Last weekend, a new ad for a ‘vaginal tightening cream’ danced amidst our drawing room silences. But it’s not like we haven’t cringed at a TV spot before, muses Malay Desai
One moment, we’re all glued to a primetime show and suddenly in the next, an elephant-in-the-room moment strikes. The teens dart into their mobile phone screens, the parents’ poker faces wonder how long it will last and the seniors, if at all, glare at the TV, dentures almost dropping out of their jaws. No, nobody’s flipped the channel to an adult show, it is just that 15-second ad talking about sweaty crotches or dark underarms, safe sex, periods and all the things that never exist in the Indian drawing room. Welcome to the world of itchy advertising.
It probably began with those red nail-polished fingers moving over a man’s back in Shabana Azmi’s Doordarshan commercial on AIDS. By the time Azmi came to ‘Choone se agar failta hai toh sirf pyar!’ many remote-control-wielding dads would’ve already switched to DD Metro, the only other option. But with more channels, multinational brands, a younger nation and a fattening wallet over the next decade, the ‘awkward moment’ product line increased. Sanitary pads boasted of having wings, condoms found a place other than medical store counters and medicine claimed to have found a cure for itchy groins. Meanwhile, those thinking up TVC storyboards with racy visuals and corny animations of genitals obviously never gave a damn about drawing room silences. Or maybe they did it on purpose.
Come 2012, when we think we’ve seen the elephant in the room do it all - strip, seduce, scratch and everything unmentionable, arrives an ad that promises to make conventional desis want to drown in the chullu-bhar dal they’re having for dinner. This time around, ‘18 Again’ is the brand - a cream claiming to ‘tighten the vagina’.
And while the advertisement per se (which made its debut run this weekend on GEC and news channels) doesn’t evoke any cringed teeth, the product’s thought tearing into the walled minds of the great Indian ‘cultured’ family is worth noting. Take the awkwardness of the raciest Axe Effect ad and multiply by 10.
Featuring a typical Indian family (whose members too react like the ones in your drawing room), the whole TVC is a salsa-ish number with the sari-clad protagonist singing ‘I feel like a virgin’ and dancing with her husband. No doubt the film’s been made well, judging our conventional walls and driving home the message to its target audience (never mind the other audience). There are neither any double entendres nor skin shows nor animated genitalia; just some corny humour with the ‘dadi’ of the house shown logging onto the 18 Again website in the end. The smarter ladies will also catch the ode to Madonna in the soundtrack.
The product hitherto was only discussed in kitty party murmurs and sex advice columns. Now, with it glaring at us through our idiot boxes, the mothers might think, “Wait, is that really possible?” while the daughters will go “WTF” (unless of course they unfortunately are potential customers, in which case they’ll go “Finally!”). We pity the dads, though, who’ll end up dead confused – “My unmarried girl just saw this, should I be happy or worried?”
Our family isn’t really used to vagina talk – as the outrage on the ‘Clean and Dry’ gel ad for ‘whitening’ oysters showed; and ‘18 Again’ might just top that noise. This despite everyone in the room knowing that these products exist. The vaginal tightening ‘market’ has many players while we all know how many balms/sprays there are to increase penis sizes and performances. It’s a simple demand-supply cycle oiled by idiocy. But, you see, we’re not used to a spam mail popping out of the junk box and dancing around.
We’re not going into the moral debate of this, for ‘18 Again’ is yet another outcome of cunning marketers creating a demand based upon a regressive society (others being fairness creams for faces and armpits). We are, however, hoping this might spur debate and questioning in drawing rooms and bedrooms. Don’t forget, 2012 is the same year when a porn star has entered a reality show and now stars in a mainstream film.
As for the awkward, looking-away-to-feign-a-yawn moments in the drawing room, we prefer Rakesh Bedi crooning ‘Khujli karne wale’ and Shah Rukh turning handsome in seven days. At least we can laugh openly at the elephant in the room.