Namaskara Hari

What are advertisements and commercials? How authentic must they be? How seriously should they be taken? How much leeway do advertisers and their agencies have in conveying the message? These have long been important issues and they have been lobbed in the air once again by an 11-year-old boy who has threatened to sue a company for the harassment, he says, it has caused to him through its latest Television Commercial (TVC).

Worse things happen, of course, but the controversy is emblematic of how political correctness is killing humour in the country and a sign of the kind of country we are becoming.

The TVC in question involves the internet jobs company, www.naukri.com. It features an arrogant boss called “Hari Sadu”. Mr Sadu is one of his moods with his employees when he tries to make a restaurant booking. Unfortunately, the booking clerk cannot quite catch his name. So, an employee intervenes, and spells out Hari Sadu’s name, and helpfully adds, “H for Hitler, A for arrogant, R for rascal, I for idiot”. As ads go, this is harmless, funny, and effectively drives home the point that if employers don’t treat their underlings well, they can always go to naukri.com and look out for another job.

Far from it, says 11-year-old Hari Bhanot of Chandigarh. He claims that, thanks to the naukri.com commercial, his schoolmates are making fun of his name. So, 11-year-old Hari Bhanot, who clearly seems to be a precocious lawyer in the making, has sent a legal notice to naukri.com asking them to cease and desist. He not only wants the company to take off the commercials, but also wants what few 11-year-old boys have demanded: a compensation of Rs 10,000,000, or one crore rupees, from the company for damages caused to him and his reputation.

All this would have been laughable if it were not for the fact that a controversy of this nature shines a neat mirror on us. Our skins are getting mighty thin: we cannot recognize fact from fiction and we cannot take a joke. Worse, in a media era, we are becoming overeager to secure, by hook or crook, our 15 seconds of fame. It is not difficult to see where this “case” will end, but if everybody whose name is featured in an ad or in a movie or in a song or in a short story were to start suing, claim injury to image, how will ad agencies, movie makers, song and fiction writers convey their message?

When skeletons were falling left, right and centre from namma Lakshmipuram hudugi Jayalalithaa Jayaram’s cupboard, a school girl from Tamil Nadu of a similar name wrote to ‘Outlook’ magazine (www.outlookindia.com) about what this was doing to her image. Wonder why she didn’t sue the papers, magazines and TV channels for Rs one crore each? Because she would have been laughed out of court.