Democracy is such a heady thing. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) gives us Regular Joes the power to decide which ads should be pulled out and which ones are to be kept. If you visit the ASCI home page, you’ll find an announcement that tells you to snitch about ads that might ‘mislead you’, 'offend you’ or 'cheat you’. And there are people with strong opinions writing back. Take the complaint against a Cadbury Bournvita print ad in August 2006. One complainant was livid about the ad’s headline, ‘Real achievers grow up on Bournvita’ and wanted it to be substantiated with "testimonials". The ASCI-Consumer Complaints Council reaction: the ad was misleading and so must be plugged.
In the latest round of Citizen Censorship, the I&B Ministry, has stepped in where the ASCI has been caught napping. Two underwear ads — made by two different advertising companies and for two different clients — have been pulled off the air by the government as it struck the I&B Ministry as being “indecent, vulgar and suggestive” — not necessarily in that order. Indian democracy has, once again, shown that if shuddering adults across the nation want something to disappear, it will disappear, liberals (or as they are called — ‘pseudo-liberals’) be damned.
The two offending ads, to put it bluntly, aren’t going to win any awards at Cannes. A lady washing her hubby’s innerwear and taking some extra pleasure in the task; a dhoban looking like a cross between Rakhi Sawant and Dimple in Bobby tells a man wearing his underwear under a towel, “Nikaaliye na... kapde.” Sure, these are risqué commercials. But is it the government’s duty to get its knickers in a twist each time gasps emanate from a few members of the citizenry? Well, of course. That’s how it feels empowered.