A well-heeled 30-something Indian couple in a car. The atmosphere is rife with the uneasy static of modern Indian couples. The woman is nagging the man for getting them lost in the wilderness. Why did he not ask for directions? What’s with this dependence on the car’s GPRS system? It’s all his fault.
The man says nothing, head bowed, the hint of a knowing smile teasing his lips. The camera pans out. We see the rolling hills and spectacular sky.
The logo, sign-off and voice over list the car’s various features.
* Another car. Another harried couple. This time the woman is haranguing the man for his many trespasses. A litany of complaints streams out of her lips. The man’s demeanour is the same. Head bowed. That tiny smile threatening to emerge any moment. His phone rings on the car speaker. It’s from a restaurant. Confirming his booking for a candlelight dinner that evening. He asks his wife, ironically, if he should cancel (given her disgruntlement). She stays his hand meaningfully. Fade out.
* This time the man appears to have got it. Of course, it’s another man. Another woman. Another product. He’s suited-booted. Hair in place. Duly shaved. And the couple is seated at a candle-lit dinner at a restaurant. On the woman’s face is the same map of neglect.
The man asks her if she is planning to leave him and if not then how long she’s going to stay with him. It is the genteel, deadly brinkmanship of decades of disappointment.
Then he hands her a solitaire. The interrogation about her loyalty is a swipe at self-parody. After all he’s known to be unromantic, isn’t he?
The Indian male unromantic? Seriously?
In the spring of my career, I had the privilege of eavesdropping on the canon of commerce while working in a couple of ad agencies in Mumbai and Kolkata.
Here’s what I learnt: what we see, read and hear about goods and services in advertisements is the result of copious market research and tedious committee meetings.
And the marketers have discovered that the way to the Indian woman’s heart and purse strings is to engage with her sense of being neglected and unloved by her man — you can bet what these recent advertisements depict is only the tip of the iceberg.
That rage you saw of young women on Delhi’s streets, frothing at the mouth while protesting against rape and sexual harassment? Of course, the tipping point was the brutality and violence against women on the streets and in their homes. But there was also something more. It was a fury for words unspoken, times unspent, promises unkept, tenderness not received. What cannot be heard in the clamour is that they also want to be respected, understood, loved and, above all, cherished.
Watch how female TV anchors, for instance, come alive when they engage with Alpha Sensitive New Age Guy Salman Rushdie over the next few weeks on his Indian trip. They glow, they flirt, they are luminescent. Rushdie who does not have a six-pack or a hirsute head, but whose words reach their soul, whose books testify an understanding of women.
Rarely has there been such a moment of stand off between the genders. And it will take more than a dinner date to fix it.
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer