The India-Pakistan Ad Wars Might Be More Biting than the Game


The India-Pakistan Ad Wars Might Be More Biting than the Game

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

India versus Pakistan evokes emotions unlike any other sporting rivalry. India’s Prime Minister is slammed for eating biryani across the border, Pakistani artists are questioned for seeking work in India, fans are arrested for cheering rival players, and for some strange reason, people on the internet comment #PKMKB and #IKMKB under every post, even if it has nothing to do with politics or play. With India and Pakistan all set to face-off in the 2019 Cricket World Cup on Sunday, the tension is already peaking. It’s that time of the year, when every crazed fan starts trolling Sania Mirza. A war has begun in newsrooms already, with loud anchors ready to take on “anti-nationals” and broadcasters on both sides of the border amping up their hype machines with provocative advertisements.

Star Sports India began the roast in 2015 with a series of “Mauka Mauka” ads, mocking a Pakistani fan awaiting his team’s first-victory over India in a World Cup. It shows India winning the game and the dejected fan keeping his fireworks back in the drawer. The banter was adopted by Indian fans online faster than Karan Johar adopts star kids and “mauka mauka” became a favourite taunt. Pakistani fans had to wait two years before they had their sweet revenge. In the 2017 Champions Trophy final, Pakistan thrashed India and Indian fans online had to run for cover like Mumbaikars after the first rains of the season.

Between the two World Cups, events beyond the field have severed ties between the neighbouring nations. After an attack on CRPF jawans in Pulwama on February 14, India bombed targets on Pakistani soil, they captured one of our fighter pilots, Indians staying in cities far away from the border started warmongering, and a journalist went on a crazy rant about tomatoes. Tauba tauba! Months later, the World Cup arrived, setting India on a collision course with Pakistan, and self-appointed nationalists declared that we should boycott the game. The protest lasted a sum total of three days, as few things excite cricket fans like a clash between the arch-rivals.

World Cup games between the two nations are not as exciting as they once used to be.

Now that India and Pakistan were going to play each other without any room for cricket diplomacy, it was time for the war of words… or should we say jingles? Under pressure to replicate the success of the “Mauka Mauka” campaign, Star Sports came up with a Father’s Day jibe, a rather poor one, to take potshots at Pakistan. A “baap baap hota hai” WhatsApp joke turned into an ad campaign. The bar was set so low that it should have been impossible to go further south. But that’s the beauty of an India-Pakistan rivalry. What one country does, the other can do much worse. And just days before the game, came Pakistani channel Jazz TV’s advert, spoofing the captured Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman’s viral video, in which he is seen being questioned by Pakistani authorities. At this point, it’s difficult to tell which ad was worse, a sentiment echoed by Sania Mirza on Twitter.

What followed was predictable. Trolling, of course. With the game only four days away, office hours are spent coming up with the nastiest tweets and posts about the rival team. And nothing is off limits, from cricketing stats to GDP growth and even crime rates. Memes, videos, graphs — everything is fair game as long as it puts the other side down. After all, we live in extraordinary times, where an army insignia on a glove attracts controversy and anchors report the news wearing military jackets. The rivalry couldn’t get anymore bitter and the ads have only added fuel to the fire. And looks like it could be the only thrilling aspect of the game.

World Cup games between the two nations are not as exciting as they once used to be. If numbers are to go by, it appears that India has been the more dominant player. But who can forget the 1992 World Cup game where India put up a modest 216 on board but were able to restrict Pakistan to a paltry 173? Or the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup where Pakistan had India worried for a bit in the middle overs, with both bat and ball?

However, over the last few years, the contest has become more or less one-sided. We have owned this contest the same way Sallu Bhai has dominated the box office. And even though a part of us knows what to expect from the game by the lopsided nature of the teams and their recent performances, the ad war has managed to peak the hype, thrill, and excitement for the India-Pakistan encounter. Once again, like every Indo-Pak match before it, it’s not just a game.