We Should Never Forget This Aishwarya Rai Advertisement

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan In A Print Ad By Kalyan Jewellers
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan In A Print Ad By Kalyan JewellersYoutube

What is beautiful? What is sexy? What is powerful?

Today these questions are answered by media that seems to be a visual constant in our lives and consequently, is also under perpetual scrutiny for the messages it gives out. In the recent past, many Indian advertisements have found praise for constructing socially progressive campaigns and advertisements rather than capitalise on people’s worst insecurities or uphold humankind’s most awful biases and stereotypes.

Take this commercial by Vicks that looks at maternal love through a transgender mother, Ariel’s Share The Load and Nike’s Da Da Ding commercials that break gender norms or even Blush and Dove’s campaign- Is That You? Change The Rhyme that challenges conventional beauty standards, as prime examples of the future we can and should be moving towards more rapidly. But as we celebrate the progress we make, it’s important to dissect the most terrible mistakes too, and few fit the bill better than this print advertisement by Kalyan Jewellers that showcases Aishwarya Rai as an aristocrat decked up in jewels under a red parasol held up by an emaciated dark-skinned child who was depicting...child-slavery, we assume? Considering it was published only two years ago, it’s well worth remembering because even if many of today’s advertisements are not nearly as blatant, the parts of the Indian population that happily promote colonialism as a lifestyle option, indifference to child slavery and white and dark skin as binaries for beauty and ugliness, are far from dead.

All of these themes are what this alarmingly offensive advertisement by Kalyan Jewellers seems to propagate. After receiving considerable amount of flak from the media the brand did discontinue the advertisement but it also stated as part of its apology that the intention of the advertisement was only to “present the royalty, timeless beauty and elegance.” It seems tragically ironic that this was the most innovative representation the brand’s creative team could come up with.

When Aishwarya Rai was called out for being part of this advertisement her publicist reportedly defended her by saying that the “final layout was the prerogative of the creative team of a brand”. But as a top Bollywood actress we think Rai and other celebrities must be much more discerning with the kind of social and political messages their work sends to their massive fan following, whether artistic or commercial. It’s refreshing to know that celebrities like Freida Pinto, Monica Dogra & Kangana Ranaut have used their stardom responsibly when they took a strong stance against endorsing skin whitening creams; a very popular beauty product in colour-obsessed India.

While this jewellery advertisement with Rai is a horror of the past it does propel one to be persistently alert to the ideas of race, gender and equality the media is perpetuating and what we as consumers should accept and reject .

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