Bringing Desi Back

For the past five years or more the whole world’s been talking about India on the rise, unabashedly forging its way ahead, a society consuming voraciously like my teenage neighbour, Bunty’s relationship with food. And we are starting to believe it too. We used to be “Aping the West” and in some ways we still are. But lately I feel the emergence of an overt pride in being “Desi”, the good and the bad that goes with it. The “We are like this only” catchphrase is axiomatic of an acceptance of our flaws. More than an acquiescing, we are now wearing desi, with all its baggage as a badge of honour. “Desi is cool” or “Desi Cool” has the loudest voice in the world of advertising.

There are more and more adverts using Indianisms – Samsung’s Next is what? translated for sure from ‘aur kya?’. Or Coca Cola’s jazzed up version of good ol’ Nimbu pani, Nimbooz. They could have called it Lime Burst but no, they chose the Hindi word for lime with a cool ‘zz” at the tail. Khurkure has gone down the similar route with Desi Beats – an expertly jiggling Kareena Kapoor being fawned over by a maladriot white man. The tag line “firang ishtyle mein desi tadka” is in perfect sync with what’s going on in society today. Aloo McTiki burgers and Maharaja Macs: it’s our Western aspirations with a little Indian Masala to keep it real.

One of those real quality adverts, one they still run after all these years is the advert where the cheeky employee tired of being pushed around by his bellicose boss spells out his name while abusing the boss at the same time saying H for Hitler, A for arrogant, R for rascal and I for Idiot. The tag line, “Guess who’ll be hearing from us” turns the tables on Indian values.The blatant  yet cleverly executed disrespect to someone pushing you around is what young people are all about today – knowing who they are and what they want. Respect for elders, boss, job is so ingrained in us but the new Desi Cool is irreverent a clever way.

Downright guffawing is the result with an advert like Bingo’s Hatke Jhatke where two burly sweaty Tamilian gents munching on  Bingo chips brush pass each other in a market. Offence is immediately taken, honour must be restored. In true Indian male street fighting fashion a crowd gathers, much sparring and slow motion mock punches are thrown. A shop keeper sets off the  filmy music .The cops in khaki appear and neither man wanting to get in trouble (they are just softies really) turn an outstretched hook in to a friendly flat salute and turn sparring in to body pulsating, hip thrusting energetic filmy bharathyanatam dance moves. It’s just some spontaneous street dancing, a dance off, we no fighting. Watch here:

 And then there’s the other Bingo advert which I fail to understand why they don’t run all the time. The innocent boy and girl on opposite balconies somewhere in Besant Nagar, serenading each other in more thick South Indian accents to a tune with lyrics and enunciations that are nothing short of brilliant. Illicit balcony romance just wouldn’t work in another culture with such hilarity. Watch here:

 The latest find is Amul Macho’s ad. It’s the Indian slackness, the relaxed ‘sub ho jayeega’ (chill, it’ll happen) captured in a 100 metre sprint where Saif Ali Khan shimmies and moonwalks his way through the race, taunting and teasing his determined opponents forced in to slow motion. The raunchy mock 1950s boogie track accompanied by Khan’s total unawares acting ends with the tagline “Amul Macho Male Inner wear, bade aaram se” (with great ease/comfort). Watch ad here:

I find that Paul Merton’s India which aired around the same time as some of these adverts captures the sheer charming weirdness of India. It celebrates the bizarre India. While he is a white man, central to the show are the Indian people. His quiet bafflement at some of these goings on is not far away from some of our own reactions with a dollop  of fascination. We are now proudly celebrating ourselves and the charming idiosyncrasies and oddities of being Indian. Desi cool is the new cool.


About nonsense girl

Galley slave, qualitative researcher working in development, married my best friend, writing about my life, my family, my dog, TV, Indian culture, astronomy and my garden.
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One Response to Bringing Desi Back

  1. shaggy says:

    Must say, as always, high quality writing and insightful commentary. The Bingo series is also a personal fave. Am not the best person to comment on coolness but as chairborne critic will agree that Desi-Angrezi visuals with the Hinglish tagline talk well to the young middle classes. That said, an attempt by a big brand to play viewers with a Hinglish fig leaf is like the exposing of match-fixing cricketers. Their game doesn’t seem so brilliant anymore. Saw Anuja Chauhan (retired VP of ad firm JWT, who pushed this trend with their “dil maange more” and “oye bubbly” campaigns) on a talk show where they compared Airtel’s “Har ek friend zaroori hota hai” with Vodafone’s “He’s always on facebook”, saying the former is superior because of its Hinglish. I would have agreed if the ad nauseam (pardon the pun) rotation hadn’t let its contrivance show: The ad’s sung lines have an “-oast” rhyme pattern except the last (tag)line e.g. toast hota hai, roast hota hai, but ending with “friend zaroori hota hai” where “Dost hota hai” should be the most likely refrain. Though I hate to judge without the facts, it looks like the “friend” word was foisted on us for a half-baked Hinglishization/ indianizing/ Desification to manipulate more middle class minds into relating (and buying). Or am I reading too much? 🙂
    Paul Merton’s show was a fun trip, his reactions funnier than scripted lines in most shows. I also liked the fact that they based a lot of it around Limca Book of Records winners – many unsung heroes of our land. Speaking of which, have you ever felt that the Limca and Liril ads, if it wasn’t for the last frame showing the product, felt the same – exuding a comparable “cool”?

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