Education is important in India, so it’s not surprising to see ads set in classrooms. But this setting often has an additional function: to help negotiate conflicts between India’s emerging, youthful modernity and its long-established respect for tradition and authority.
Two TV ads currently being aired give us a very similar storyline: a hint of rebellion and autonomy amongst the students, followed by the restoration of the teacher’s authority. In an ad for Indian watch brand Titan, the students get to their feet in a chorus of their own making – as if standing up to the teacher with a display of their own ability to self-organise. But the hint of rebellion is a red herring, as they’re actually getting to their feet to present him with a retirement gift. Authority is restored; student autonomy becomes a way not to challenge but to pay a creative tribute to the teacher.
Similarly, in this ad for on-line fashion retailer Myntra, a display of student autonomy is resolved and neutralised – here, when the teacher appears to restore order.
In both ads, the storyline revolves around the tussle between youthful autonomy and self-expression on the one hand, and traditional structures, on the other. A balance is struck: tradition wins, while allowing students to express themselves within certain boundaries.
But a recent ad for newspaper The Hindu gives us a more unsettling account of the relationship between traditional power structures and the next generation. A class is asked to debate a political issue while observing ‘proper parliamentary behaviour’. The students take the instruction literally and a fight breaks out – copying the disorder previously seen in the Indian parliament. So here, there is no safe, respected authority to take back the reins: disorder is present at the heart of power itself.