Monday, September 8, 2008

A Word from Our Sponsors

Rain stops play, here in Powai, so we become couch aloo, and spend the day channel-hopping, great exercise for thumbs. We vacillate between HBO (Home Box Office) and Star Movies, depending on whether we’re up for Kindergarten Cop or Rambo First Blood Part 2. There’s going to be a lot of pec-flexing, whichever way we go.

Currently, about half of the ads on television, here, are pushing technology. Cars are a big feature, which puzzles me, since we hardly see anything four-wheeled which is not a taxi or an Innova. Well, bullock-carts, I suppose, but none of them has a catalytic converter or a cigarette-lighter. The rest of the road’s filled with fringed lorries and bulging single-decker buses, with a tuk-tuk or two in every nook and cranny in between. So why do they spend so much money, advertising cars no-one buys? “Changes your style,” purrs the ad for the all-new Indica Visita, “Changes your life.” The sleek red car hurtles round bends, gobbling up the road. “Changes everything.” Well, it would have to change the traffic in Mumbai, for starters, or you’d never get out of third gear.

Toyota’s Corolla Altis – “designed to inspire envy” – has a campaign fronted by Orlando Bloom, even if they do think he’s from Hollywood, not Canterbury. I’m sad to note that he’s in a tux, not his Legolas outfit. And don’t even think of saying, anachronism, because I’m willing to suspend belief for pointy ears and a swishy cape... All he says is, “Tonight, I’d like to introduce a new star...” and then the car zooms up the catwalk. Not a bad day’s work, by any standards. Still, the new Toyota can hardly be flying out of the showrooms, in a city where most people earn less than £2 a day.

On the other hand – or rather, in the other hand – plugging the mobile phone makes more sense. I’m possibly the only person on the sub-continent, who can’t handle a phone which does anything apart from make phonecalls. Jockeying for business is fierce. In Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest “social housing” area, we see barefoot workers, lolling on sacks of recyclable rubbish in their stinking factories, having a break, doing what idle youths do the world over, to fill a fallow moment, texting their mates. People who don’t have shoes, have a mobile phone, it seems. Technology’s the birthright of youth, though, or so the telly says. “Ciao, babe!” says the Aged Parent, in the Motorola advert, mimicking his son, as he dances and poses in front of the mirror. LOL, as they say in txt-spk. Evidently, you’re not allowed to say “Ciao!” if you’re over 25. Unless you’re Italian, I suppose... The boy in the Virgin Mobile ad is immobilised in a hospital bed, begging the pretty nurse to answer his phone for him. She searches his pockets, to his clear delight. He tries to return the favour for his mate, but his door’s opened by a male nurse with a gelled quiff and a glint in his eye. “Keep calls between friends free!” chuckles the punch-line. Propaganda with a smile. ROFL, even...

Wrinklies have their moment in the limelight, though. The ad for Masti Mobile music downloads has Grandma on her deathbed, surrounded by grieving generations. She gasps her last request, which puzzles Son, but Grandson opens his mobile, and downloads her favourite Golden Oldie, which plays on her pillow. Thus, Grandma can slip away, smiling beatifically. Never get past the censors, the Yorkshire Pudding side of the Arabian Sea.

Interestingly, the only foods to make it onto the small screen, are imports, Domino’s Pizza and the ubiquitous MacDonalds. Obviously, this audience need no introduction to rice and dal, and anyway, everyone eats their Mum’s, at home, not some shop-bought preservative-laced travesty. Both pizza and burger ads feature senior citizens, because the younger generation have long since sold their souls to the west, and are past seducing.

This afternoon, we see more overt sexuality, in tv adverts, than in all of the Bollywood movies on our groaning shelf, put together. No such thing as the watershed, here, then. However much writhing and wriggling about the leading man does around/with his leading lady, in a film, his lips never get to touch hers. You just think they’re going to – after a hundred and twenty minutes of build-up, you’d be quite glad if they would – when she tucks her chin in, and he kisses her chastely on the brow. You might get a glimpse of his gleaming six-pack, if he’s swash-buckling about vanquishing the villain, but there’s no hand-to-hand wrestling for the hero and heroine. You’ll see sequinned tops and diaphanous baggy pants, in the set-piece dance routines, but no underwear on show, not even passion-quenching Nora Batty tights or clip-over-the-shoulder Bridget Jones knickers. Imagine our surprise, then, to have our living-room suddenly pulsing with body after body – male and female – clad only in the odd spiral of colour and clever lighting. Mr Roland and I exchange scandalised looks over our Bombay Mix. Kansai Nerolac’s campaign to launch their new Impressions range certainly catches the eye, even if it leaves the imagination redundant. This is where my Hindi lets me down – I assume it’s yet another skin cream, because the slogan runs, “Show your true colours!” and there’s a marked obsession here, with skin-lightening. Turns out, it’s paint. – You wouldn’t have known, either....

Several other paint manufacturers are showing their colours, too, which speaks of the monsoon. As soon as the last drop of rain is squeezed from the last cloud, there will be an emulsion-frenzy, in time for Diwali, at the end of October. "All people, paint the house," according to the Mumbai Oracle, at the steering-wheel. The competition’s underway already. My money’s on Kansai Nerolac, now I know that’s it’s for slapping on the walls, not on my chops.

Beauty’s big business, though, with or without the Impressions range. In deference to the season, a desperate woman irons her hair on the ironing board. Then she discovers Garnier Fructis Sleek and Shine , which restores a patent gloss to her silken tresses, and we all live happily ever after. “Bye-bye, frizz!” As one who has long cultivated the monsoon look, I take exception to this. Mere shampoo – even one boasting “olive strength” –is surely not up to tackling the unravelled tea-cosy which is and always will be “le look” as far as I’m concerned? If Mr Roland ever sees himself reflected in my Sleek and Shiny hair, he'll know he's in the wrong house. Let’s hear it for tea-cosies....