Kalyan Jewellers and former Miss India, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan recently caught themselves in a controversy after a full ad feature appeared in The Hindu on 17th April 2015.
The advert features the Bollywood actress bejewelled in traditional Indian attire in a poised and relaxed pose while a dark-skinned slave-child struggles to hold an oversized umbrella over her head. This advert by Kalyan Jewellers became the centre of hostile reactions coming from many social activists. Recently, a group comprising of feminist activists issued an open letter to the actress and jewellers.
The letter described the advert as ‘insidiously racist’ and ‘extremely objectionable’. The activists feel that the advert is representing aristocracy from a bygone era and if not promoting but still serving well to the idea of child-labour and racism – both of them being illegal in several countries including India.
The letter points out that the genealogy of such an image can traced back to 17th century colonial European portraits of white aristocracy depicting white women being waited upon by ‘black’ servants. Even though advertisements are products to showcase and promote fantasy, they still should foster positive social change and not work against it. This social issue has been discussed by the activists in the letter as well.
The letter ends with a request to the actress, to not associate herself with such offensive images as she is looked upon by many and as a public figure, it’s her duty to promote the right thing.
In response to this, Aishwarya Rai Bachhan’s publicist issued a statement on behalf of the actress claiming that the image was changed without her prior knowledge and the ‘final layout is the prerogative of the creative team of the brand’. It also thanked the activists for drawing their attention to the perceptions being caused by the advert.
The same letter was sent to the jewellers requesting them to stop the adverts circulation and release a public retraction. The jewellers in return have decided to take down the ‘racist’ advert and posted their regrets of hurting the sentiments of any individual or organization as that was not their aim.
The open letter can be viewed at https://www.oxfamindia.org/featuredstories/824