DUBAI: The hasty and abrupt pulling down of the Tanishq jewelry campaign, which showcased an adorable bond between a Hindu, pregnant daughter-in-law and a doting Muslim mother-in-law, following an avalanche of online wrath was ‘wrong and unfair’ and will create a climate of fear, believes a cross-section of actors, filmmakers, brand consultants and artists.
“It’s completely wrong, unfair and defeats the very idea of people in business not having the right to create promotional content that best meets their requirement. Aren’t they the best judge? Who are a bunch of trolls to tell them what is right or wrong?” said Bollywood filmmaker, poet and politician Pritish Nandy in an interview with Gulf News.
The prolific producer behind hits such as Shaadi Ke Side Effects and Pyaar Ke Side Effects believes that the 43-second advertisement which showed a pregnant Hindu daughter-in-law being ushered into a baby shower arranged by her Muslim mother-in-law as per Hindu rituals was ‘outstanding’ and was inclusive. The company’s decision to withdraw their advertisement out of fear for their employees and their stores being vandalized was emblematic of what India was fast becoming. Such incidents will erode the artistic freedom.
It’s completely wrong, unfair and defeats the very idea of people in business not having the right to create promotional content that best meets their requirement. Aren’t they the best judge? Who are a bunch of trolls to tell them what is right or wrong?
“As an artist, I have been worried for a long time. Our medium is being constantly eroded – on one hand, by a government that doesn’t understand art or artists, and on the other hand by a media which is becoming hysterical and stupid. Finally, we also have an army of trolls on social media who are nurtured by different portals and they are all eating away at our freedom as artists,” he added. The withdrawal of the advertisement will deeply affect the image of India in a free world, its cultural positioning and have serious ‘long-term consequences’, warns Nandy, who produced Kareena Kapoor-starrer ‘Chameli’.
'Live, love, laugh'
“Given the current atmosphere in India, I feel what Tata Group (Tanishq is a brand of Titan, owned by Tata Sons) did was right. They sidestepped the issue because no corporate, business house will ever give into a confrontational situation … They don’t exist to fight battles with social media,” he added.
As Dubai-bred comedian Nitin Mirani puts it, people in India seem to be getting a kick out of being offended. The whole controversy is silly, he claims. “As a comedian, we are many times faced with the dilemma of saying what is right as to what is right as per the society or the country we live. But I feel it is now time for people to understand artistic projects with an open mind and remind them of the significance of the quote “Live Love Laugh”,” said Mirani.
“As a comedian, we are many times faced with the dilemma of saying what is right as to what is right as per the society or the country we live. But I feel it is now time for people to understand artistic projects with an open mind and remind them of the significance of the quote “Live Love Laugh”,” said Mirani.
The buckling down of a large corporate house triggered by an outrage among conservative social media users suggesting that their advertisement promoted "love-jihad" (a term used to denote Muslim men marrying Hindu women for the purpose of religious conversion) was totally unnecessary, believes publicist Parull Gossain. Such caving in by a corporate is likely to hurt the brand, believes UAE-based brand publicist Santripti Vellody Manoli.
“Tanishq shouldn't have buckled down to trolls. For all we know these might be bots and not reflecting real opinion … It was a beautiful advertisement and such a shame that the whole narrative of the country is being hijacked like this. We aren’t so small-minded,” said Gossain.
Intolerance to an ad
The intolerance to the Tanishq advertisement is one of the many instances in the recent past where online ire has held big filmmakers and corporate houses to ransom. The retraction of the advertisement might also set an unhealthy precedent in brand-building, says Mandvi Sharma, celebrity publicist and Managing director of Tree-Shul Media Solutions.
“Retracting of this ad is a setback and a statement that trolls will lead the way now. It’s a sad state of affairs, to be honest … But India still has independent thinking minds in all fields of work. But yes, the campaign meetings are now going to be longer to test all scenarios because the noise on social media is only going to increase,” warned Sharma, thought the Tanishq ad was socially relevant and not spiteful as claimed by right-wingers.
Actress Tanushree Dutta calls it a ‘hasty decision motivated by online trolls’. “The makers of the ad should have had more faith in the larger Indian diaspora. So this retraction was not needed and clearly was an overreaction on part of the brand. A few online trollers don’t decide the sentiment of the whole country,” said Dutta in a separate interview. The actress found the advertisement that focused on Hindu-Muslim communal harmony as a campaign filled with good messages of love and tolerance.
Trolls taking over India?
“India is and should always remain a democracy that loves and respects its minorities too, because our national freedom was built on the sweat, blood and sacrifices of many different communities. In these times we must remember the preamble of our constitution and cast aside communal feelings. I had no issues with the ad creatively, it was really cool to see a fresh new idea in the ad world,” added Dutta.
She isn’t alone. Bollywood actress Kubbra Sait, whose hit roles include playing a transgender in the web series ‘Sacred Games’, cannot understand the sound and fury behind such a fuzzy advertisement.
“That ad was beautiful, heartwarming, inclusive — oh so full of love and care. I am a believer of love. I am also a person who likes to believe that love is the greatest blessing for one to experience. I’ve personally witnessed inter faith marriages in my family... it isn’t new or a “bold” or rebellious statement to make. It’s a choice. I do not understand the fury around the advertorial.” She adds that this incident of revoking a piece of art due to online hate should spur us to ‘reflect’ and ‘learn’.
That ad was beautiful, heartwarming, inclusive — oh so full of love and care. I am a believer of love. I am also a person who likes to believe that love is the greatest blessing for one to experience.
“Now is a good place and time as any to reflect on the parochial, regressive behaviour that shuts down love and stories of love being told. The power of story telling will only make things better... I am optimistic about that. We cannot and must not allow the fanatics to get to our hearts and heads.” While the advertisement was inundate with spiteful trolls and calls for boycotts, there was a significant section of social media users who believed that the advertisement was secular and reflected the multicultural social and cultural fabric of India.
Director Ram Kamal Mukherjee, whose recent short film Season’s Greetings revolved around an inter-faith couple, believes that the Tanishq ad was blown out of proportion by the right-wingers.
“Early this year my film Season's Greetings dealt with inter religion love and acceptance. The love story between Usmaan (Azhar Khan) and Romita (Celina Jaitly) who visits Kolkata to seek permission from Suchitra (Lillette Dubey) tells a lot about our social fabric. In fact the film was critically appreciated in India and globally for not being pretentious,” said Mukherjee.
Will the ad withdrawal hurt the brand?
An UAE-based Brand Comms & Public Perception Consultant Santripti Vellody Manoli believes that the pulling out the advertisement is likely to hurt Tanishq as a brand in terms of public perception.
“The very target audience that their communication usually caters to doesn’t seem very pleased at what is now being seen as their brand being ‘spineless’. Brand perceptions only weaken with the kind of stance the Tata Group have taken and if they had stood their ground, it would have probably catapulted Tanishq to a whole different level.
Nike’s ad called “You can’t stop us” had USA divided and was heavily trolled by right-wingers for its message that centered on inclusiveness and diversity, similar in theme to the Tanishq ad, but Nike didn’t buckle under pressure and it became one of the highest viewed ads on social media. More importantly, it only strengthened their brand position. Tanishq now stands to lose on both grounds – the trollers as well as the supporters of the brand who find the lack of conviction unpalatable,” said Manoli in an interview with Gulf News.
The Nike ad that Manoli was referring to polarized the viewers in the United States. It showed a footage of Black, White, Asian and Muslim athletes in action and was largely lauded for its themes of diversity and social justice. Despite being labelled pretentious, the ad was viewed more than 11 million times on YouTube. But Tanishq didn’t exhibit as much grit under fire.
In India, it isn’t the first brand to kneel in the face of social media ire. In March 2019, a TV commercial for a Surf Excel detergent brand ran into murky water when it showed a group of children playing Holi (Indian festival of colors) and how a Hindu girl takes a Muslim boy on her cycle to a mosque for prayers. The ad, directed at being symbolic of inter-faith acceptance, sparked outrage among right-wing outfits. The advertisement was pulled down just like how Tanishq pulled the plug on its commercial fearing nation-wide outrage.
“Many are curious to know under what pressure did the Tata Group feel compelled to pull out the ad . This questions the entire system of creativity in the communications and ad industry in India … Streamlining ideas and viewpoints is only going to hamper creativity in the long run and it won’t be long before we will be facing a ‘national creativity crisis’, which can only lead to a lack of innovation across the board. People tend to undermine the importance and impact of removing a ‘single ad’ – but it is a combination of many such ‘single’ pull-backs that eventually trickle down to a collective psyche of a nation,” Manoli added.
The usual voices who are outspoken in Bollywood have also pitched in. While actress Kangana Ranaut, known for her right-wing political leanings, disapproved of the ad, actresses like Richa Chaddha, Swara Bhasker and Divya Dutta (whose voice was featured in the controversial ad) expressed their disappointment at the jewelry ad being pulled off social media channels.
“Sad lack of spine … and conviction. Numerous women (and men) get death treats on social media on a daily basis. They stand up to it. Unfortunate that a large corporate conglomerate is unable to gather the courage (and resources) to withstand a few days of trolling,” tweeted Bhasker, along with an eyeroll emoji.