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Anuja Chauhan
Anuja Chauhan

SCHIZO-NATION

Pray and let pray

Getting cricketers to emote isn’t easy, ask any advertising copywriter. We suffered for years with Saurav Ganguly’s deer-caught-in-the-headlights glare, Sachin’s sudden, frighteningly wide rictus and Rahul’s gulping (but game) dialogue delivery. Then came Mahi, all amiable and nonchalant and easy-in-his-skin, and the bar bobbed up, just a little. And, then Virat happened—a bona fide member of the camera-savvy, selfie-taking generation, and I swear on Sehwag-ki-ma, all of us advertising hacks felt we’d died and gone to heaven. The boy held the camera’s gaze confidently, spoke without looking like ISIS had a gun to his head, and had a defined jawline. Of course, he wasn’t exactly Balraj Sahni or Naseeruddin Shah—when I say his acting was good, it’s kind of like complimenting Sunny Leone on her golf game, matlab, it isn’t her core competency.

There wasn’t much to write home about of the content of his ads, however, it was all the usual ‘boyish pranks’ kind of stuff, or shots of him looking grim and focused, till I saw the latest festive offering from Manyavar and felt ooh, our cutie boy is becoming a man. It shows Virat walking through various festive settings—a Diwali feast, a ceremony in a gurdwara, an Eid celebration, a Christmas party—dressed in a succession of those highly coloured, mating-peacock type outfits that Manyavar stocks. Talking about how since his childhood, he’s celebrated every single festival that India has to offer, because yaar, we Indians just need an excuse to celebrate, don’t we, and Har tyohaar, India ka tyohaar.

Not an award-winning script by any stretch, but definitely, in these politically charged times, a brave one. After all, these are days when Amitabh Bachchan is busy whitewashing Gujarat into some kind of weird, sanskritised Disneyland on national television, Yogi Adityanath is taking the Taj Mahal off the list of tourist destinations in UP (surely the biggest own goal since demonetisation!). Junaid Khan, a young teenager from Faridabad has been stabbed to death when all he had on his mind was shopping new clothes for Eid, a senior journalist has lost his job because his paper was maintaining a ‘Hate Tracker’, and one day before Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, a dalit youth has been told ‘you have no right’ to watch a garba celebration happening inside a temple from afar. To make sure the upstart got the point, his chastisers beat him to death.

And oh, just a few days before the last mentioned incident, another dalit youth attending a garba was thrashed for daring to sport a moustache. Apparently a hairy upper lip is a privilege reserved only for the ‘high’ castes. (Could somebody please start a change.org petition urging our dalit President to grow one?)

92-Virat-Kohli-new Embracing each other: Virat Kohli in a still from an ad.

Of course, you could argue that Manyavar just wants to sell as many festive styles to as many men as possible, and, of course, that is true, but they needn’t have made such an inclusive ad. Many brands wouldn’t. Not nowadays.

Maybe I liked the ad because it made me nostalgic for the good old days when our school teachers dinned unity in diversity into our heads during moral science class. Or, when we saw Amar Akbar Anthony in the movie halls. Maybe, I loved it because what it said was true—we have all grown up listening to both aarti and azaan at the cowdust hour. When my children go to the church, the maulvi in the masjid next door always starts warbling, just as the priest is praying over the bread and wine. This makes the priest pray even louder and it makes my children giggle. It’s fine. It’s fun. It’s Indian.

Pray and let pray, as my mother used to say.

Because really, Virat nailed it. Har tyohaar, India ka tyohaar.

Anuja Chauhan is an author and advertiser.

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