The association between Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and the southern jewellery major Kalyan jewelers has been existing for quite some time now. Of late, they had even shot a superlative ad featuring all the southern superstars like Prabhu Ganesan, Nagarjuna, Manju Warrier alongwith Amitabh Bachchan. The magnanimity of their larger-than-life ads has always caught everyone’s attention and interest for all the right reasons.
But the recent ad of Kalyan jewelers that featured in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper (Delhi edition) on April 17, 2015, caught everyone’s attention for the wrong reasons and also irked people. The ad has a ‘fair looking’ Aishwarya Rai Bachchan resting under a parasol with a dark-skinned slave-boy holding the umbrella for her.
In an immediate reaction to the same, a group of women consisting of a feminist activist and also a former chairperson of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights amongst others have written an open letter to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan complaining about the ad. The letter read as, ‘In the advertisement you appear to be representing aristocracy from a bygone era – bejewelled, poised and relaxing while an obviously underage slave-child, very dark and emaciated, struggles to hold an oversize umbrella over your head. We wish to convey our dismay at the concept of this advertisement, and that you have, perhaps unthinkingly, associated with such a regressive portrayal of a child to sell a product. While advertisers routinely use fantasy images to sell products, they must surely desist from using images that condone, legitimise, normalise, or build desirable fantasy around slavery or servitude of any kind, including child slavery or child servitude. Further, the extremely fair colour of your skin (as projected in the advertisement) contrasted with the black skin of the slave-boy is obviously a deliberate “creative” juxtaposition by the advertising agency, and insidiously racist. The genealogy of this image can be traced back to 17th and 18th century colonial European portraits of white aristocracy, depicting women being waited upon by their black “servants”.’
As a response to the same, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s publicist went on to state, “On the onset we would like to thank you on drawing our attention to the observation of the perception of the advertisement. Here is an attachment of the shot taken by somebody during the shoot. The final layout of the ad is entirely the prerogative of the creative team for a brand. However, shall forward your article as a viewpoint that can be taken into consideration by the creative team of professional working on the brand visual communication.”
Looking at the furor that the ad has generated in the media, a press statement was issued by ‘Aurum Media’, the creative agency behind the ad today, announcing that they are pulling out the ad. The statement reads, “This is with reference to concerns emanating from a recent advertisement of Kalyan Jewellers. The aforesaid creative is a part of our ongoing campaign released in the early part of the year. This creative was intended to present royalty, timeless beauty and elegance. If we have, inadvertently, hurt the sentiments of any individual or organization, we deeply regret the same. We have started the process of withdrawing this creative from our campaign.”