Thursday, January 27, 2011

Woman Interrupted - Or Celebrated ?

Is today’s Indian Women Truthfully Portrayed in ADs by our adfrat! 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri Opines and gets The Opinionated view of The Industry itself

First things first. Only guys in dire need of an instant trip to the friendly, neighbourhood shrink perceive advertising to be the relentless brand ambassador of reality. Advertising is after all (first and last) a crucial marketing tool mandated to do a job as effectively as possible. Towards achieving this end – like Bollywood – magnifying, hyping, dramatising, exaggerating and colouring comes with the territory. “Agreed,” says the eminent behavioural scientist Estella Green. “But are we reading the writing on the wall correctly,’’ she adds. She let fly some disturbing whoppers based on her findings on an extensive survey across Asian markets – China, Japan, India.

Women accused advertisers of portraying them in a man’s version of what they should be like. Further, she added, the basic communication slant was way off on five solid counts: money, sexuality, humour, emotion and authenticity. The survey also revealed that (unlike the West) women here weren’t comfortable with blatant portrayals of sex. It was more an internal paradigm shift where they’ve learnt to handle and appreciate sex appeal as part of their intrinsic femininity rather than an exhibitionistic, brazen and titillating man-baiting USP. Finally, in Asian societies, girls are taught to view emotions as their strength and not weakness – hence, they seem to respond to a message that is authentic & real – warts and all – more positively than one that is beautifully packaged but clearly phoney.

How does this rock with our guys in Mera Bharat Mahan?
Ad film maker (and now feature film director) Sujit Sarkar refuses to bite. He believes – like in the movies – the shift towards realism has begun in the ad film scenario. “You will see a lesser degree of the Superwoman, Supermom and Superwife persona today because the industry has started to recognise and respect the readers/viewers intelligence and thus offer slices of life in the communication that both entertain and connect. No wonder, the new war-cry in today’s ad-scene is – boss, make it less addy! In other words, don’t make it look like a typical ad; make it look real,” says Sarkar.

However, high profile theatre director Feroz Khan (Tumhari Amrita fame) scoffs at any mention of advertising being associated with truth or reality. “To me, advertising is nothing more than a 30 second recreational capsule designed to provide a breather from the brutalities of India’s newscape. Into this, of course, is insidiously built-in the profit motive,” says Khan. Warmed up, he offers his views on the advertising world’s depiction of woman: “It’s very interesting. They throw up two stereotypes, neither of which is anchored in reality! The first is the firang model, the sassy and sexy international import (ala the Kate Moss types) who sashays across up-market glossies, Sunday supplements as also our TV screens. The creators of this persona believe that teaming with the brand owners, they can successfully hawk style, attitude and looks because, after all, what you see is where the action is! This leads to the conviction that consumers will surely buy into this image because in today’s globalised India, the Western look, style & pizazz is the flavour of the moment.”

This tragi-comical colonisation of their mind, Khan believes, is mercifully not shared by the Indian consumer and reflects the ad fraternity’s total disconnect with reality. It brilliantly symbolises what today’s India is not!

“The second is the homegrown Kanta Bai / Lalitaji model. This representation attempts to propagate old-fashioned values of thrift and choices. The models also are (consciously) unglamourous, plain, non-threatening, cosy and cutesy, hitting the security zone and evoking visions of the virginal, innocent blissful past. Pity is, it symbolises India of yesterday, not today! It is a corny, unreal and romanticised version that just doesn’t resonate with today’s life and times,” says Khan. Where is, Khan wonders, today’s ‘Real Woman’ (of complexities and contradictions, magic and mystique) that any sensitive male sees everywhere, across a nation on the move?

Director Aparna Sen (36 Chowringhee Lane, Mr. & Mrs. Iyer, The Japanese Wife) joins the fray. She believes that the Indian woman is represented in a truly pathetic fashion, forever one-dimensional – north Indian, fair, urban- with occasional, unimaginative and degrading forays into caricature and tokenism. “How is it that beyond this cardboard, stereotypical cut-out, one hardly ever gets to connect with a real, believable, flesh & blood type? When was the last time one saw a woman from the South, East or North-East as an ad model [in national ads]?” questions Sen. While Sen appreciates the crafting, technological highs and slick execution of these endeavours, she feels strongly about the real Indian woman being hijacked by a predictable, soulless stereotype, completely powered by a consumerist culture and vested interest.

So what gives? Who better to script the concluding lines than the brilliant social commentator, Santosh Desai. He believes advertising’s endeavour is to identify, dramatise, even magnify some real emerging trends. The actual portrayal is seldom clinically and cold-bloodedly accurate; it is more a mythologised version, but everything considered, one certainly gets to see a fascinating representation (across the spectrum) with the housewife playing a starring role! As per him, in recent times this harassed, sacrificial, 24x7 slogger, gatekeeper and provider of her family’s joy and well-being has morphed into a zestful and joyous participant as well. She seems to be able to say ‘Yes’ (rather then the earlier, automatic ‘No’) with more √©lan than before. She seems to also enjoy a much greater sense of control along with the ability to be playful with her husband, rather than treat him as the authoritative, fearing, lord and master. She is no longer defined by the role she plays but slips in and out of her several roles – daughter, wife, mother, daughter-in-law, working woman – with a greater degree of style, conviction and confidence. Overall, she seems to be much more together and aware of who she is, what she’s doing, where she is coming from and the effect she has... “In fact, the most dramatic paradigm shift has been in this very, reaffirming of the new-age Indian women’s new age persona, dumping the so-called westernised, hot-babe segment, where the paranoid and insecure chic is constantly looking at every mirror available to check-out whether she measures up to the Gladrag’s Diva or Femina’s hot princess category, desperately waiting for affirmation from the world…” finishes Desai. Be that as it may, may 2011 throw more light on to the advertiser...