I don’t normally get to watch much television when I’m at home so I constantly feel out of the loop when people discuss the latest Scandi-noir or emotionally-charged drama. By the time I organise myself enough to give it a go, we’re into series three and I can make neither head nor tail of who’s doing what to whom. Still less of the television I watch in the UK contains ads, though I used to love the ads as a child. The ones I have seen have usually contain that irritating rotund tenor or the meerkats with the unaccountably eastern European accents. Fair to say, I haven’t exactly been swept away by the passion of the things.

When I’m away, though, I like to switch on the television and since I’m alone I can do so without encountering the OH’s disapproving frown. Television is a great way to sample what makes the local people tick. (Oberg├╝rgl’s mountain webcams are particularly riveting.) When I’m in India I tend to watch the rather repetitive and inoffensively dull BBC World, just so that I don’t feel that I’ve fallen off the face of the earth. Sometimes, looking for adventure, I stray from this and flick through the Babel of Indian channels.

Having hundreds of channels to choose can give one a more nuanced feel for the surrounding culture and sub cultures. I observe the contrast, for example, in the way young Indian in advertisements behave with what I have experienced of the conservative, modest behaviour of many of my cousins. I don’t know why but I still find Indian girls in Mumbai advertisements cavorting in tiny shorts by a swimming pool fairly shocking despite owning several pairs of the things myself.

I thought it might be interesting to share some of the advertisements I’ve caught on Indian TV, which seem to tap into the concerns of their target audiences. One of the most striking things has been the preoccupation with fair skin. Oh, I know that’s always been there: people have always commented on my children’s fair skin, for example, and the Indian matrimonial ads are full of people with a “wheatish,” complexion. In Indian culture, you see, having a fair skin denotes that one does not have to spend long hours toiling outside in the burning sun. Contrast this pale and interesting Asian beauty ideal with the tangerine-faced aspirations of some of our slebs.

Have a look first at this infomercial from FairLook:

 

Just looking on Youtube, you can find a few spoofs of this, and critiques of the desperation many feel about achieving the fair skin ideal. I am casting a bitter eye at Indians who complain of Western racism who still defend and even justify this sort of thing. It’s bleach, for goodness’ sake. These ads are encouraging desperate people to bleach their skin. There’s even a skin lightening treatment in the beauty salon of this plush hotel.

And here is another current ad, for Maybelline powder foundation. I have to say, my Nars setting powder achieves a similar whitening effect but I think I can look like a queasy ghost if I apply too much by mistake.

Now, I have observed with horror a growing obesity problem among the moneyed middle classes here in India. We Indians tend to be apple-shaped and gain fat around our middles which is, apparently, the most unhealthy sort. I am alarmed at the sheer amount of food on which bourgeois Indians seem to gorge, which first alarmed me on holiday in Goa in 2014. Indeed, last night I asked for a Greek salad starter and an asparagus risotto and was presented with enough food to feed at least three. And one does not like to throw away food, especially in India. I commented on this to one of the waiters here this morning and he was surprised. Apparently some people complain at the small portions.

This is one to watch, though I suspect it is going to be a fairly small proportion of the Indian population that faces it. But look! It means that an increasing number of Indian men are worrying about how they look. Frustratingly I can’t find the ad on YouTube but here’s a picture of the sort of thing I mean.

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I’m sorry but these Bridget Jones Big Pants for men, mangirdles, made me snigger

In this elitist, highly-stratified culture there are plenty of ads that feature women in positions of responsibility and power in non-traditional roles in a way I haven’t really encountered at home. I’m thinking of the UTC ad, which features a female aerospace engineer to introduce its rather dry PR advertising pitch. (The ad is truly too dull to appear on YouTube.) The woman starts off the ad by affirming that her child is her priority before going on to shots of her supervising proceedings in an aerospace factory. When she returns home at night, she is met by her husband, who seems to share equally the responsibility of childcare. They don’t show the extended family and the servants that no doubt see to the mundane grind of running a family with small children. Hm.

Finally, though, I liked this ad for Amul milk, viewed as a luxury brand by my Indian family I remember. It’s a series of ads that I find both heartwarming and a little disturbing, given the contrast between the romanticised depiction of women in the countryside empowering themselves through milk production, and the emancipated modern city woman. Even with this caveat, I still find it quite touching:

 

I’ve only touched on the reality of the huge contrasts between those who have vast amounts of wealth, status, fat and those who have nothing. It’s a huge subject and one for another time, perhaps, though I doubt that I could ever do justice to it here, with my relatively superficial knowledge and understanding. Many explain it away with the wave of the hand as part of the rich cultural mix that is India. I am deeply uneasy with how complacent people are about this norm of extremes. I can’t get my head around how so many collaborate with the myth of spiritual, mythical India, (“Ooh India! I love India,“) and yet seem to dismiss the hypocrisy and contradictions. Perhaps every culture is like this. For me, every question seems to generate a whole bag of others.

This was meant to be a whimsical post and now it’s caught in the slough of despond and confusion. There’s another contrast for you right there.