By Lipi Mehta:
As a child, I often asked my mother if the necklace she was wearing was her mangalsutra. None of the necklaces she owned resembled the black and gold mangalsutras I had seen others wearing and this piqued my curiosity. She would always answer ‘no’ and I would be left dumbfounded. When the married women in most Hindi films and television shows were wearing one, why wasn’t my mother? After seeing the new Dabur Honey ad, I feel even more stupid about ever asking her or rather, accusing her of not wearing a mangalsutra when what she was really doing was not conforming to what society expected her to do. Why? Because the ad doesn’t treat the mangalsutra like my mother did—it portrays it to be a much more than a Hindu ritual, much more than being a symbol.
The ad starts with a woman asking a man how she looks before she steps out of the house. He says “Lovely!” but is shown to be a bit flustered. Before she can leave, he prominently places her mangalsutra on her top. (Ah! So he’s her husband!). He then says that now she looks even better. This bit should have been subtitled as, “There, now my possession of you is signified by this mangalsutra. You look good, but let me ensure that people don’t think you are ‘available’. It is clear that you are taken. No one can hit on you now.” (I can really go on)
‘Mangalsutra’ literally translates to ‘auspicious thread’ and is worn by Hindu, married women in India to signify that they are praying for their husband’s long life. It is just a symbol of belief, just like many other symbols such as applying sindoor, wearing mehendi, etc. I personally have a problem with these ‘symbols’ as they are regressive and practically speaking, one-sided. I don’t know any men who would consider or be told to wear a mangalsutra as a symbol of their commitment or to pray for their wives’ long lives! And in a country like India, where the ‘possession’ of a wife by her husband is actually a reality, let’s not use our mainstream communication channels to spread such messages!
The woman in the ad is shown exclaiming at the end that having Dabur honey ensures fitness, which in turn ensures that she will look good, thereby making her partner jealous of how she is suddenly ‘more desirable’. First of all, if your partner is jealous, it is not cute, it is a sign of being controlling because no one has the right to dictate how you should look or behave. And secondly, yes, fitness is great and looking good makes anyone feel more confident but let’s do this for ourselves and not for how someone else will perceive us.
The idea of looking good for society, for your partner or just to fit in, is making lives much more difficult for many across the world. Meaghan Ramsey, the Global Director of the Dove Self-Esteem Project says in a TED Talk that 6 out of 10 girls choose to not do something because they don’t think they look good enough. This is a dangerous notion that makes self-acceptance more difficult and even causes eating disorders and mental health issues in many people.
This ad could have showed how the couple doesn’t ‘need’ a mangalsutra to establish the overarching idea of commitment. If the point of the ad is to show a connection between fitness and Dabur honey, there could have been many other ways of making this it, but Y U did dis, Dabur? I would gladly consume Dabur honey if it can really contribute to my health, but I would never buy it if it is to look better for my partner or anyone else! As of now, as a responsible audience, let’s make wise consumption choices and not give in to what this ad propagates.