The fact that the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has received two complaints with reference to two Neo Sports channel commercials allegedly showing the West Indians in bad taste seems to suggest that some viewers are not amused by the advertisements' humour.
The campaign is now being continued in the form of another just-aired commercial, now featuring Sri Lankans and ending with "It's difficult to be a Sri Lankan in India". An extension of the earlier "It's difficult to be a West Indian in India".
The advertising industry seems to be divided in its opinion over the commercials. Bharat Dabholkar, director, Whynot Communications Pvt. Ltd., says, "Such a humorous ad doesn't need to be taken so seriously." Perhaps Dabholkar has a point.
For even Mahesh Chauhan, president, Rediffusion DY&R, seemed to support the view as he says, "It should be considered that such advertisements are done with a certain thought.
Many times, people tend to have a myopic view. I feel that the commercial featuring the Sri Lankan is a nice extension and somewhere succeeds in capturing the great Indian passion for cricket."
Piyush Pandey, executive chairman & national creative director, Ogilvy & Mather Advertising (India), protests: "After the ads have run across seven different channels, across 2,000 releases, someone gets up and calls them racist! Just because there's this racist thing happening with Shilpa Shetty and Celebrity Big Brother. And suddenly two complaints spring up at the ASCI. The two are completely different."
Ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar also looks at the whole thing from the angle of the racism brouhaha over Shilpa Shetty and Celebrity Big Brother. "Actually, the Neo Sports ads are just tongue-in-cheek and wouldn't have been such an issue under normal circumstances.
However, in view of the Shilpa Shetty-racism controversy, they certainly come under the spotlight regarding racism. We can't create a big protest about racism on one and at the same time, look at the other differently."
Pandey still defends the Neo Sports ads very strongly, saying, "Just look at the ads! They just represent the competitive spirit of a sports series.
Last year's Friendship Series between India and Pakistan featured Inzamam ul Haq and Sourav Ganguly as warriors. Would the same people calling these ads racist have said those ads meant a declaration of war on Pakistan? Come on! Those who call the ads racist must be out of their minds."
Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll, a brand consulting agency, looks at the whole issue from a distance.
To begin with, he's not seen the Neo Sports commercials. When the details of the ad stories and the whole controversy are explained to him, he says, "While it seems to me that we have made an unnecessary hype and hoopla when Shilpa Shetty voluntarily entered into a third grade television show and then complained of racism, the Neo Sports commercials seem to be suggesting that the West Indians or the Sri Lankans would be given a particular treatment in India. And the treatment sounds demeaning to me."
He agrees with Kakkar that in the face of the Shetty hungama, there cannot not be protests about the Neo Sports ads.
"Considering the fact that even a minister chose to react to the alleged racism meted out to Shilpa Shetty, the Neo Sports advertisements certainly come across as objectionable."
India, he points, is a nation that hypes the news of even Water being nominated for the Academy Awards, "when the fact is that the film is not an Indian but a Canadian entry!"
Pandey is still foxed. The same ads are being done for the Sri Lankan series, he agrees, and wonder if those are also going to be seen as racist.
Talking about the West Indian representations, he says, "The ads are so clean and clear! To think of racism in a sports scenario where the West Indies sports people have outscored Indians in practically every sport, is absolutely naïve! Someone has to have a 'colored' mind or watches TV with dark glasses on."
He signs off with attitude: "Racism in the Neo Sports ads is an accusation for which I am willing to take the accusers to the cleaners!"