I am in grave danger of becoming as obsessed about my hippie-yuppie-lala theory as much as Skimpy is about his studs-and-fighters theory. But there’s now a new Madhavan/ Vidya Balan Airtel ad, and considering the original set of ads was one of the original inspirations for the theory, I can’t resist. Especially considering the new ad unleashes yuppieness far more than the original set did. It’s not on YouTube yet, but the Airtel website has a low-res flash version – click the My Airtel My Offer link. I’m thrilled about this – there had been no yuppie ads by Airtel for almost a year – only ones featuring Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan as themselves, therefore hippies.
In addition to all the yuppieness that was there earlier – the contemporary furniture and the clean haircuts – Vidya Balan is reading a pink newspaper (I can’t make out if it’s the Economic Times or Business Standard), and talking about slowdowns and cutbacks. As we know, hippies inhabit a non-cash economy and lalas inhabit a black-money economy, so slowdowns and cutbacks hardly register.
The new ad also raises a question – if yuppies are back on advertising, does it indicate that the recession is drawing to a close?
Devangshu Datta of Business Standard has a theory that RK Laxman notices the state of the stock market only when valuations are so unrealistic that the market can’t get any higher or lower. So whenever there’s a Common Man cartoon that has a punchline about the stock market, it means that it’s hit a peak or a valley and has to change direction – that’s when you buy or sell. Leading on from this, I naturally want to know if a similar pattern exists with advertising. Do ads that mention a recession get aired only when the recession is about to change course? Are they as exact as the Common Man, or do they lead or lag the actual turning point by some amount of time? Or is it just completely random? I appeal to the current batch of MBA students to run the regression analysis as a term paper.
So what is it about TV that inspired me to write arbit posts defining lalas, yuppies and hippies? Well, it’s like this. Ever since I started watching TV about four months ago (when I moved in with relatives in Mumbai), I’ve realised this about it – all Indian TV (fiction) programming is centred around lalas and hippies. But never yuppies. As far as the people who make Indian TV serials are concerned, yuppies don’t exist.
Now soap operas of the K variety are of course dominated by lalas. From what little I’ve seen of them (fortunately, my relatives in Mumbai are not devotees) they’re centred around gigantic business joint families where everyone is scheming against each other, often for control of the business. Very lala, really. Even when said soap operas are not of the Balaji K-variety, they tend to involve ginormous lala families.
My cousin watched two soap operas earlier in the year. One involved a female who was dark skinned, so she was married off to a spastic guy. As in, literally spastic. I am not making this up. But the spastic guy belonged to a giant lala family and his sister-in-law schemed against this dark-complexioned chick. So full lala fundaes again.
The other soap opera was halfway between hippie and lala. Like I said, these things are intersecting stereotypes on a Venn Diagram rather than properly mutually-exclusive-collective-exhaustive categories. So anyway this one is about a star kid who’s being launched by his bigger movie star (or maybe director or producer) dad. Now being a movie star is as hippie as it gets, but if you’re being launched by your dad than lala fundaes come into play again.
The point is that in all of this, yuppies are missing.
Cut to now. My aunt’s favourite thing on TV these days is this thing on NDTV Imagine called Radha ki Betiyaan Kuchh Kar Ke Dikhayengeen. It regularly scales new heights of hippieness. It’s about this woman from Meerut who packs up and brings her daughters to Mumbai so that they can be successful in life.
What’s amazing is the path to success these daughters take. The accepted path to success is the yuppie one – become an engineer, then become an MBA, then become a finance professional, and pay off your EMIs for the next thirty years. You would think that these daughters would follow it too. But no! The oldest one gets a job at a fashion design house, which is the borderline between hippie and yuppie. But then she quits to enter a dance contest, and abandons all pretensions of yuppieness. And in fact this goes on throughout the show. The three daughters and their mother perpetually have to raise money for some reason or the other. It’s like watching a Sunday morning kids movie every night at primetime. And instead of doing it the yuppie way and becoming management consultants, they do it buy selling songs they’ve written, taking part in dance contests, and providing Hindi tuitions. Something involving Excel, or even maths done with pencil and paper never crosses their minds. It’s amazing.
Then there’s the stuff my cousin watches. There is first this show on Star One about doctors who seem to spend all their time singing and dancing rather than taking care of patients. So you have singing dancing doctors who never worry about the price of bhindi, or how much rent they’re paying. Come to think of it, they don’t seem to have homes – they just sing and dance at hospital. The point is that yuppie concerns of day-to-day minutiae are given the go-by.
Now it would be okay if the total absence of yuppie characters was restricted to television. But it exists in movies also. There are no yuppie characters in Bollywood either. Everyone in a Hindi movie is blissfully unconcerned about where the money is coming from. When will you ever see a Hindi movie character worrying about rent, or who’s going to clean the toilet? Let’s run through some of the movies in 2008:
Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na: everyone is hippie or lala. Aditi wants to do a course in filmmaking. I mean, come on. How much more hippie can you get? The guy she gets engaged to has a family business and is lala. Her brother is hippiemax. Even Jai never gets around to being a yuppie. To all indications, his mother doesn’t ever bother about rent because she lives in an owned house – lalaness, again.
Drona and Love Story 2050: Ok, the characters in these don’t fit any stereotype, but it’s still yuppie exclusion.
Singh is Kinng: Farmer with a heart of gold becomes head of the Australian mafia. Hippie, hippie, hippie.
Kidnap: Rich daughter of gazillionaire? Lala.
You see my point, yes?
So in all of this, do yuppies get seen at all? Well, yes. But only in the ads, which most people just surf away from. Now, let’s look at this in detail. With YouTube examples!
Usually, the category with the maximum yuppieness is life insurance. Which makes sense. Lalas don’t need life insurance because they’re already rich and have enough assets to take care of their dependents. Or if they do buy life insurance, they’ll buy whatever their CA-moonlighting-as-insurance-agent will sell them, not on the basis of advertising. Hippies don’t make financial decisions and just leave it to their private banker or lala family’s accountant. So you have to pitch to yuppies, who actually live on a month-to-month basis and have to worry about this shit. So it makes sense to have yuppie-focused advertising.
For a long time, the HDFC Standard Life ad was the yuppiest in India:
Consider! It has a daughter buying her father a car, which is the antithesis of regular lala relationships. Buying their parents stuff is probably what every yuppie dreams of. Plus look at all the other yuppie indicators – personalised checkbook from a new age private bank, shirt and pants instead of salwar kameez or sari, hair let down instead of plaited. In fact HDFC Standard’s slogan – Sar Utha Ke Jiyo – is the sort of thing that resonates more with yuppies than anybody else.
So yes. For a very long time, nothing could beat HDFC Standard Life in the yuppieness stakes. And then Airtel unleashed Madhavan and Vidya Balan. First, they established the young and urban part by showing them at an apartment building’s lift:
Having established yuppieness, they then set out to reinforce it:
Once again, we have the yuppie aspiration of giving money to parents instead of the other way around. Plus, check out the furniture. It screams yuppie. But in case you had any doubts at all, the next ad in the series set out to bury them once and for all:
Now prepaid recharges may not seem very yuppie. After all good yuppies have postpaid corporate connections. But set that aside for a while. And look at everything else in the ad. You have Vidya Balan telling Madhavan to make salad and do the household chores. This is the pinnacle of yuppieness. Hippies have domestic help to do the household chores. As for lala families, the woman telling the man to do stuff around the house is an exercise in futility.
But anyway. So there are yuppie characters in ads. But even this is in a very small set of ads. Usually for services, especially the financial sort. FMCG ads are dominated by celebrity endorsements (i.e., hippies). So are laptop ads for some bizarre reason. Confectionary ads have fantasy characters, and Fevicol actually goes so far as to show poor people. And like I said, people mostly surf away from ads, so it doesn’t really count.
So clearly the situation is grim for us yuppies. We get no representation in popular culture, and now the financial crisis is making the real world dark and depressing too. Now, we can only hope that the recent spate of yuppie suicides will mean that Sainath will give us some love. But honestly, who wants that?
PS1: I realise I’m only looking at lalas, yuppies, and hippies and ignoring poor people. But that’s pretty much because there have been no poor people in movies or on TV since the 1980s. People who watched Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and encouraged the secular trend in movies about hippie kids of lala parents, this is your fault.
PS2: Actually, even when there were poor people in the movies, they weren’t really poor. Even if they lived in chawls, rent never seemed to be a factor. Indian cinema and television is a fantasy world where everyone owns their house, no matter how poor or unemployed they are. (Insert subprime crisis/ NINJA mortgage/ Congressman Barney Frank joke here.)
PS3: Actually, there is one Hindi movie this year which has acknowledged the presence of yuppies. In fact it has covered all three stereotypes. But that will be discussed in the next post.