I wrote in my column in Campaign India magazine a few months (or was it years) ago, that there are two sides to every story, if not more, and that we’d do well to listen to different perspectives before closing our minds on issues that matter.
The recent outburst on the Havells commercial is further evidence, if at all one needed any, that we would do well to listen to all sides of the story. We’re pretending not to, even if we are, and that’s ironic.
Firstly, it would be prudent to note that this is a brand that has, since it started taking a stand on social issues, consistently done so. And why wouldn’t it? In a category as commoditised as electric wires and ceiling fans, it latched onto a powerful premise of Hawa Badlegi, to good effect. From irreverent and attention-grabbing ‘Shock laga’ for its wires to the new plank of ‘Change’, it was a level up.
The brand kept growing, in the market, and in stature. From women’s empowerment to social taboo to many more, Havells successfully and seamlessly aligned itself with issues that matter to the average consumer. Those were the issues of the day. The brand did well to define its scope for a point of view on those issues.
A recent ad from the brand being mired in controversy, and the reasons for it, offer cause for worry. The film starts off with a young girl insisting that she apply under the open competition, dissuading her father from taking the ‘reservation’ category admission form. She is confident that she doesn't need the quota to get through. The rest of the film has poignant points to make with other protagonists, but the critics had had enough.
There is certainly merit in the contention that there are segments even today, that need upliftment socially and economically, and reservation in education, jobs and more are still essential for that to be achieved. This is not about that larger issue of reservation. My point is about being able to digest the reality that there is perhaps a segment of society that has successfully moved up the chain and no longer wants the benefit of reservation, even if eligible. Even if one were to argue for reservation, look at it this way: the ones that move out to open competition, not seeking their share of the quota, would be vacating those opportunities for those who need it more. Is that difficult to comprehend or appreciate?
The arguments against the Havells film, as expressed online including in one post on HuffingtonPost India, seem bereft of balance, and written by people blinded by the pursuit of an agenda. Or is it the instant fame and increased following on social channels that acts as the lure?
The brand has pulled the ad, but one place it is available online is on a YouTube channel called ‘Dr Ambedkar’s Caravan’, where it will now rapidly gain eyeballs.
I was not born into a 'forward caste' family, but refused to avail the benefits of reservation when I could assert my choice, and will not do so for my daughter. My mother’s father did well enough to head a bank and my father, born to a railway linesman, availed of reservation to become an engineer. It is perhaps because of this background, that I am able to relate to the film and its first protagonist. I have a choice that I choose to exercise.
Reservation is necessary for those who deserve it. We need more balance of prosperity and inclusive progress. For that very reason, those who do not need reservation should forgo it. That's precisely what the TVC portrayed, if you look at it from another perspective.
The second instance in the Havells film, where a lady refuses to take an official car (with the beaming light on top) for a personal chore, is as compelling as the first. But this isn't a political issue that attracts attention. There will be officials and their families who misuse their power, and there will be those who choose not to. It's again about choice.
But brands do not have a choice today, much like individuals. They will be trolled mercilessly if they are seen as a threat to an agenda.
The Havells ad being targeted is unfortunate. It speaks volumes of the times we live in, where powerful and often political discourse of one form or another overrides all else.
Hopefully, Hawa Badlegi.
(The author is managing editor, Campaign India. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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