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Everyone Wants To Get Into My Wallet!

Late one night as I was driving down the city, I looked up at a huge billboard of Sushmita Sen, an advertisement for Kiah jewellery, which said,

You are the occasion
You are the celebration

I told him,

I really love that ad!

He smiled and said,

You would. It celebrates you, after all.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Earlier in the month, I wrote about my first experience with luxuriant self-indulgence, the retail therapy way. I wear my diamonds with pride, a pride that comes not exactly from their aesthetic value but from the knowledge that I earned the power to buy them for myself.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

A few years ago, I wrote about the Superwoman. I don’t know whether to be happy or not that it’s turning out to be prophetic. Take a minute to think about my words..

I am the center of a marketing model titled “High income single decision maker”
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

We are indeed, the hot new consumer demographic. Urban women, financially self-sufficient with all the trappings of our successful professional status – the need for new status symbols combined with the ability to pay for them.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Our parents’ generation saw the upsurge of women at work and all the initial beginnings like the glass ceiling, women bosses et al. Our generation in contrast is the one that gets to enjoy it (and be taken advantage of). We’re prominent for our purchasing power and marketers have been quick to pick up on the need for our own set of status symbols and paraphernalia. I speak as the target group of a woman who earns and has the independence to spend. I also speak as a marketing professional, seeing the other side of it, so to speak.

Successful men who earn well have been well tapped into as a market and are induced to spend on everything from their own selves (personal gadgets, cars), social settings (restaurants, pubs, sports activities) and all sorts of dating-related paraphernalia (presents for women, tokens of what makes them an ‘ideal partner’). What do their opposite numbers in our sex have?

We have shoes, clothes, bags, accessories, jewelery, make-up and personal grooming services. If the men-targeted products homed in on the traditional masculine need to be macho and an alpha male, we are being targeted for our vanity and need to be ‘the babe’.

Of course, the more complicated dynamics of women actually competing with each other in these stakes is well played out. What else do you think Bhala uski saadi meri saadi se safed kaisi is?

The more expensive products are obviously affordable only to a certain type of woman – she has a career, she’s ambitious and wants to be respected for her intelligence, she doesn’t want to stand in anyone’s shadow, she has a personality of her own. And hence diamonds, super-expensive shoes and clothes come with the messages that they respect your individuality, celebrate your independence and will take Visa as well as American Express.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

I was invited to the premier showing of the big Hollywood release of Confessions of a Shopaholic. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and all of us identified with the heroine. We would, she’s based on us after all. While the movie is meant to be a really light-hearted comedy, it points to something deeper.
I got to wondering about the phenomenon of shopaholism. Is it a reality that we’re likely to be facing very soon? All manner of excess is driven towards filling a need that hasn’t been satisfied earlier. So women who binge are thought to be unconsciously compensating for a lack of affection in their lives. What unmet need are we trying to plug with this excessive buying?

Becky Bloomwood in the movie nails it on the head when she explains her addiction,

Because when I shop, it feels so pretty, so nice, so good! And then it doesn’t so I have to shop even more!

True to all successful marketing strategies, this one also gives us a taste of what we like and then leaves us begging for more. Shinier hair! Higher heels! Bigger (and smaller) bags! Cooler sunglasses! Brighter make-up! Lotions, creams, gels, powders, liquid liners, sticks, brushes, concealers, colorants, rinses, crayons, cakes, gloss, sequins, beads, rhinestones, denim, silk, linen, velvet….the list never ends.

So for all our gloss and gorgeousness, we are nothing more than the product of a very successful marketing program designed to relieve us our newly-minted paychecks. ‘Fabulous’ is the bait they use to lure us in and the looming bill at the end of the month is the hook.

It used to be about too many people wanting to get into my pants.
Now everyone wants to get into my wallet!!

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A Voice That Shatters Glass…The Glass Ceiling!

Music is an integral part of every youth festival, highlighted by the crowds at Antakshari, and Music Quiz events. The music competition is usually the grand highlight of at least one evening. That we are home to the biggest film industry in the world shows in the fact that the event almost always features exclusive Bollywood songs.

I was an amateur singer in college…jamming, impromptu background scores in classroom capers, singing the national anthem on Republic Day and invocation prayers during college events gave me aspirations towards musical stardom on campus.

Any regular will tell you that there is a collection of 5-6 favorites that are rendered by the participants. There are normally an equal number of male and female singers since the competition (quite fairly) assesses musical ability regardless of gender. Audience response is a key determinant in judging performance so seasoned participants pick songs that suit their temperament and sing them in a way that is proven to move the audience. A good singer can expect a collective sigh over Tadap Tadap ke and only conclude Saara zamana haseenon ka deewana successfully if at least a few whistles have been heard. My male counterparts spanned the gamut of musical Bollywood from comedy (Pag ghungroo bandh Meera naachi – Namak Halal) to melancholy (Tanhaai Dil Chahta hai), classical (Laga chunari mein daag) and romance (Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai).

I tested the waters and quickly stumbled onto hot favorites like Mann kyon beheka (Utsav), Morni bagha ma (Lamhe) and Dil ne kaha chupke se (1942-A Love Story). But as a performer, these songs always left me feeling somewhat…incomplete. I longed for a real, full-bodied song that would let me snatch up the audience like the boy’s songs did. It took awhile to build a repertoire of songs that could get the audience shaking.

Then a male friend inquired,

Why do you always sing songs like this? It’s either cabaret or item numbers!

I protested,

What? I sang Dil Cheez Kya hai last time! It has a classical base.

Pat came the reply,

And it is a mujra.

And that’s when it hit me. There just aren’t powerful solos for women in Bollywood music! The most memorable songs are genteel lovestruck ballads of the sort that depict a delicate damsel awaiting her shehzada on safed ghoda riding to her rescue. Or the semi-soulful/mournful sort of the Na koi umang hai variety alternated by the haunting Kahin deep jale kaheen dil tunes.

And what of duets? For those acquainted with music, even a duet has a leader and a follower. Male and female voices work in different ranges of pitch and it is almost always the female voice that is arranged around the male voice. Symbolically, a typical Hindi duet usually has the male voice as the main, solid body with the female voice as a decorative motif twining around it, hitting the high notes occasionally. It is beautiful in its own way. It is art after all, and we’ve enjoyed it for decades.

But art is also about challenging boundaries and building something new, in thought and in expression. I defy you to name one Bollywood duet that has a female lead. I’m not counting such airs as Chura Liya hai which, while an undoubtedly spectacular classic, certainly does not make a case for powerful female expression.

I managed to find only one song – Hai Rama (Rangeela) which won us a first prize (and a fair bit of male attention coming my way…ha!). I’ll never forget the sheer headiness of singing this song, which my partner could not have shared. It was my song after all and all he was, was the gracious support voice. I got to set the pitch, the rhythm and the tone of the song. And most of all, it was my responsibility to convey the mood of the song. That’s what powerful expression is all about!

But for most part, in duets I had to settle for playing second fiddle (or voice) to such tunes as Humko hamhi se chura lo (Mohabbatein), Dekha ek khwab to yeh silsilay hue (Silsila) and Ek main aur ek tu (Khel khel mein).

There was some leeway in the solos and thank God for the magic of Asha and R.D.Burman! Quite unexpectedly, in my quest to wear the pants in the musical family, I had wandered into Asha Bhosale territory. Her success formula worked for me as well. While Lata didi was ruling the AIR roost with her ‘good little girl’ melodies, Asha entered the only domain left to her –saucy cabaret songs, scintillating dance numbers and generally the kind of songs that Helen and Bindu danced to but would never be picturised on the heroine. I took the stage with Yeh mera dil pyaar ka deewana (Don) and Piya tu ab to aaja (Moneeekka my darling, notwithstanding!). Sauciness was the only recourse left to Asha and it was the only way I could find, to make my kind of music. It just would take Madhubala’s verve to carry off a Jab pyaar kiya to darna kya. But for most part, even in music, the bad girl was the only one who got to taste power.

Popular hindi music hasn’t changed all that much. The few powerful female solos are still camouflaged in melodrama, raunch or abstraction. Think Zinda hoon main, Beedi jalaile, Pari hoon main.

Singing for the opposite sex would be another high. We enjoyed Kailash Kher’s soulful

Tune kya kar dala, mar gayee main, mit gayee main, ho gayee main teri deewani..

But I somehow can’t see Sunidhi Chauhan or Shreya Ghoshal getting the same reaction to a very spirited rendition

Gum shuda…

 

Even assuming that the male-female roles are still rather rigidly defined in Indian cinema, we find even gender-neutral emotions like inspiration voiced by male singers. While Baar baar haan (Lagaan) and Chak de (Chak de) may be too strongly sports-testosterone linked, what of Yeh tara, woh tara (Swades) and Bulla ke jaana main kaun (Rabbi Shergill)? I would have loved to have done a Bas itna sa khwab hai (Yes Boss) but I was vetoed by my team on account of it being a ‘male song’. I still don’t get it…women have dreams and ambitions too! And all we have to speak for it is Dil hai chota sa, choti si aasha (Roja)!

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A version is also posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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