19/05/2015 8:04 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Why PETA Objected To An Ad Depicting Ranveer Singh Punching A Shark

James R.D. Scott via Getty Images

Catching a tennis ball with your butt cheeks? Funny. Building a sandcastle faster than The Flash? Hilarious. Pretending to punch an endangered animal (or any animal for that matter) for laughs? Wait a minute.

These are scenes from Rupa Frontline's advertisement featuring Ranveer Singh, and you can guess which part of the ad People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) objected to.

The advertisement is meant to be light-hearted and fun and is, for the most part, but humour is not exempt from ethics, and just as most companies now draw the line at making racist, sexist and homophobic jokes in advertising, it's time to do the same for speciesist "jokes".

Perpetuating the false and unhelpful stereotype of women as damsels in distresses who need rescuing by men aside, the advertisement makes light of beating up an animal, and although the shark used was fake, in the minds of impressionable young people, it could make hurting animals look "cool". Don't think young people would want to emulate Ranveer Singh? Clearly, Rupa Frontline doesn't agree - isn't that why they used him in the ad?

"While sharks killed three people worldwide in 2014, humans deliberately kill about 100 million sharks annually, mainly for their fins, which are used in soups that are still quite popular in East Asia."

This doesn't mean that kids will go out and start punching sharks, since sharks are hard to come by in, say, urban Mumbai, but it might leave youngsters with the impression that hurting animals is no big deal and could, in fact, even be funny or fun. As an animal-protection group, we know all too well that some people already think this way and upload videos on the internet of themselves laughing while they throw dogs or donkeys off buildings or bridges or set fire to cats. Indeed, it's because of such atrocities that the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council has rules against depicting cruelty to animals and glamorising such depictions (which Rupa Frontline's advertisement seems to have disregarded).

Ironically, the shark in the Rupa Frontline ad was also shown as if about to attack a woman, when, in fact, the "ruthless killers" in the human-shark relationship are actually the humans. While sharks killed three people worldwide in 2014, humans deliberately kill about 100 million sharks annually, mainly for their fins, which are used in soups that are still quite popular in East Asia. (And India is the second-largest shark-fishing nation in the world.) Because of human predation, sharks - who play a key role in ocean ecosystems - have become threatened.

What does having a bit of "fun" with a fake shark have to do with the plight of real sharks? Well, what the public thinks of sharks makes all the difference between rallying to save them and permitting them to be hunted to extinction.

According to the LiveScience news site, shark numbers "worldwide have been decimated due partly to the frightening and false ideas" that the hit 1975 film Jaws "helped spread about them." The film used mechanical sharks, but as LiveScience states, it depicted sharks as "monsters bent on massacring swimmers and boaters." LiveScience explains that after this movie, "a growing shark-hunting trend" emerged. Now, "in the waters off the U.S. eastern seaboard, populations of many species of sharks have dropped by 50 percent and some have fallen by as much as 90 percent."

A study that appeared in the 2012 issue of the journal Conservation Biology also found unbalanced negative media attention could harm these animals' chance for survival.

Do we think Rupa Frontline or Ranveer Singh intended any malice? No. Is the Rupa Frontline advertisement anywhere near the worst thing that PETA has ever seen? No. Are we still fans of Ranveer? Of course. But we had an obligation to request that the shark-punching scene be deleted from the ad. And we respectfully requested that Rupa Corporate and Ranveer Singh be careful in the future not to encourage cruelty to animals - even inadvertently.

Today, some may be laughing at the thought that a silly advertisement could encourage a youngster to treat animals poorly. Tomorrow, they may not be, when yet another video shows up on the internet of a young person who thinks whirling dogs around by the tail and throwing them over a fence is "funny".

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