The Vogue Empower video featuring Deepika Padukone did nothing for me. Or rather, it bored me. Over the 24 hours and a little more that we have been subjected to the film, a number of robust critiques have also appeared. One of them questioned the director, filmmaker Homi Adajania's ethics and motive in making such a video after directing a regressive film like Cocktail. Another pointed out that all the women featured, or at any rate most of them, are privileged celebrities. Another felt that the film itself is too 'urbane and elitist'. I found these critiques as pointless as the film itself. For starters, I see no place for ethics and motive in a film like this. For heaven's sake, it's an advert for Vogue, not a documentary film about gender violence. As for all or most of the 99 women in it being privileged celebrities, so what? If that were a problem, we should have had serious issues with Vikram Seth blackening his face to pose for the India Today cover to protest the regressive SC hearing about homosexuality in India. And what about the film being too elitist? Well, did you stop to consider Vogue's readership before levelling that criticism?
No, we are really wasting our breath criticizing the video for these reasons. But does that mean the film shouldn't be criticized at all? Certainly not. After all even an advert can be judged on its creative merit. Particularly in a country which is gifted with a genuinely smart and successful advertising and branding industry. And that is precisely what makes this particular advert so worthy of criticism. Because it is tiresomely mediocre.
Let's take the script. It sounds like a mish-mash of sexy-sounding keywords rather than a logically composed script with a sound premise. Because choice does not imply abuse. And when you sleep outside of marriage (one of the choices the voiceover celebrates), that is what you are perpetrating, abuse. Just like the man who cheats on his wife. Then there are the bits which are, well, simply nonsensical. 'I'm a snowflake, not the snowfall. You're a snowflake, get out of the shitstorm'? Whoever wrote that line seems to have done so while flaking out due to lack of sleep.
Let's not forget the background score. There have been many women empowerment shorts in the recent past---they did say 2014 was the breakout year for feminist activism on social media. One that stands out for how smartly a short of this nature can be made was sponsored by American cosmetics brand, Cover Girl, and helmed by the uber smart, uber funny Ellen degeneres. Now this is a stunner of a film with women like Ellen and Queen Latifah shot lovingly even as they mouth smart lines about there being nothing that women cannot do. But what makes the film truly special is its crisp editing and drum and piano-based background score, acting as the perfect foil to the oft-repeated slogan in the film, tum de dum dum Girls Can! Deepika's My Choice on the other hand begins with a shimmery mind, body, spirit sound with chants and all, which then works itself up into a bang, clang crescendo that is more cacophony than power. And even worse, there seems to be absolutely nothing synchronized between the voiceover and the score; a couple of words like 'cocky' can barely be heard!
Finally, my pet peeve. Now, Padukone is a hellishly attractive woman, and can make even a boring advert worth watching. Did Homi Adajania have to ruin it beyond any possible redemption by using the one thing that is not her asset, i.e., her voice? A badly written, illogical, and at times, nonsensical script comes off sounding ridiculous delivered in Padukone's thin, flat monotone. Or maybe even as she read the script, she realized there was no way she could put any feeling into the lines because they made even less sense than 'chutki bhar sindoor'. Seriously Vogue, you did an exemplary job with the Start with the Boys video with Madhuri Dixit. Why mess it up now with a poor cousin of a sequel? Too Bollywood only.