IN GURGAON, where I live, ad hoardings drape the skyline. The night is ablaze with neon, rising tall abreast steel and glass skyscrapers. The suburb’s gleaming offices release thousands of young achievers every evening, with deep pockets and deeper desires. From widescreen LCDs to iPads, from haute cuisine to single malts, Gurgaon is a restless urban bazaar, where to be is to shop. In 2009, the iconic ‘ShipBuilding,’ DLF’s flagship property in the Millennium City, was covered entirely by self-adhesive vinyl, flashing Videocon’s new logo. In earlier times, such brazen exhibitionism would have invited charges of pomposity. Now it’s de rigueur. Ever wondered how we got here?
A Mango Frooti ad that appeared about four or five years ago first recorded a series of shifts in the Indian mindset, ranging from the arrangement of public space to gender relations. The ad opens with a shot from behind of two people, sitting next to each other on the Mumbai sea face; one of them sports long hair, the other short. As the camera moves around to the front, you see the long-haired young man resting his head on the short-haired woman’s shoulder. “From women to men,” the voice-over suggests, as another unusual visual fills the screen: young women, assembled inside a college canteen, catcall a young man. One after the other you see inversions of conventional themes—a college teacher grabbing a can of Frooti from a student, a kid dressed as an astronaut at a fancy dress party, and finally, a young man picking up litter strewn by another to drop it inside a ‘use me’ bin, right in front of a big shopping mall. After each of these visuals the voice-over reminds you, “From college canteens to catcalls, from aspirations hidden behind fancy dresses, India is changing.”