There's something taboo about an Indian mother looking for a short-cut. Anything less than slavish devotion to nutrition"and by extension, nurturance"of her family instantly makes her a bad mother and a lazy wife. Until recently, even advertisements selling "quick fixes" for women were careful not to toy too much with the Nirma-style domestic goddess archetype.
Remember the 2010 MTR ad that offered homemakers a hand in the kitchen?
Though the product was a quick fix"ready-made breakfast mixes"the ad took great pains to make using it look as exhausting as possible. "What do you want for breakfast?" the lady of the house asks. "Dosa," says the husband, with the insouciance of placing an order to an Udupi waiter. Then, other greedy voices chime in: "Upma!" says one child, "Vada!" says another. "Rava idli!" says the father-in-law, barely taking his eyes off the newspaper. The woman simpers, and we are treated to the sight of her morphing into a multi-armed goddess, ready to feed the entitlement of her family. Yet, despite the hackneyed imagery, the ad makers were clever in plugging the product.
Cut to now.
There's the Nirma-type mum, who has to contend with a demanding family whining for gajar ka halwa.
There's the goofy mum, who's trying to emulate a fitness video, while her daughter bounces in and asks "Khaney pe kya hai? (What is there to eat?)"
There's the artsy mum, who teams up with her daughter and mother in a 'three generations of women' tableau. The two younger generations express a wistful desire for "aap ki haath ki bhindi (your special okra dish)".
Then, there's the gen-next mum frantically playing a video game with her post-millennial son, who suddenly develops hunger pangs.
None of these mums grow extra arms. None of them even switches on the gas. Instead, with varying degrees of tartness, they tell their slack-jawed family members to order whatever they want from Swiggy, the online food delivery platform, and while they are at it, to get something for them too.
So, does Swiggy's new ad series show Indian advertising is waking up to the modern Indian woman, and particularly the mother? To an extent, it does.
Here are mothers who remorselessly prioritise their own enjoyment and relaxation over slaving beatifically in the kitchen; who aren't nattering on endlessly about Omega-3 fatty acids or "only the best for my family"; who are actually asking for food to be ordered for them too (who'd have thought that mums in Indian ads could have something as selfish and mundane as an appetite?); who've better things to do than cater to their nagging brats. These 'better' things aren't high-powered meetings or critical medical missions, but watching random fitness shows and playing video games.
The women are unabashedly using technology and money to buy themselves time"perhaps the most precious 21st-century commodity. On screen, these women are disgraceful, and it's quite exhilarating to see them wantonly reeling off the names of dishes, with some not even lifting a finger to use the Swiggy app themselves!
Yet, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The Swiggy ads show that while women may have evolved, their families are yet to grow up, at least in the world of Indian advertising. In all these ads, we see only one man, and he happens to be a benevolent patriarch sitting at the head of the table. We still have the mother as the go-to person for all things food. She is perceptibly fed up and in dire need of support, but it's clear that no one at home will lend her a helping hand.
The men are conspicuous in their absence from domestic decision-making and engagement in family life. The women are rebelling against the burden of cooking, and the implication is that an app-based service is the knight in shining armour, rather than the 'man of the house'.
Women are still being depicted as doing all the emotional labour, except that they now can throw a little more of their hard-earned money to buy themselves some me-time.
Swiggy reinforced some tiresome old notions in a statement about the campaign, saying that the ads celebrate "three aspects of the modern Indian family"super moms, food and Swiggy". The only thing new in there is "Swiggy". Must a mother always be described as a "super mom"? Unless she is wearing a cape and blue tights, that moniker should forever be retired for its blatant pandering and simultaneous pressurising of women.
Lowe Lintas, the advertising agency that created the commercials, weighed in with a somewhat self-congratulatory statement: "This is a campaign that is meant to increase penetration for Swiggy among the household segment most of whom are non-users or infrequent users. We had to strike a balance as a brand that aids or enables great food experiences rather than replaces the food that is made at home. We're happy to have hit the sweet spot, once again."
The self-praise obliquely explains why the mothers in the ad appear so exasperated. They're still cooking for their brats 99 percent of the time.