On Friday, April 17, an advertisement featuring actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan appeared in the Delhi edition of The Hindu. Kalyan Jewellers, the company behind the ad, quickly became the target of criticism for the imagery depicted in it: the actress, posing as an aristocrat from an older era, relaxing under an umbrella held by a dark-skinned, emaciated boy.
On Thursday, a spokesperson from Kalyan Jewellers told Scroll that it regretted the ad and had begun "the process of withdrawing this creative" from their campaign.
Before this development, an open letter to Bachchan published by Scroll on Wednesday had lambasted the ad and expressed "dismay" at the actress's decision to appear in it.
The letter, penned by eight people (including Nisha Agarwal, CEO of Oxfam India, and Farah Naqvi, writer and feminist activist), pointed out: "We are fully aware that yours is an advertisement selling jewellery through creating a fantasy/desire, and not a portrayal of reality. Yet, advertisements and visuals are a critical part of our socio-cultural-psychological ecosystem and these ecosystems can either help create conditions in our mind that will foster positive social change or work against it. So, in this context, what is the social change we want? One, racism is a global reality, and we need to fight it. Two, though child labour in many industries is illegal in India, it is still rampant and we all need to work together to change this. Three, the Right to Education Act mandates that all children up to age 14 must be in school, and we need to make sure they are there and learning."
Twitter had reacted strongly to the ad and denounced the idea of promoting ideas pointing to slavery and racism.
Whoever came up with this great "concept" is obviously not bothered about racism or child slavery. After all, in... http://t.co/MvvNB55SIc— Meena Kandasamy (@meenakandasamy) April 22, 2015
Racism outshines the gold on Aishwarya Rai in this ad. https://t.co/oXMVB3tdp9— Aditi Malhotra (@_aditimalhotra) April 23, 2015
The same day, Bachchan's publicist responded with a statement which said that the final creative was "the prerogative of the creative team for a brand" and supplied proof by submitting a picture from the shoot that simply featured the actress against a plain background.
The full-statement issued by Kalyan Jewellers on Thursday, as a result of this backlash, read as follows: "With regard to the the item Open letter to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: This ad you figure in is insidiously racist, the creative was intended to present the royalty, timeless beauty and elegance. However, if we have inadvertently hurt the sentiments of any individual or organization, we deeply regret the same. We have started the process of withdrawing this creative from our campaign."
Hurrah for Internet activism, yougaiz!
Kalyan jewellers retractng tht Aishwarya Rai ad. Now we are ready to stop the sale of Fair and Fugly. Onwards, politically correct soldiers!— manjula narayan (@utterflea) April 23, 2015