Will Deepika’s Nike advertisement inspire or mislead us?
When Dwayne or rather DJ Bravo chanted his cricket anthem Champions, a global audience danced along with him and Chris Gayle to the signature moves during the T20 cricket World Cup earlier this year. But amidst the celebrations, it was the victorious captain of the West Indies’ women’s team who stood out, not just for her Calypso rhythm, but instead more for what her team had achieved. Women cricket to me at least, finally arrived this World Cup.
Seasons change and so has the beat of the music. A few months later the reggae has been replaced by some new age beats, but if not a cricket bat, it is inspiring us to pick up anything we choose, as long as the choice is sports. Da Da Ding, the catchy advertisement from Nike makes us wish we had played a sport with more dedication, instead of something that always had a limited shelf life from the start.
I was around eight-years of age when I picked up a badminton racket. The stadium was next to my house and my parents thought it was a good way for a child to remain disciplined. They even gave in and hired a private coach for me, but it was always with the caveat, studies should not suffer. So I played till it helped me get admission into a good college through the sports quota and then progressively the age old Indian mentality of how ‘sports is never a profession’ took over. Gradually my passion fizzled out.
But now as I look at Deepika Padukone smashing her way in the court, I regret having neglected what was always my first love. The actress plays badminton like she was made for it, but then it probably is in her genes with her father Prakash Padukone being a former All England Champion.
She may be the glamorous face of this advertisement, but in no way does she take away from the other talented bunch that are kicking and shoving their way through. A hockey player who made her India debut at the young age of 15, a striker in the Indian football team who had a number of other job opportunities are just a couple of mentions in the motley group where not all are recognisable, neither are the sports they play conventional. Yet what they do is now becoming increasingly familiar to young India.
The sports revolution, especially when it comes to our female athletes is still evolving. There were only a handful of names to begin with, but middle class India – that until now only wanted a good government job for their son and a nice family for their daughter – is widening their horizons. Haryana is a state in India that has the most skewed sex ratio in the country, where incidents of honour killings even in this day and age are much more than we would expect. Yet, villages in the same state are also now crawling with women in sporting attire as they ride their bikes to a training venue. Rio Olympics next month will be a big test for several families in such villages who changed their conservative mind-sets to let their daughters achieve their goal.
So while sports, until a few years ago, were one end of the spectrum for Indian women, advertisements further portrayed them in cliché terms. They were either cooking something for their family, cleaning up their son after he played cricket or promoting a beauty product. The winds of change are slow but sure.
For starters, it is nice to see men doing laundry or women helping push a car out of the ditch. And while some will call this Nike advertisement a turning point for women empowerment, I would just be a bit cautious and call it a slick presentation that inspires us, but could also mis-lead us with its glamourised avatar.
Thumping, punching, teeth crunching from a bunch of badass women is an automatic recipe for something going viral, but step back and ask these same athletes what it really took. They will remind us that real life is more tears than smiles. Neither is this about girl power or ‘what men can do, we can do better’ kind of aggression.
Instead it is less an ode to women and more a call to arms, get into the boxing ring if that’s what you want, dream your dream and never look back. For the women of the sub-continent, it couldn’t have come sooner.