Mullen Lintas created this ad for the cruiser bike brand Bajaj Avenger to encourage women to 'Ride Your Independence', tying in with the 70th anniversary of India's independence on 15 August.
In four days, it has been viewed 5 million times on Facebook, with over 165,000 'likes' and counting. Something in the music, the message, the pretty-model-riding-motorbike scenario is obviously likeable.
But I can't stop feeling that the ad shares the same level of wishful thinking expressed on the eve of Independence Day back in 1947, when India's first independent prime minister said he hoped that his country would wake up to a new world of "life and freedom".
Just as Jawaharlal Nehru's optimism became meaningless in the face of ensuing upheaval and violence, so Bajaj Avenger's ad looks like little more than hopeful utopian fluff in the context of an India that is very far from achieving true freedom for women.
Only recently, one woman's alleged account of being stalked and harrassed in her car by two men in the northern city of Chandigarh went viral, prompting calls for a march to assert women's rights to public spaces.
That Mahatma Gandhi's now decades-old hope that "the day a woman can walk freely on the roads at night, that day we can say that India achieved independence" has so clearly not yet come to pass, means that using this quote in the ad looks naïve as well as horribly clichéd. The spot is essentially summing up everything that women cannot do in India without any indication that it wants to help tackle the root causes, such as ingrained mindsets, crime and poverty.
Anyway, I thought we were talking biking, not walking.
One other thing. Wasn't there a more imaginative way to imply that a woman can wear "whatever she wants" than dressing her in a series of low-cut tops and hot pants, with lingering shots on her bare legs (this does get the bike nicely in shot too, so you can see the #subtlenotsubtle thinking) and an overly sexualised scene in which she washes her hair at a tap on the road, conveniently managing not to smudge her perfect eye make-up as she does so?
It would be nice if "whatever she wants" could occasionally not translate into "flesh-baring", thereby displaying slightly more appreciation for the diversity of women's personalities than, oh let's think, every other male-targeted advert/film/magazine ever.
If nothing else, "empowerment cannot come at the cost of safety," writes Facebook user Angad Veekey in a tone of voice that sounds not unlike that of our ad-critiquing squirrel, Ad Nut. "This lady is riding a bike on the highway in just a half-faced helmet without any protective gears at all! Are you kidding me? Where is the chest and spine protector, where are elbow and shoulder protectors, why there are not knee guards and not even riding gloves? I am sorry but this is like compromising with safety and even the women bikers out there won't approve of this!"
Bajaj Avenger, I really hope you won't be riding into the sunset on the back of this spineless narrative just yet.
Client: Bajaj Auto
Team: Sumeet Narang, Shardul Mujumdar, Ritujoy Chakraborty
Agency: Mullen Lintas
Creative: Shriram Iyer, Garima Khandelwal, Satish Sethumadhavan
Account Management: Raj Ayyappan, Ahsan Khan, Anchal Shah
Production House: Nineteen Films
Director: Akanksha Seda
Producer: Pradip Das