Bollywood has always been squeamish about sex. Till recently, there was almost never any sexual contact between the co-stars in mainstream Indian-made films. The Indian film censors vehemently discouraged any on-screen kissing till 1990s; instead, shots of flowers brushing against each other were shown to convey physical intimacy between man and woman.
In the last decade, smooches have crept into Indian films, but beyond that, Bollywood still errs on the side of prudery when it comes to sex. Even today, there are many young and famous actors who have a “no-kissing” rule.
So it is big news when a mainstream Hindi film actor decides to not just endorse a condom brand but to also celebrate having great sex.
This spring, Durex launched a new ad campaign in India starring Ranveer Singh, an Indian movie star. This is the first time a prominent film actor has endorsed a condom brand in Asia’s third largest economy. Singh dances, raps and tells the whole country to enjoy safe lovemaking. The video was launched on YouTube in April and has more than 3 million views already.
The 2-minute video begins with a young woman reaching a screaming climax while on top of a man. The next shot reveals that her partner is Ranveer Singh. He then launches into a dance performance that is typical of many recent Bollywood song videos. The ad is full of pelvic thrusts and silhouettes of people making love. Singh’s energetic performance is interspersed with shots of young lovers all over the country… locking lips!
Singh raps in the Durex video and the jingle’s hook is: “When you have great sex, you Do the Rex.”
He also makes a jab at guardians of conservative sexual norms when he sings a line that translates to, “When you and I are ready, then why should we worry”: “Jab you and me raazi, toh phir kya shak, just give it to me baby, I am a fine f**k.”
The message is simple: Amazing sex (premarital or otherwise) between consenting adults must be celebrated. Just make sure it is safe.
This Durex video is vastly different from most other condom ads in South Asia, which almost always feature married couples. The women are coy and reluctant, while the men embarrassed yet assertive.
For instance, this ad by the government of India, features a couple on their first wedding night. It is clear that it is an arranged marriage and the couple has never had any sexual intercourse before. The woman trembles as she anticipates the “horrors” of the night. The video concludes with the husband benevolently striking a conversation with her, instead of having sex. Most women in India are conditioned to believe that sex is a man’s prerogative and a woman’s duty. The emphasis in such ads is on safer sex, never great sex.
Even when the commercial features couples where both men and women are equally frisky, the camera’s gaze lingers over the woman’s wedding ring or the mangalsutra, a necklace worn by many married Hindu women. The concept of premarital sex simply does not exist in these ads.
Sadly, most advertisers in India do not challenge social constructs around gender and sex remains a guilty (and often male) pleasure. It is not entirely their fault though. Any commercial that is deemed “indecent” by the government is considered unfit for the masses and promptly banned. In fact, in 2003, the national broadcaster stopped airing condom ads all together and instead promoted abstinence and fidelity.
In many parts of India, “condom” is still considered a dirty word and most people feel awkward buying them at a pharmacy. The new Durex campaign is a great attempt at normalizing the conversation around sex. It is not pedantic or overtly erotic, it simply talks about safe sex in a fun, light-hearted manner. The men and women featured in it are equally committed to having a joyous sexual experience. Thankfully, the ad is still on air.
Check out the scrolling "breaking news" in this fake news show featured in the Durex ad.
Roping in a handsome Bollywood star also helps the brand connect with more youngsters in a country where 50 percent of the population is below the age of 25.
In an interview to a local newspaper, 28-year old Singh says he wants to use his celebrity-status to help the county fight HIV, STDs, and unwanted pregnancies.
The commercial is more in tune with changing sexual and cultural mores in the new, urban India. Many youngsters, who have grown up on a steady diet of Hollywood movies, do not consider pre-marital sex a taboo. But that does not mean that they have much right over their bodies or sexuality. Even today, many powerful conservative politicians in the country condemn women who have sex before marriage, even when they are raped. With this ad, Durex has made a commendable effort to diminish the shame around sex.
But the next time Durex makes a commercial in India, I would like to see a female actor endorsing awesome sex. Recently, an ad for a private condom company featured Sunny Leone, an international porn star of Indian origin. But it had almost nothing to do with condoms and simply showcased Leone’s body from various angles. For once, I would like to see a popular actress challenge sexual stereotypes and not be treated as a sex object by the ad director. It might help more young women take charge and buy condoms on their own, instead of relying on the man to purchase it.
One omission in the Durex ad is gay sex. Even though India criminalizes homosexuality, the LGBT movement here has been gaining momentum in the region. India has an estimated 2.5 million gay people—it would be great if condom ads start featuring the entire sexual spectrum of society. After all, as the ad says, everyone should be able to enjoy a healthy and rewarding sex life.
Diksha Madhok is a freelance multimedia journalist based in New Delhi. You can follow her on Twitter @dikshamadhok.