So, these guys seem to be popping up all over the TV nowadays. You know the ones I mean, right? ‘New Age’ men like Farhan Akhtar, Arjun Rampal and Arunoday Singh, in ads for watches, cars and the thing that dare not speak its name, i.e., whisky.
They can be identified by certain features. They either have those odd voices - Mr Akhtar’s pre-pubescent, lispy crack, Arunoday’s lofty sweetness - or they don’t speak at all, a la Arjun Rampal roaming around the winding roads of Perugia or Korogyoldal or some picturesque European town, looking tortured and inscrutable.
The adoring looks these characters receive from the minor characters in these ads indicate that they are supposed to be desirable. This is definitely so for Arjun Rampal and arguably so for Farhan Akhtar. In Arunoday Singh’s case I’m baffled. A flash survey did however reveal that some women get heart-in-mouth from Arunoday Singh. Well it takes all types to make the world, even if to the eye of this particular beholder he resembles a very tall boiled egg or a mooli that has been scrubbed clean of any unique personal qualities to become an Everymooli. Like all people who do not matter I will have to agree to disagree only, what else?
All of them are very rich. They wear heirloom suits inherited from their complete man forefather Raymond and those watches. You know, the watches that look like you casually wrapped the Bandra-Worli sealink around your wrist. Successful men wear these to signal that not only do they personally have the money it takes to build the Sea Link, but, they could roll up their sleeves and single handedly build one if needed, with their special mix of masculinity and sensitivity.
Sensitivity, I’ve been informed is the seminal quality of this brand. No longer the steely alpha male of old are they, but men open to sunsets, red wine and old people. Only thing is these old people should be Spanish or Hungarian, like the ones for whom Arunoday Singh plays the guitar in the 100 Pipers music ad. Everyone knows that firangi old people are salt of the earth whereas desi ones are just downmarket. And downmarket people cannot fly to European towns, where, far away from the sweatshops where you squeeze every penny out of your workers so you can buy expensive watches, you will have the epiphany that it’s not about corner offices, business brunches and oxford shoes but about Life, because Life Na Milegi Dobara, na.
The other thing about these fellows is that they are so busy being a) tortured or b) sensitive that they are entirely humourless. So the question arises - who finds these men desirable? Since the products in the ads are mostly targeted at men, I assumed it was male viewers. A friend in advertising corrected me, saying men believe that women think such men are hot.
Really ladies? I mean, frankly, can you imagine a deadlier bore than some self-involved chap who wants to get marks for looking into the sunset with moist eyes and quoting Paolo Coelho instead of engaging with you? No? Then congratulations! You have earned your romantic troubles!
Because the one recognisable trait of many Indian men these ads admirably showcase is that these guys only seem to hang out with, admire and talk to other guys (or sing to old peasants). Women appear only as the occasional disembodied leg or open-mouthed waitress who thinks “he’s amazing” but is completely ignored while the bromance Rocks On. Yeh dosti mein kuch nahin badla, except the guys are richer now.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.