|Courtesy - Google images|
Also published on Huffington Post, India
Even as Maggi’s credibility sank faster than the Titanic, complete with sound effects of outrage and anguish of millions of tastebuds hooked on to this gooey mishmash of maida and garam-masala, its ambassador in leotards, Madhuri found herself unceremoniously thrown in freezing waters.
While Maggi was crucified for having MSG and lead above permissible limits (many of us are still convinced it’s a rival-engineered conspiracy to dislodge it from its cult status), an FIR was also filed against Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta who appeared in the Maggi ads, for misleading their fans. Madhuri has been served a notice where she has to explain how Maggi is good for our health.
In India filmstars, unlike their Western counterparts, are not merely actors who get paid to do their job. The ones who attain superstardom are regarded as deities meant to be worshipped. They make our fantasies of fighting corruption, beating up crooked cops, wooing unattainable women, dancing and singing while looking like a glamorous diva, come true on the silver screen. They make us sing, dance and laugh and provide respite from the mundane. We revere them, blindly follow them and express our adulation by getting our local darzi to stitch the same Anarkali that Deepika wore at an awards night, hoping that some of her stardust will rub off on us.
The bigger the superstardom, the brighter the halo and the firmer our belief that they can do no wrong.
When Madhuri, the dhak-dhak of millions, trapezes all over her kitchen while she serves new Maggi Oats to her hungry family, insisting it’s healthy, we promptly add it to our shopping basket. Corporate giants pay crores to celebrities because they add brand equity to their products. When Cabdury’s credibility saw a downward spiral when live worms were discovered in their milk chocolate, they promptly hired Amitabh Bachchan to restore their lost glory (Cadbury’s, not theworms’) and it worked!
Is it right to hold Madhuri responsible after it was discovered that Maggi is not only unhealthy but also a health risk?
After all, we all know claims made in advertisements is all hogwash and fairness creams and shampoos will not turn us into an Aishwarya Rai. If Amul Macho bestowed rippling muscles and a new found machismo on its wearer, gyms would be as empty as libraries. The only darr Mountain Dew helps us conquer is urinating on a public wall and Lux soap is sitaron ki pasand for only those who live in Mars. But here lies the difference. If someone is gullible enough to believe these claims, they don’t end up sick.
Unlike Maggi, shampoos, banians and fairness creams do not pump toxins into our system. Hence, when Hema Malini claims that she trusts only Kent Water Purifier, she better know what she’s talking about.
While a few decades back, processed food and its related perils was restricted to urban markets, it has now made inroads into our rural areas, penetrating into a poor, malnourished constituency of people who lack the education to comprehend and counter their anti-health effects.
Which is why celebrities venerated by these masses, whose every word is taken as the ultimate truth, are expected to exercise judgment when endorsing colas, noodles, Kurkure and chips, that do more harm than good. Especially when people can be such gullible fools! Brand endorsers are not money making machines (Shahrukh might disagree) but, rather, men and women who exert a strong influence on their fanbase.
When Kangana Ranaut refuses crores to endorse a fairness cream, we applaud her for refusing to promote what she did not believe in.
I understand that it is unrealistic to expect our superstar brand ambassadors to conduct tests and verify whether the government approval on the product is deserved or not. But is it too much to expect them to exercise better judgment especially when their stamp of approval is taken as the gospel truth by their adoring fans?
By defending them and wondering why they are being scapegoats, aren’t we putting them in the same category as those who lack the intelligence or education to make informed choices? Are we trying to suggest celebrities who keep themselves fit on a diet of boiled vegetables and punishing exercise regimens, actually believe Maggi Oats is healthy and Lays chips is the snack of their choice?
Ms Nene and her esteemed colleagues may not be legally liable for endorsing products they do not believe in but they are certainly morally liable for misleading the vast multitudes. And if they did their homework before saying yes to multi-crore deals, they might force Nestle to do a rethink on their budget. Because right now, Nestle India spends Rs 19 crore for quality testing, Rs 445 crore on ads.