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Subliminal messaging in the Tanishq advertisement

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A smiling mother-in-law in a salwar-kameez leading a Hindu daughter-in-law dressed in a silk saree, adorned with flowers and her wedding finery. Through a house, decked in flowers and large traditional brass lamps, to the front yard. An older man, father-in-law perhaps, in a skull cap decorating the house with flowers. A tall and handsome man, husband perhaps, helping with food arrangements. The daughter-in-law enchanted by the preparation of 'pulikudi', a sour juice made of tamarind, lime and salt served warm to Hindu women in their first pregnancy. At the front yard, decked in flowers, the daughter-in-law is welcomed by a group of women. The mother-in-law lovingly seats her daughter-in-law on a flower-decked swing. Surprised, the daughter-in-law turns to her mother-in-law and asks, ‘These ceremonies do not happen at your house, do they?’ The mother-in-law replies, ‘The ceremony of keeping the ‘bitiya’ happy happens in every house.’ And we all live happily ever after!

The woke-liberals ask, how could one ever have a hateful reaction to such a beautiful example of interfaith harmony? Surely, those having a strong negative reaction are bigots, hatemongers, trolls? An individual’s emotional reaction depends on their cultural background and their lived experience, something advertisers know. The objective of a commercial advertisement is to sell. By enhancing the overall feel-good factor, having a message that is uplifting to all and objectionable to none. In contrast, political messaging has carefully chosen targets. It should appear innocuous to the moderates, but have carefully targeted messages for the supporters and opponents, recognised by both. Exceptional political messaging should appear uplifting to those uninvolved sections, but should have subliminal, cunningly crafted messages which denigrate the targeted sections of the audience. Done in a way that they are not able to logically articulate their emotional reactions, and easily labeled as bigots and hatemongers. The way I perceived it, the Tanishq advertisement is exceptional political messaging — partonising, patriarchial and supremacist.

Let us start again at the beginning. An obviously Hindu bride is led by an obviously Muslim mother-in-law through a flower decked house decorated with brass lamps. However, these lamps are not lit, and the flowers do not adorn images of Gods. They are shorn of their religious significance, they are just secular decorative pieces. There are no murtis, no pictures of Gods, no lighted lamps, no agarbattis, no rangoli, no ceremonial offerings anywhere in the house. Even though the treasured daughter-in-law is a Hindu!

A Godh-Bharai is a religious ceremony, it is not a birthday party. In every Godh-Bharai ceremony, anywhere in the country, a puja is performed before starting the ceremony. The women sing religious songs and perform aarti for the expecting mother. Apart from a warm glass of sour juice, the treasured Hindu daughter-in-law in the Tanishq advertisement has been deprived of all of her religious and cultural heritage, and has been presented with a sham secular charade. The supremacist messaging — in a Muslim household, Hindus have to give up their religious practices, traditions and rituals. And be grateful for any minor beneficence bestowed on them.

Tanishq could truly have been a courageous trailblazer genuinely trying to promote inter-faith harmony. If only the advertisement has shown the woman first performing puja to the murtis in her puja room established in the Muslim household, had said prayers and sung religious songs before being led out, and aarti being performed for her on the swing. But then, an advertisement showing idols in a Muslim household? There is the risk that Tanishq showrooms would have been attacked and vandalised!

The daughter-in-law is then led outside, to a group of waiting women, some dressed in hijabs and some in drab sarees. There is complete absence of joy, laughter, colour, singing, dancing. The women are standing around as though attending a funeral. Not one of whom is wearing sindhoor or jewellery or flowers, as is traditional in these ceremonies. But wait, is it not traditional for an expectant mother to go to her parents’ house for childbirth, and for the ceremony to be performed there? Not only has she not been permitted to go to her parents’ house, but her side of the family is not even present for the ceremony. In this extraordinary example of inter-faith harmony! The patriarchial messaging — the Hindu bride has to be under the control of her in-laws in a Muslim household, and her family and traditions are of no relevance.

When she is seated on the swing, the expectant dauther-in-law asks her mother-in-law, ‘These ceremonies do not happen your house, do they?' (Emphasis mine). She does not even feel the house belongs to her. And she has not had the freedom to conduct her rituals in her mother-in-law's house thus far. But then, the mother-in-law is such a merciful soul, she is willing to perform a caricature of a ceremony for her ‘bitiya’. The patronising messaging — the supplicant ‘bitiya’ is supposed to be eternally grateful for these crumbs!

This messaging is invisible to the that section of Hindu society which is ignorant of the significance of traditions, rituals and practices. However, this would be acutely percieved by at least three targeted sections of the audience. First, the devout practicing Hindus who are culturally attuned to their heritage, and know the significance. Hence the visceral emotional reactions from the sections of the Hindu community. Second, the radical fringe of the Muslim community, who expect submission from Hindus and women as a matter of right, and whose partiarchial and supremacist mindset is reinforced. And third, the woke-liberals and Lutyens elite, gleeful at the denigration of Hindus, and at the opportunity to label Hindus as communal, bigoted and hateful.

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