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Why the stereotype?

We’re bang in the middle of a buzzing festive period, what with Ganesh Chaturthi, Dussehra, and soon-to-arrive Diwali. Looking around at the pomp and revelry (just drive around Bandra’s swish streets at night to spot the jaw-dropping light fantasia), a Westerner would imagine that India isn’t part of the world economic slowdown.

Spectacle apart, it’s also the time for gifting, and with it, the numerous options (read: tempting offers), courtesy the assembly-line of ads that TV watchers are being wooed with. However, one has been noticing, for years now, a hackneyed, skewed stream of thought in one segment of such ads, as far as gender roles are concerned. Read the predictable storyline: wife and husband bicker over a mundane domestic issue — wife sulks — husband pretends to not care — Voila! He whisks out a stunning neckpiece/set of earrings/watch — wife is surprised beyond words, forgets and forgives — happy ending (and don’t miss the fireworks in the sky, for effect).

This has become a norm rather than an exception. Of course, there are differently refreshing approaches floating around too — but these are in a minority.

Surely, one has rarely come across a reverse scenario in a TV ad, where the husband is easily satisfied with a terrific gifting idea from the wife/partner. I hear backers of such ads yell that such themes almost always work — what with the sentimentality and the oh-so-sweet, syrupy theme oozing from all sides. But here come the questions — isn’t there a veiled logic that portrays most average middle-class Indian families in such light where the wife is easily bowled over by this showering of gifts? Why this repeated portrayal of her materialistic side, in such a brazen manner as if she is so easy to bought over? Doesn’t she have a mind of her own? Worse, there are ads that go all the way to show how a wife’s fine balance of managing it all — a la wonder woman style — especially where she whips up a yum dinner in record time for the family, only to bring back the smiles on her husband’s frowning face.

But the issue here, if one looks hard and long enough beyond the screen, isn’t about the succumbing for gifts or saluting the effortless juggler, but about how, over the years, these stereotypes of the so-called urban Indian woman haven’t changed. Surely, some soul searching is needed here, one that can reflect a far more evolved society of equals, and intelligent mindsets — where the woman’s typeset isn’t bracketed into predictable, one-dimensional moulds. Then again, if this has been continuing for so long, barring the few out-of-the-box oddities, is this trend a mirror of what continues to exist in the living rooms of the great Indian middle class?

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY  

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