money! The way his languorous moves have been choreographed and the passionate love-affair the camera seems to conduct with Johnny-boy … man, ‘you got male’!

Beyond Sallu, John, and SRK’s sexy 6-pack abs flash, Ranbir’s (oooops!) wardrobe dysfunction in Saawariya and Aamir’s new, killer body in Ghajini, lies a slew of ads saluting the male form – with women, actively co-opted as enthusiastic participants! Be it the Euro Brief slugs where the young dude gets ‘assaulted’ (with lipstick marks!) the AXE effect TVCs, Moods’ condom ads (where the babe nibbles her guy’s ears) and the latest Akshay Kumar’s lethal unbuttoned ad, the male, suddenly, is taking centre stage and women seem delighted to play avid, rah-rah audience!

As the song says, what’s goin’ on?

Gushes the Delhi-based ad veteran Esha Guha, “As the ad says, why should boys have all the fun? For centuries, women have played dedicated objects of desire to men’s hungry eyes. Isn’t it time to hit the role-reversal button?” The ‘unputdownable’ Guha argues that in today’s world where women go eyeball-to-eyeball with men in the professional, financial and social zone, why should they suddenly play cute n’ shy away from the delicious sport called male-gazing!

Young copy-writer Payal Sinha is delighted (“Wow, Some Lady”!) at this response from someone who represents a generation who, (mostly) would reach for smelling salts before attempting to coherently articulate their (Shock? Disgust?) opinion. “I think our generation looks at the very concept of sexuality differently – the urban, middle-class, educated community, that is. There is neither the hush-hush, behind closed-doors factor, the sex-is-sin belief, nor the shy, feminine, mega blush-flush at the very mention of the S word.” Payal elaborates by saying that the new-age woman is pretty savvy and clued-in and with the huge exposure in the public domain – TV, movies, radio, Internet – as well as everyday life and living, the male body is (normally) not totally alien country!
Creative Director Moon-Moon Dhar joins the party with unbridled ecstasy! “This stuff was long overdue and I have no hesitation in saying that I went to Dostana just to ogle! Johnny-boy was truly an eye-candy!” Toning the pitch down a bit, the bindaas mother of two believes that today’s men too are less self-conscious about flashing-flesh or getting paranoid if their partners drool. “My hubby is, by turn, amused or threatening to get those 6-pack abs, very soon. It’s cool.”

Home-maker Vidya Baluja feels like throwing up! “My god, its blatant sexism, male-style … and it’s so much more yucky!” She believes that there are certain areas of life, which indeed exist but should be celebrated only in the private space. “All this dramabazi exhibitionism is so vulgar! Sure there will always be a lunatic fringe that will wow the toned and chiseled male form but generally speaking, most sane, balanced, intelligent women will view this new-age disrobing of inhibitions in a startled, amused and embarrassed way.”

Journo Bina Khanna adds her spin to it. “I really think too much is being made of this male-gazing – thanks to the Dostana factor – and it’s more media-generated than real!” Khanna believes that the recent hungama is because traditionally, its always been the politically correct thing for men to drool, salivate and play the raging-hormone voyeur. Suddenly (Globalisation? Gladrags?), there has been a change in the mindset among a segment of society that have woken up to this role-reversal and embraced it with unholy glee! This has toppled the apple-cart and brought something hugely private and hush-hush tumbling out of the closet into the streets…

Khanna could well have hit the nail on the head. The new-age woman is different from her mother-in-law in many ways, mindset, heading the list. She is socially, intellectually, financially and professionally up there with men and suffers no complex about it. Individual liberation through sexuality is emerging as a major tool to break feudalism in society. Also, in an age of suppressed libido, celebration of the male body by women is liberating, balancing the man-woman equation and making commodification of culture a two-way street. Besides, in a time and age when women are breaking every mould in life and rewriting the rules of the game, it’s time to celebrate choices, stop living in a man’s-idea-of-woman world, go with the flow and coin a whole, new and exciting word – DIRECT MALE!