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Emotion V/S Humour- What Works In The Modern Indian Context?

Posted on 10 September 2010 by Cheryl Joy

We’re a country of reel lovers. Maybe not so much of ‘real’ lovers but definitely ‘reel’ lovers. We’re dramatic in our weddings, over dramatic in our family lives and extremely emphatic when it comes to our emotions. Almost every corner of our country has a love affair with the ‘Bada Parda’ and thousands prong Mumbai each day just hoping to be part of the madness in some way or the other. And it is in the context of this film loving reel loving audience that I write this article because let’s face it…I’m a live and kicking part of it!

Having made a characteristically emphatic generalization of our vibrant country, here I get to the reason for this article- our love for storytelling. We are a country of story tellers- we grew up listening to grandfather stories and asking for one more bed time story and so that is a part of us that still exists albeit in a tiny little corner in our hearts, we don’t show it but it’s there. It is precisely for this reason that everything from our films to our soaps depict stories and characters that are larger than life, heavily loaded on sentiment and very ‘reel’. So much so if you look deeply, even our advertising.

Cut to the favourite advertisement of the 90’s- Hamara Bajaj. I still remember the amount of pride that we felt when that song played on TV…there would be very few who didn’t hum along when the ad lit up our televisions. The ad spoke about the average Indian family and in that process spoke to the average Indian family. Here was a company that had hit a jackpot. They were able to crack the code about what could work in a market that was not yet westernized, still had a strong family value background and which still believed in middle class ideals. What worked in the ad was its EMOTION. Every person who watched the ad would feel a slight tug at his or her heart and going a little deeper, would think, “Maybe I will be a little more patriotic if I ride a Bajaj.” And there the makers had hit gold.

What this showed is that we as an audience are actually very ‘reel’. We still have our ideas of right and wrong very strongly carved in our minds and we still care. We are a people who love mush and make no two bones to show it. Ideally we are a sentimental bunch. And that’s why when advertisements tug an emotional cord, more often than not, they have struck gold.

Scene two however, we cut to one of the most popular ad of the post 2000 era- the new age of sorts. There are those cult ads like the one with the fisherman trying to catch fish with Feviquick. Or more recently the very famous ‘Hari Sadu’ ads. And many many more. What this signified was a not so sudden shift in the sentiments of the Indian audience. No more were they looking at ads that glorified their family values and ideals- they symbolized a generation that wanted to laugh and maybe, a generation that had learnt to laugh at themselves. If one looks at the recent trend in ads this aspect is showcased a lot more evidently. The recent Maruti campaign looks at the ‘mileage’ obsession of the average Indian with a funny twist. A double whammy of sorts- it takes into consideration the emotional, sentimental value driven aspect of the Indian audience but puts a joke around it. Not suggesting that they are making fun of the audience, a company like Maruti is able to do that- make us laugh at ourselves. And we are. What this symbolizes is a growing audience that is more mature and can look at themselves objectively, without having to be serious all the time, and still be taken seriously. It symbolizes the modern Indian audience.

But here I would have to mention- does this mean that we have reached the end of emotional advertising? Do those ads that make you smile and tug at a small little sentimental corner of your heart not work anymore? Is it truly the age of the loud mouthed standup comedian and has emotion died??Nahhhhhhhhhhhh!! Far from it, this has not happened and it never can. Under my breath, I am tempted to say, thankfully so!

For every ad that makes us roll on the ground with laughter, there is one that makes us go awww. For every ad that makes us giggle, there is one that makes us smile. And that is the power of advertising- which is constantly innovating, constantly building on what exists- but never letting go of what has been already. And more importantly that is the Indian public- emotional yet humorous, sentimental yet light hearted, ‘reel’ but yet in some way deep down…very very real.

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