In a recent Yatra.com ad, a faux Kanhaiya Kumar demands azaadi to choose window seats and avoid long lines

Dear admakers if you want to mock student protestors at least do it rightYatra.com/Youtube
Flix Advertising Sunday, April 03, 2016 - 18:46

When Kanhaiya Kumar raised the slogan of azaadi in JNU, one wonders if he had anticipated how quickly India Inc could co-opt him. Perhaps not, since he did optimistically demand azaadi from poonjiwad (capitalism) in his now-famous sequence of slogans for azaadi.   

But sure enough, just a few weeks later Yatra.com has a faux Kanhaiya protesting in an airport when he does not get a window seat on an airplane. In the video, Kanhaiya’s slogans against Sangh majoritarianism, capitalism, brahmanism and casteism, are turned into freedom to choose one’s own seat, avoid long lines and so on.

Of course, before faux Kanhaiya can get very far into his slogans, a voiceover kicks in to say that instead of “naarebaazi” (sloganeering), you should do “samajhdaari” (the sensible thing) and download the Yatra app to get all of your preferences worked out how you like them.

 

But Yatra.com isn’t the only company to take a dig at student protests through its advertisements. Just a few days ago, Havell’s released and withdrew a commercial for its line of fans that many found to be casteist and anti-Dalit in its portrayal. The ad shifts from a question of reservation in colleges to a criticism of the practice of book burning.  

Interestingly, the students who are burning books in the ad sport blue headbands and armbands. Blue, as a colour, carries a strong association with Dalit groups in the country much the same way red represents the Left.

Take the fact that the ad came out in the same month when students in JNU were served show-cause notices for burning the Manusmriti, a traditional protest gesture for Dalit groups. Add to it the fact that the University of Hyderabad has erupted in protest again in connection with Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide. And finally add the fact that the first segment of the ad served up an anti-reservation message, and suddenly those blue bands don’t look so innocuous any more.

Earlier, in October 2015, Pepsi had taken a shot at protesting students too. In what was seen by many as a mockery of the protests at FTII against the appointment of actor Gajendra Chauhan as director (although Pepsi denied the connection), the ad shows a large mass of students in the midst of a hunger strike.

Just as the leader of the protesting students declares that the hunger strike will go on until the administration agrees to the students’ demands, one student who has spotted a bottle of pepsi gives into temptation and guzzles the drink down. As everyone stares at him in shock, the only explanation he can offer is, “Pepsi thi yaar, pi gaya' (There was Pepsi, I drank it)”.

Something common to both the Havells sequence and the Pepsi ad is the easy manner in which the student protests fizzle out even as the ad fades to black.

There are reams to be written about the politics of these advertisements and their attitude towards student activism of various kinds. And most such writing would be met with the response that one should learn to take a joke. Here we’ll only note one thing: neither faux Kanhaiya nor the fickle Pepsi-guzzling students manage to sound remotely as energetic, rhythmic or poetic as the JNUSU president and his fellow protestors. Indeed, they sound like nothing other than bored adults failing to be excited about playing zealous students.

One has to ask, couldn’t these companies and their ad agencies have paid more attention to these protests, if only to parody them properly?  

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