Pepsi’s Cola Coloured India
The new Pepsi TV commercial – the ‘Youngistan’ series featuring Hindi film industry’s latest heart throb Ranbir Kapoor, is really very interesting.
Scene 1: The girl tells her father ‘papa I am not interested in this marriage (proposal)’ and the father exerts his power by walking out of the door, shutting the girl in (or out).
Scene 2: The girl is sitting next to the prospective groom on a sofa with their respective parents peering on - a classic scene all Indians will recognize from the million times they have seen the setting in films and TV.
Scene 3: Ranbir Kapoor walks into the room to his save his female friend from an arranged marriage she is not interested in. ‘How could you do this to me’, he says from the doorway. Of course the audience expects that he is the girl’s lover, or acting as one. Instead he goes to the potential groom and pretends to be his jilted lover. The audience is now thinking, ‘wait a minute, a gay lover! Did they just show gays on TV?’ When the bewildered guy, who speaks with a distinct NRI accent, says that he does not know him, another young man walks into the scene and asks him, ‘will you deny to remember me too?!”
Scene 4: The girl thanks the two boys for having saved her from a possible arranged marriage.
This advert is extremely interesting comment on today’s India, as most ads and images always are. On the one hand homosexual relationships are respectfully normalized in this ad. There are no snide looks or jeers by the four parents who are shocked to realize this fact about the boy; their reactions never stoop to mockery. There are no ‘hai hai, ya allah, yeh zamana kahan ja raha hai’ (O my god, where is the world headed too) looks or reactions. From the point of view of accepting people with different (or multiple) sexual orientations, this ad is truly celebratory and the makers need to be commended for it.
Interestingly, however, the girl in this seemingly ‘progressive’ ad continues to be denied her agency to decide what is good or bad for her. Her power relation with her parents continues to be in the previous century, though she has 21st century friends who are cool enough to act (very soon ads will have normal homosexuals too and not just pretenders) as gays without demeaning gays. If we use Pepsi’s cola colored lens to understand young India, it looks like it is saying ‘homosexuality – okay’, ‘girls having wild male friends – okay’, ‘parents deciding who their girls should marry – okay too’.
The ad is a good representation of India today – the convenient co-existence of multiple eras. The modern and the primitive, the independent and the submissive all at the same time. Often I describe India as a primitive elephant disguised as a cheetah. We want the world to perceive us as sleek, shining and fast but in reality we are old and slow, though with our own charms. This ad is one reason why I describe it so.