There's nothing beautiful about Patanjali's new beauty product ad
Patanjali has been in the news for its ads recently, specifically for them being misleading, if not flat-out false. Now, with their new Patanjali Saundarya Swarn Kanti Fairness Cream, they've decided to take their offensive advertising to a whole new level.
It's a cream, and we all know how those ads go:
Generic 20-year-old girl:Oh no, I have a pimple.
Mother figure:Try this *hands cream to generic girl*
Brief montage of cream use
Visibly happier generic girl:OMG, this improved my skin! And so fast, so cheap, etc. etc.
Closing shot of smiling girl holding the cream, with the cream name on screen, as nauseatingly uplifting piano solo plays.
But this isn't just any cream, this is a Patanjali product. Usually, Patanjali sells its products with a simple testimony from Ramdev. However, since it is scientifically impossible to make Ramdev look pretty, the people handling Patanjali's ads had to think outside of the box. What they came up with was a heady cocktail of sexist tropes that is regressive even by the standards of fairness creams, a product that is inherently regressive.
A (terrible) tale of two sisters
The ad is centered around two sisters - Saundarya, named creatively after the cream, and Aishwarya. Usually, in these cases, one of the sisters has a skin problem and the other chimes in helpfully. The same happens in this case, albeit with a bizarre interlude where Aishwarya is shamed for not being sanskaari enough.
Usually, in ads for cosmetics, the protagonist's problems are inferred through settings - a failed casting tryout, a job opportunity lost, an uninterested romantic interest. Patanjali, though, has absolutely none of that nuance, they go right for the jugular.
Right in our introduction to the two girls, we're told exactly what is what. Saundarya is a "paramparao ka palan karne wali" girl, the holy grail by the standards of celibate, half-naked yogis, while Aishwarya is a "bindaas, wannabe type". Whether she's wannabe because she's bindaas, or bindaas because such is the life of a wannabe, is never explained.
As the ideal girl, Saundarya is blessed with good skin, while Aishwarya is cursed with an affliction second only to leprosy - pimples. As a result, Aishwarya doesn't just face passive rejection, she is laughed at by her peers. We imagine Patanjali originally intended to strip her naked, and parade her through the village streets, while the assembled mob chanted "Shame!", but refrained from doing so thanks to Game of Thrones' lawyers threatening to sue.
Regardless, Aishwarya is mocked. And this is where things get problematic: Is she being mocked for not being the ideal, conservative girl? Or is she being mocked for her appearance? In either case, that the ad then suggests the problem that lies with her is backwards at best.
What Ramdev and his cohorts don't seem to have realised is that while they were busy trying to see who can bend the most, the world around them has progressed. Being an outgoing woman isn't a problem. We live in a country where women have historically been repressed using this logic, and the results show in the patriarchal set-up we now inhabit. The ad tries to perpetuate this notion at a time when women need to be encouraged to exercise their agency.
As for Aishwarya being shamed for her appearance, that's generally par for the course in any beauty commercial. The difference here, though, is the way she's shamed. This isn't some polite rejection. Being bullied and ridiculed over one's appearance is a serious problem. You know what isn't a serious problem? Pimples. In fact, if the ad had gone on to endorse tablets that stopped people from being superficial lowlifes, rather than the cream, it may have served some purpose.