In one of those quiet touches that together make a roar against ossified attitudes, India finally has its first advertisement featuring a same sex couple. Ethnic wear brand Anouk, retailed on fashion portal Myntra, has released an ad featuring two women preparing to meet the parents of one to introduce themselves as a couple.
It is a delightful ad, capturing the everyday lived-in-ness of this couple elegantly.
In the first scene the woman whose parents are expected, let’s call her Radha, is getting ready. She moves around the room looking for an earring here, a kaajal pencil there. The other one, Sita, has just woken up and their interaction has the effortless quality of any two women living together. They crack a joke about Radha’s mother always dressing her in orange as a child, making her look like a “damn marigold in all my childhood pictures”.
But from here, the tone shifts. Radha asks which earring to wear and the way the Sita answers, with a little jab of the finger, is so couple-y that you begin to wonder if something more than friendship and roommate-ship is up. When Sita returns after a shower, she is dressed in Radha’s orange kurta and explains: “I want your mother to like me.” Radha shoots back: “My mother doesn’t like girls in short hair.” “You only asked me to cut my hair,” Sita complains and Radha whispers seductively into her ears: “I like you with short hair.”
It is so naturally and beautifully executed. The playful coquettishness of Radha as she brushes her fingers against Sita’s face; the momentary hurt in Sita’s eyes at the prospect of not being liked by her lover’s mother. But that’s not where the ad ends. If you thought this ad was good, it gets comprehensively better. Sita passes through a moment of hesitation and asks Radha if she is sure about going ahead with it, that is, meeting the parents and perhaps, thus, outing themselves for the first time. “I am sure about us and I don’t want to hide it anymore,” Radha says, and the duo smile and hug. The phone rings, announcing the arrival of the parents.
This is a perfect ad. It achieves so much in its three-minute duration. It shows you how normal same sex couples are and how very similar really to straight couples (In deference to my more politically inclined gay brethren who balk at such sinister displays of domesticity, I humbly submit: Let us win the battle before us first. We can fight for a gayer world later.). It shows you that in spite of being in a loving relationship, social pressures continue to force people to question if they are doing something wrong when all they are doing is loving. And finally, it offers hope. To anyone straight wondering what exactly the gays get up to, this ad gets it right. To anyone gay questioning, this ad tells you it does get better, so hang in there.
This is not the first time that an Indian ad has tried changing prevalent attitudes. In 2013, Tanishq came out with an ad featuring a woman who remarries in the presence of her daughter from the first marriage. Dove, as part of a global programme, has been running the “Real Women” campaign in India, showcasing women who are not professional models and so do not represent an unnecessary beauty ideal.
To be sure, Indian advertisements can also be dishearteningly backward. An obvious case in point is the vast market of skin-lightening products which are endorsed by the likes of Shah Rukh Khan. While several complaints have been made in this regard with the Advertising Council of India, and several strictures issued as well, little has changed due to the strong demand for such products.
It is therefore wonderful to see an ad featuring a lesbian couple that goes beyond its remit and incorporates other meaningful flourishes. Radha is dark-skinned, tall and Tamil. Sita is shorter, light-skinned and north Indian (an assumption since she speaks Hindi). They make for such a natural couple not just because they share a real chemistry that comes through even in the short duration they are on the screen, but also because they are making a subtle political statement about who they are and what they stand for, and how their height or the colour of their skin does not matter a damn to them.