The View at 40 | Why We’re Silent About Rajkumar Hirani & Outraged Over Gillette’s Advertising

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The View at 40 | Why We’re Silent About Rajkumar Hirani & Outraged Over Gillette’s Advertising

Illustration: Akshita Monga

As the elections get close, I find myself getting more and more nervous at family get togethers. You know that after all the rabdi is eaten and we’re done ribbing the youngest teenager in the family about his new girlfriend, the discussion will turn to one inevitable mitron – Modiji. What once would have looked like a perfectly happy family will resemble of pack of wolves- split down to the centre with bared teeth . Rabdi will be a distant memory.

And so it happened last night. By the end of a splendid dinner of Kashmiri kofte, the room was divided and engulfed in a cold, stiff, spectral silence that resembled the LoC. Yet surprisingly, this time it wasn’t about Modi. It was Rajkumar Hirani, the brand new name that #MeToo gifted us last week. The younger kids – all 25 and below – had thrown their hats in the corner of “That sucks. How many of these stories are out there?”  The ones above 60 were equally firm in their corner which went “That sucks. How many men will these women take down with them?” The man left in the middle was my uncle – with one leg in each world – hovering between old and young, right and wrong,  light and the dark.

Now, my uncle is a cool guy. Imagine a 40-something man who pairs  pink turbans with Levi’s jeans and initiates young cousins into adulthood with a  solemn rite of passage that involves a little too many Jägerbombs. He’s that genial, fun-loving adult representative from our childhood, who preferred hanging with the kids in the games room than with the adults in the living room. The one who invented wonderful susu-potty games and saved your ass after you’d drunk away all the Pepsi at your mom’s kitty party.  

This uncle then, is the guy who is expected to “get it”, except he doesn’t.  He nods toward the elderly and utters, “I agree”. And just like that, the lines are drawn. The uncle who was once on your side of the table now sits with “them”.

The thing with Indian families is that you’re not really sure when these “us” and “them” lines got drawn. We’ve all realised that the worldviews our families live with are in most instances, out of reach for us. We’ve quietly accepted that our parents may be bigots, homophobes, bhakts, or worse, a potent cocktail of all three. But instead of marching out of family WhatsApp groups, we politely ignore the forwards that make us cringe. Like, how we just smile when our mothers say “Bahut ho gaya tum logo ka yeh feminism” or when your friend’s father claims, “Gauri Lankesh smoke karti thi.”  We file them under lost causes.

Male brands will become aware of their responsibility and think a hundred times before they tell you to use a deo to get laid.

In fact, our whole freshly woke generation has even forgiven their parents for it. They don’t know better; they were, after all, raised in a different time and world.  It is only in this new world where they are beginning to understand that it’s quite problematic to call the neighbour’s daughter “moti” or yell “bhangi” to egg someone on to take a bath. They don’t get it. The world changed and nobody told them. Hell, nobody told us.

Just yesterday, when I asked my son, “Who’s that gora kid in your class?”, he looked at me incredulously and yelled, “Mom, that’s racist!” That took a moment to sink in but I realised, fuck, he’s right. Gora is just as bad as kaali. We’re learning. We’re slowly understanding where the lines are; what’s okay and what’s not.

I suppose, as our own understanding deepens it will get reflected in the world we create and the myths we perpetuate. Movies, music, advertising, and every piece of content we create in a post #MeToo world will show us how we’ve absorbed this new reality. The songs, ads, and films commissioned in 2019, will hopefully begin to reflect the new world view and will become part of the fabric of the world that our children inherit.  

I believe the much-reviled Gillette ad was trying to say just this – “Lets at least ensure the next generation knows better.” People who interpreted their messaging as, “Oh, so you think all of men in this generation suck,” are catching the wrong end of the stick. The ad isn’t about calling names; instead it’s about creating new role models for masculinity for a future generation. It’s about men helping other men shape this new definition of masculinity instead of leaving that job to women. Because #MeToo is about women but oh God Almighty! it’s equally about men. And really why shouldn’t advertising that is targeted at men take responsibility for what it says about men? It’s only when the personal becomes political, does the world change.

When the Raju Hirani story died a quiet death, my friend, a former senior editor, sneered, “So your #MeToo didn’t really change the world or bring down anyone, didn’t it?” I didn’t quite know how to answer her then, but now I think do. Expecting #MeToo to bring out the big names is just as silly as thinking that feminism is about hating men. Of course, names will continue to drop now that we’ve found an expression for something that’s been happening quietly for years, but that’s not the point. The point is not even that each new name will create less outrage. We are no longer in a state of outrage. We’re done with the ranting, we’re looking for solutions, and we’re looking at our men.

It’s a tough time to be a man today. The changing world will ask of them what they stand for whether it’s as fathers and brothers or runners and achievers.  Male brands will become aware of their responsibility and think a hundred times before they tell you to use a deo to get laid. The guy in your office who hears his friend talk about “banging the new girl” will think about whether it’s time to renege on the bro code. The perfectly sweet colleague will wonder if persisting in asking you out on a date is really a good idea. And this is what #MeToo has done – afford us this pause while we reassess our world view. That pause is everything.

My uncle paused too as I explained this and pled with him to come over from the dark side. He heard me out even against the jeers from the 60+ group who’d stooped to cheap sledging at this point. Yet, eventually he declined to switch sides, but not before throwing me an apologetic look that pleaded with me to understand. More than anything, it will take time before we have the courage to stand up with our brand new convictions in a room full of people, who think otherwise.

My uncle is learning.  Gillette is learning. Really, we all are.  

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