Cricketers and their moms can’t save Star Plus from regressive content

Women’s names on jerseys aside, Star Plus should perhaps affect change through more sensitive content

A still from Star Plus’s latest campaign featuring cricketer Virat Kohli.
A still from Star Plus’s latest campaign featuring cricketer Virat Kohli.

This Monday morning, India woke up to three of its star cricketers batting for their mothers. Three otherwise powerful Indian cricket jerseys— M.S. Dhoni’s, Virat Kohli’s, and Ajinkya Rahane’s—were made that much more powerful in acknowledging the women behind their individual successes. The main thrust of the ‘Nayi Soch’ campaign by Star Plus, are three individual 30 second videos which show the ‘Captain Cool’s regular Dhoni #7 jersey as replaced by ‘Devki’; Kohli’s ‘Virat #18’ by ‘Saroj’; and Rahane’s ‘Ajinkya’s #27’ by ‘Sujata’.

In Dhoni’s half-a-minute feature, when a rushed journalist innocuously asks the cricketer if there was a special occasion for this, he is met with this reply: “Mein itne saal se apne pita ka naam pehen raha tha, tab toh aapne kabhi nahi poocha....” (I’ve worn my father’s name on my jersey for so many years, you’d never asked then….”)

Cricket isn’t just a sport in India—it is a religion, and its players nothing less than god-like. And so, having these fit, popular, and rich men acknowledge strongly that their mothers had an equal, if not larger share, in their success stories than their fathers did (as with Rahane’s segment), will be phenomenal in terms of its reach, cutting across social barriers. Virat Kohli ends his video with “Mein jitna Kohli hoon, utna Saroj bhi. Hai ki nahi,” as the ruby red star logo of Star Plus is announced in: “Star Plus, Nayi Soch.”

It’s not new to see branding campaigns target and address social problems, and win laurels while at it, too. In June, for example BBDO India’s Dads Share the Load campaign for Procter and Gamble’s Ariel detergent brand won a Glass Lion at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival, while ad agency Mindshare Mumbai’s campaign for Hindustan Unilever’s (HUL) Brooke Bond Red Label, centered around what was touted as the country’s first transgender music group, won the Grand Prix Glass Lion. And with its collaboration with the Board of Cricket Control for India (BCCI), the star-studded Star Plus campaign just added itself to this list.

In 2010, Star Plus got its new tagline “Rishte Wahi, Soch Nayi”, after a rebranding effort that was meant to overhaul the channel’s largely regressive saas-bahu content and showcase the network as one that focused on gender issues through strong women-centered narratives. But is the latest Nayi Soch campaign really taking their rebranding efforts from six years ago very far?

Sure, star male cricketers are speaking acknowledging their mother’s efforts in the successes they are today, but will their uniforms really change on field? Could India’s women cricket players have been included in the campaign as success stories themselves? With only successful sons fondly and (even if) firmly giving due credit to their mothers, does the Nayi Soch campaign carry some lingering saas-bahu sensibility of deifying mothers and dutiful wives?

Interestingly, just a month shy of Nayi Soch’s launch, a 1400 word post on Facebook caught some attention. Posted by Bhavani Radhakrishnan, a regular viewer of Star Plus’ serial Yeh Hai Mohabbatein who’d had enough, it touched upon various insensitively shown social issues including that of surrogacy, which was included in the show’s plot. “As your tag line is Nayi Soch, it becomes imperitive (sic) on your part to ensure that the serials provide wholesome entertainment to viewers… But, the serials have proved time and again that only your tag line is Nayi soch, but the content and treatment of your serials are regressive,” read the post.

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