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Would The Tanishq Ad Have Been Spared If These ‘Buts’ Were Taken Care Of?

Posted: October 16, 2020

The Tanishq ad intended to promote harmony, but got a ton of backlash and was taken down. Why?

Many of us must have seen this advertisement by now, in spite of it being pulled down by Tanishq. It intended to promote religious harmony with a celebration of interfaith relationships – but it backfired.

The simple 45 sec advertisement shows a pregnant woman being led by her mother in law (Muslim) to a south Indian style, Hindu baby shower ceremony. Overwhelmed, the girl asks the mother in law if such a custom exists in her family – to which the mother in law fondly replies, “but the custom of keeping our daughters happy exists in all cultures”.

Those who have followed Tanishq ads know that they have always followed the same trope- the attempt is to make a statement for women’s empowerment, breaking of regressive traditions, and in this case celebrating religious harmony and co-existence.

The advertisement, soon after being put up by Tanishq received incessant trolling by people under the hashtag ‘#boycottTanishq’, that it hurt the sentiments of both the communities. The following arguments were offered by the people to boycott it.

The ‘love jihad’ angle

The first is that this advertisement espouses a case of love jihad i.e. the forceful conversion of a Hindu girl by a Muslim man by luring her in a trap of love. A woman’s autonomy in marrying out her choice is never taken into account here, which is insulting and de-humanizing to not only the guy from the ‘other community’ but also the girl from your own.

Questions are also raised on why a Hindu bride in a Muslim family. Why not vice versa? Would a Muslim community be okay if a Hindu bride comes to their family? Would they show a Muslim woman celebrating diwali with a Hindu family and so on and so forth? Finally, some people had an issue with the fundamental idea  – the fact of showcasing and glorifying an inter-faith marriage did not go well with them.

Of course, support for the ad and calling out the trolls also poured on social media, and many celebrities also appreciated this beautiful attempt of promoting social and communal harmony.

The fence-sitters

Here, I would especially like to highlight the arguments of those who decided that they do not want to be associated with the uncouth hate mongrels who openly oppose interfaith relationships, but who do not even wholeheartedly support the portrayal of the same in these ads.

The tricky part here is, that when the argument is put forth by these people, the first paragraph inadvertently gets dedicated to condemning the attacks, and proclaiming that ‘we are secular, and we do not have a problem per say with inter community mingling or marriages’. The second paragraph begins with BUT

Argument 1 –

But it is true that rarely is a character from the Muslim community shown to be in a poor light, or to be intolerant, or narrow minded in mainstream media. They are always generous and large-hearted whereas their Hindu counterpart is just shown to be the opposite – petty and narrow minded, sometimes villainous and crafty. These people believe that mainstream ads and movies deliberately insinuate a bias against certain communities (read Hindu) while appeasing some others (Muslims).

Argument 2 –

But it is true that in most of our movies which show interfaith relationships, there’s always a Hindu woman marrying a Muslim man, who is accepted by the noble Muslim family. By this – the implication is that the Muslim community keeps their own daughters away, while luring and trapping ‘ours’.

Such posts are written in such impeccable language, that it is difficult to find fault with them. These posts very subtly plant a seed of doubt in our minds and make us question if we were indeed right in taking a liberal stand for the ad.

Let us deconstruct the arguments, and see if they indeed have a merit in them.

Why does pop media always show the ‘good Muslim’?

Here’s the first ‘but’.

Muslims comprise our largest minority – the 2011 Census data shows them to be 13.4% of India’s total population, but they rarely find adequate representation in our Bollywood movies. The majority of – and sometimes the entire cast of characters – are Hindu, and the plots move in and around Hindu households and traditions, unless it is a specifically ‘Muslim’ movie. Because all the characters are from one particular community, obviously some have to be good and some have to be villainous to move the plot ahead.

In the the movies which do have Muslim characters, they are often shown to be pious, noble, generous and tolerant in general. The people who have a problem with this rarely ever have a problem on why they always have to be side characters in the first place. And yes, they may be glorified, but they are also stereotyped with their hijab and skull caps and urdu (come on, not all Muslims come from UP now!). We hardly ever realize or if we do, object to this.

This argument, in fact traces back to the allegation levied on the Congress governments by right wing groups – of minority appeasement. What is being implied here is that these movies and these ads deliberately appease Muslims by always showing them in a good light – when, according to them, the reality is the opposite of the picture.

Not delving into the politics of it for the moment, but my argument is simple here- because of the gross underrepresentation of the Muslim community in movies and ads in the first place, whenever they bring in 1-2 token Muslim characters they have to bring the religious unity angle and make them broad minded caricatures of secular India.

This does not happen because the filmmakers believe in the ‘goodness’ of the Muslim community, they do it to portray their own pseudo liberal-ness, in an apparent statement which goes like – “We are so proud of the secular Indian culture – minority characters are also included in the narrative”. Remember Hum Saath Saath Hain? The character of Anwar in an overtly Hindu sanskari drama is a case in point.

The case for a Hindu wife/ DIL/ girlfriend

Let us look at the second ‘but’.

I don’t know why and how anyone could come to the conclusion that Bollywood movies only portray Hindu girls falling in love with Muslim men. I could give ample examples to nullify this argument.

Have we truly forgotten Bombay? I think it needs to be re-released, given the need of the hour. Gadar -Ek Prem Katha also has Muslim girl Sakina falling in love with the Sikh guy, and so has Ranjhana. In Ranjhana, Sonam Kapoor’s charcter Zoya (Muslim) is found to have fallen head over heels with a Sikh guy, communist minded no less. In the movie, when Zoya’s family finds out the religion of the guy, they are enraged to the extent of killing him.

The point here is clear- a majority of families (Hindu ho ya muslim, we are united here) in India are religiously intolerant, especially about their women marrying men from the other community, but yet the children fall in love. Because love is love.

Even in Taare Zameen Par, it is subtly suggested that the girlfriend of  Aamir Khan (who is a Hindu guy in the movie) is a Muslim. Bajirao Mastani (based on history but so heavily fictionalized that I am counting it not as a period drama but a romantic film) also shows how a Muslim woman Mastani falls heads over heals with a Hindu, Brahmin man. Here, like Ranjhana, the hero’s family is a prick and leaves no stone unturned to separate the duo.

In fact, thus, I find Bollywood celebrating interfaith, inter communal love in all its shades through all periods of history! My only issue with Bollywood movies is they do not have the same liberal approach when it comes to inter-caste relationships. Leave aside Manthan and Nishant and others from the parallel cinema, the only two movies that instantly came to my mind which actually addressed inter caste relationships in mainstream are Chachi 420 and Masaan!

Maybe we can actually demand more movies which also tackle caste, along with religion.

Was there any need for a religion angle?

There was also another ‘but’.

But religious attribution is unnecessary in the first place – and I somewhat agree with this one.

There was a post that I saw on my friends feed (can’t find it now – but would really like to acknowledge the one who wrote it) which actually said that next time Tanishq should make an with atheist mother in law talking to her pregnant daughter in law about childbirth, and the son and father in law joining in to take a pledge against patriarchal customs which all religions more or less support!

I know, the market in a culturally heterogeneous country like India relies on the sentimental value people attach to their respective culture to advertise their products. Also, celebrating a festival by coming together is beautiful and much needed in our increasingly capitalist culture, as long as the regressive customs in it are done away with. But these ads (Amazon included) should move away from the cliques and stereotypes of religion and culture, and rather focus more on day to day joys of life!

Mainstream, everyday Muslim characters

When it comes to movies, we need more of the liberal, middle class aspiring Muslim characters, which are rarely to be seen!

Kabir Khan from Chak de India is an example where religion casts a shadow on him externally, but his faith is separated from the work he does. Also, Imraan from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. We would be blessed if we have more women characters too who are portrayed to be from minority communities and yet not type casted as such. That might truly do well to a society where the media plays such an important role in influencing thought processes!

As for the Tanishq ad, I am glad in a way that this issue has been brought to the fore through this, and our bigotry and hypocrisy is being exposed before our own eyes. If anything, this should give way to a constructive criticism and better work in the future.

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