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Friday, June 25, 2021

Jewellery brand ad sparks conversation on transpeople

"We wanted to portray a trans utopia. Usually, trauma and trans experience are what we see in pop culture. We wanted to show acceptance and love and normalise it with the hope that it becomes the reality."

Written by Surbhi Gupta | New Delhi |
Updated: April 17, 2021 3:59:57 pm
A screenshot from the ad.

A nervous, young, unshaven boy receives a gift from his parents — a pair of gold anklets. His father holds his hand in reassurance. Later, his mother takes him to the jeweller to get his ears pierced, and soon he is experimenting with lipstick, hairstyle and clothes. Slowly, as the young boy transitions into a confident, young woman — surrounded by family and friends on her wedding day — each milestone is marked by a piece of jewellery.

This new ad film by Bhima Jewellers, a 96-year-old retail brand in South India, released on Thursday, that traces the journey of a transwoman, has gone viral on social media.

Navya Suhas, the online operations head at Bhima Jewellers and the fourth generation scion of the Bhima Bhattar family, said, “In the current political scenario, I think it’s important that ad campaigns don’t just advertise about offers and sales, and brands communicate and stand up for things that are relevant to today’s society. Usually, if you look at jewellery ads, they focus on the bride and happy marriage. Hence, we wanted to make something centred around a trans person and start a conversation, because if we don’t start talking about it now, I don’t think we ever will.”

She added that there were concerns from other board members, who were sceptical to engage with the subject, but Suhas was determined to go ahead with it.

Sayantan Choudhary, a senior partner at Animal — the creative agency at the helm of the ad campaign – said, “We wanted to portray a trans utopia. Usually, trauma and trans experience are what we see in pop culture. We wanted to show acceptance and love and normalise it with the hope that it becomes the reality. We see a nervous kid transform into a confident woman with the support and love of everyone around.”

Meera Singhania, 21, who essayed the role of the main protagonist of the ad film, told The Indian Express, “In the film, I am walking on the road, and living my life and no one is staring at me and giving me a second glance. This does not happen in real life. There is no homophobia in the film, otherwise, trans people are shown as ghosts and whatnot. But, in the film, they humanised the person so that people can relate and connect.”

Singhania was nervous about taking up the project. “Everyone wants to use the label, and we all know how tokenism works. But why I decided to work on it was because I really liked the narrative and the storyline. The people were sensitised enough and the scriptwriter contacted me and wanted to know more about my life,” she said.

Singhania, who is a student of sociology at Delhi’s Ambedkar University, has often spoken about her own journey of transitioning on social media.

The ad is “certainly an achievement of sorts for India”, said Karthik Srinivasan, a branding and communications strategy consultant, on Twitter. “It has one of the most heartfelt expressions of gender identity seen in Indian advertising so far. The person going through the identity journey and the people around the person are on the same journey together. There is no hatred or denial – just pure love and acceptance, in the most welcoming, open-hearted way possible. It may be easy for the cynics to call this ‘woke’ and deny its legitimacy, but the more these small stories are told, the better the courage for more people to believe that they could be whoever they want to,” he said.

However, many pointed out that in 2018, Bhima Jewellers had withdrawn ads from the Malayalam media group Mathrubhumi following a controversy over writer S Hareesh’s novel Meesha, which was being serialised in the weekly magazine. Excerpts from the story, which explores caste in Kerala in the mid-20th century, had drawn ire from Hindu organisations.

At that time, the brand, giving “importance to public sentiments” and wishing to stay away from “controversies”, had asked its advertising agency to put the ads on hold.

Responding to this, Suhas said that those were decisions that were taken in keeping in mind “the climate at that point of time”.

“I can’t really comment on it because I was not involved in the business and operations at that time. So I don’t know the reasons behind taking whatever decisions that were taken. But I think that the atmosphere today is also different from what it was then,” she said.


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