The new ad for the Shan #onebiryanionefamily campaign, where a young man wins over the hearts of his Punjabi, rugged and unforgiving brothers-in-law by cooking biryani for them, goes against every stereotype we typically see in Pakistani ads. The idea is novel, refreshing and frankly speaking, exactly the kind of content we need to be seeing on TV right now. The execution of the idea, unfortunately, is less than riveting.
The TVC, which stands at a little over four minutes, steers clear of depicting typical cooking scenes with women in the kitchen sashaying around with the product in hand. On the contrary, all characters are male, and for a change, it is the son-in-law-to-be who has to prove himself to the girl’s family.
Our protagonist is a modern metrosexual, whose beard is shaped with precision and who wears slim-fit, ankle pants with GQ inspired loafers. The character is crafted to be the exact antithesis of the Punjabi ‘manly’ man that he is expected to be in the story – an expectation that many men might find all too familiar. By making this distinction, the ad makers are changing perceptions and setting new rules about what it means to be a man in a very patriarchal society. What I appreciate about this ad is that it isn’t just shaking up the conversation around women in society, but also around men and how they are expected to be.
By questioning gender stereotypes and showing an alternative narrative, this ad has planted the seed for creative agencies and clients to start thinking about social norms and coming up with ways to challenge archaic traditions. The ad proves that product endorsements and successful communication about domestic, specifically culinary, products can happen without objectifying women or fuelling gender stereotypes.
Messaging aside, I have to admit that the film was a bit of a drag and could have done with a second or even third round of editing. The scenes felt long, the acting was mediocre at best and the opening sequence was as creative as a box of tissues.
Throughout the ad, I felt like I was watching the trailer of an Indian film, where neither the sprawling, modern haveli, nor the luscious green, fenced field seemed familiar or Pakistani. It felt filmy and contrived. This wasn’t surprising when I discovered that the ad had been directed by Imtiaz Ali, the Indian director of Jab We Met fame. It is unfortunate that in this particular case, he was unable to portray the essence of the brand or establish its connection to home, comfort and a sense of belonging – elements that have become characteristic of Shan ads.
Perhaps, it was because of the stretched scenes, the overly curated set or the forced expressions that I couldn’t quite connect with this particular ad, and that’s a shame because I have enjoyed the humanness and unique storylines of previous Shan ads, which have always managed to capture the pulse of human emotions – emotions that we all can relate to – whether it is being away from home as young college students, or moving to a new country or city and trying to find a sense of home there. That ethos was lost in this execution.
To get a more holistic sense of how this ad was being perceived by viewers, I didn’t have to look further than the Twitter hashtags and the comments section on Facebook where the ad is currently being discussed. The overarching feedback was that though the idea was noble and progressive, the film missed the mark when it came to creating an authentic Pakistani experience. It was also unnecessarily long, and too often confused the emotions that it was trying to present. I would congratulate Shan for being open to an idea like this, but would advise their agency, Ogilvy Pakistan, on bringing a more suitable director for the execution next time.
Sheherzad Kaleem is a documentary filmmaker based in Dubai. firstname.lastname@example.org