A man, an impoverished laborer, performs a long series of heavy tasks - he pushes a laden hand-cart; tries to drink water from a dry tap. The colours are dull and heavy. The camera lingers on him, on his worn chappals. He carries a big sack on his back up a staircase of raw cement in a partly constructed high-rise building. It goes on and on; it looks painful. Finally you see the man squatting and eating something off of a cheap metal plate. I thought it was going to be a social message from an NGO about labour, health, education, improving people's lot, something like that.
But then, beside his face, you see the slogan "Welcome to a cashless world." And a picture of a State Bank of India (SBI) debit card! My jaw actually dropped. What was the message of the ad? That this miserable man can get a credit card and improve his lot? Not possible. That he is cashless and so are we, but in a parallel universe of plenty? how crass, even cruel can you get?
The ad came by again, and this time I paid attention, because I really wanted to understand it. The second time I saw that, as the man is eating, and just before the SBI slogan comes, these words appear (very briefly) beside the man's face:
Bholu [his name]
Even then it took me some time before I realised that the message is that the pickpocket can no longer pursue his trade because people don't carry cash anymore - they carry the debit card. So he is condemned to a miserable life of honest labour.
Am I missing out on something here? I'm still angry - was it meant to be funny? Millions of men and women in this country -- who are NOT thieves -- spend their whole lives doing backbreaking, soul-killing work, and remain pretty much in a cashless world -- while we lucky few can buy things with plastic cards. Let's make jokes about their misery on top of it. State Bank of India is at least partly owned by the government, too. Shame on it, and on its advertising agency.
update: My husband has constructed an alternative to this ad. He was consulted, when he was running a factory, by the topmost advertising agencies of the country in the capacity of a friend and consultant, and was relied upon for his uncompromising sense of honesty, aesthetics, probity and humour. I will provide samples from his work later on.