What sort of a glorified masculinity is being suggested in the image of a winking, victorious looking Ranveer Singh, all decked up in formals and sporting a slick, modlish hair-do – complete with a laughing young woman casually thrown across his shoulder like a stole? She looks less at work and more as though she stepped out to take in a breath of fresh air between clubbing. There is a doorman standing ready inside the open elevator behind his lips twisted almost suggestively in an accomplice-like grin. If you are a young woman, this description might make you slightly uncomfortable.
The situation is contextualised by the following words: “Don’t hold BACK. Take your work home.” On the side, you learn that the advertised object is actually “Sharp Office Shirts”.
Who is the billboard’s message selling shirts to? Clearly, not to the girls. The image codes them, instead, not as a working woman but as booty that is all but fair game for a confident, well-dressed man who “doesn’t hold back”. He’s a go-getter. ‘She’ is what he must get. The girl’s personhood diminished in that hanging, helpless positioning — completes and emboldens him as a ‘smart’, all rounded, sartorially superior man.
A well-dressed, confident man in the deplorable years could not be denoted without women in powerless postures reaffirming and underscoring his dominating masculinity. While we hope to say that one day, we unfortunately still do not not live in a world where girls and women are only touched and handled by those who have their consent.
More importantly, what made a Danish Menswear brand think this would make them sell in India? That is the troubling part. I am curious how well this billboard would do back in their home country, which is among the more conscious than most of the world on the issues of misogyny and sexism. Here in India, this gaffe is enough to create just enough uproaring buzz to make them trend for the day. Quite a score on publicity. Is it difficult for advertising agencies to create messages that don’t come at the cost of degrading personhood of half of the people? No, it is a choice. But sadly old stereotypes are too reliably effective to discard.
As for Ranveer Singh, he embodies a persona of youthful, untiring energy and a catch-me-if-you-can mischievousness that sets a distinct spotlight on him in the movie and ad world. It is sad that he chose to conspire in creating this anachronistic, disappointing, possibly risky imagery – one that hits too close to home of a screaming violent problem.
Whether he apologises now or not, he has already partaken in it.