New Delhi: An Aamir Khan donning the many faces of India to endorse Coke and Pepsi’s Men in Blue turning into high recall fixtures in the minds of consumers, is achieved after much strategizing and spending of crores to create advertisements of products that are already high on people’s consumer list.
But when you have brief 2-3 minute television spots with unrecognizable faces costing barely 10% of biggie campaigns, on a taboo subject like domestic abuse having high recall and retention in States like Bihar and UP, where male chauvinism comes along with the territory, treatment of the subject has to be a fascinating journey to track.
Mallika Dutta, Executive Director of Breakthrough, a New York based Human Rights Organization that specializes in combining education with popular culture to promote values of dignity, equality, women’s sexual and reproductive rights besides highlighting discrimination on racial, ethnic and religious grounds, was in the capital last week on the invitation of Young Ficci Ladies Organization.
Using short clips to show deep rooted penetration of abuse in our homes and societies and to garner support from the victim and perpetrator was the objective of this all-women gathering that brought together eminent lawyer Indira Jaisingh, social worker and celebrity Shweta Nanda and a cluster of women from leading industrialist families on a shared platform. The Q&A from the floor threw open a heartfelt session of sharing which once again proved that domestic abuse has nothing to do with age, status or religion.
The rich and educated are also abusive
The shocker that came from Indira Jaisingh set the pace for the afternoon’s screening and discussion. She said, “Domestic abuse is not confined to lower income groups, as most of us would prefer to believe. There is another side to corporate India, where if I were to pen a book on what captains of Indian Industry do to their women, I can assure you, it will be a racy thriller and runaway success.”
Denial in society about domestic abuse is apparent; women shy away from it, citing family pride and honour as reasons; and men in their machoistic way claim that it is a man thing and completely personal. According to participants who talked of Aishwarya’s portrayal in Provoked not being an exaggeration, rather that, “cases of abuse are maximum in North India, with Punjab being right on top,” triggered the outpouring of a number of stories.
Through Mallika’s lens
Breakthrough started rolling its cameras in the year 2000 with the album ‘Man ke Manjeere’. The talented Meeta Vashistha portrayed a woman’s dreams and their subsequent shattering at the altar of domestic abuse. The effort was written off even before it was produced. Common reaction was, “Domestic abuse is rampant, but does anyone want to do anything about it? It’s there and will continue to remain so. Having a film/ album will not cure society of it and it would surely be a financial dud too.”
Not only did it go onto become a chartbusting album winning awards in the popular songs category with lyrics by Prasoon Joshi and Shantanu Moitra (who later did Rang de Basanti) and music by Shubha Mudgal, but made men sit up and re-look what members of their ilk were doing. So outraged and concerned were some of these thinking and sensitive men that they volunteered to step right in front of the camera and talk about women’s rights and domestic violence.The purpose of these productions was to use popular culture and media to change attitudes and use clips and films in youth leadership programmes and community workshops to sensitize and bring about behaviour change.
Mallika’s latest effort is a n ambitious project. Along with O&M a series of spots were conceptualized, tracing the link between domestic abuse and HIV/AIDS. An unsuspecting wife is passed on the infection by her husband. She finds herself penniless and sans protection the moment he dies. Her in-laws ‘tolerate’ her till he is alive, for she can nurse and care for him but the moment he dies, she and her children, who too may be infected, are turned out of the house. The cruelty and unfairness of the situation is brought out in a set of three short films.
The final campaign which had to interweave domestic violence and promote wearing of condoms, was a result of extensive brainstorming. The central thought was chiseled with interactions with HIV positive women, their families and NGOs, but not before coming up a cropper with concepts that did not convey the right message.
The first attempt saw the film hinged on the theme: “I am a man, I take responsibility, I will wear a condom”. This was found inappropriate for it did not fairly represent the human rights concept. The second campaign was supposedly from the woman’s point of view, which suggested, “I don’t mind if you throw clothes all over the place, I don’t mind if you order me around, so long as you wear a condom. On review, the creative team felt that the woman’s voice was represented but a strong bias still came through.
The third attempt saw the education multimedia campaign, “Yeh kaisa insaaf?” or “Is this justice” begin to take shape. Ad guru Piyush Pandey steered the initiative with Mallika and it was released in Hindi, Kannada, Marathi and English reaching 35 million people. It got free airtime from leading television channels and impact was so high that people did not need the tag line to recall its content/message. Research revealed that the three-film series had the same retention and recall as Coke and Pepsi advertisements, at 1/10th price of producing them!
High shock appeal and impact
Mother and daughter-in-law are in an autorickshaw. The driver has the radio playing and is also giving furtive looks to the younger woman in the rear through his side mirror. The girl is enjoying the music and the rare moment of gay abandon, only to be yanked out of the auto and harshly slapped across her face by the senior lady. In another film there is a woman who is sitting beside her husband, in a state of terror as he maneuvers his car in a crowded chawl. Inspite of locals guiding him, he rams into a stationary vehicle. Publicly humiliated, he vents his spleen by turning to his wife, and slamming a hard slap across her stunned face. “Yeh kaisa insaaf?” clearly points out how women are treated within their own households and blamed for things that may not be their fault at all, shhhed into a web of silence that never seems to find a voice.
Interestingly, while these films got a positive response from Maharashtra and Bihar, men in Delhi were outraged as to “how dare” such a theme be tackled in the manner it was.
According to Indira getting the Bill on domestic abuse passed was no mean task. Hate mail continues to pour in, with women calling up to confirm, “Can I deny my husband sex?, or “Can my husband really be arrested for calling me a bitch?” and on being told indeed they can, there seems to be some easy breathing. She explains, “The law is supposed to give a definition to what civilized behaviour is. It is not just for women but for men, children and families for it sets standards and tells society what dignity is all about”.
Shweta Nanda, very simply contextualised the discussion for the common person, “I will go home and pepper my parenting with inputs that can make respect a part of my son’s value system where he grows up to regard women, their feelings, emotions and desires”.
Change in society may be gradual, but for that an acceptance of prevailing ills is important, was the message one took away as one walked out of the Fiici auditorium where diamond studded industrialist wives echoed the concerns of women in jhuggis, just as intensely.