Aishwarya Rai Bachchan lands in controversy over racist Kalyan Jewellers ad depicting child slavery

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Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is in the centre of media attention for the wrong reasons after posing for a Kalyan Jewellers  print ad that is blatantly racist and appears to promote child slavery.

The photograph was part of a full-page ad in The Hindu’s Delhi edition on April 17, 2015.

The racist, classist and ageist sub-text of the ad is quite obvious: Aishwarya appears as a fair-skinned noblewoman, seated comfortably ahead of a dark-skinned child, who is holding an umbrella to save her from the sun.

India is not new to blatant racism in advertising or in real life. Be it the infuriating Fair and Lovely ads or comments on the colour of Sonia Gandhi’s skin from politicians like Giriraj Singh, our country can’t seem to leave behind its dark-skin complex and blind fascination with fair skin.

Naturally, there was quite a backlash on Twitter.

Following the publication of the ad, a group of activists even wrote an open letter to Aishwarya on, expressing their anger and dismay at the ‘regressive’ and ‘tasteless’ ad representing the ‘aristocracy of a bygone era’.

Here are a few extracts from the letter:

“…the extremely fair colour of your skin (as projected in the advertisement) contrasted with the black skin of the slave-boy is obviously a deliberate “creative” juxtaposition by the advertising agency, and insidiously racist”

“…advertisements and visuals are a critical part of our socio-cultural-psychological ecosystem and these ecosystems can either help create conditions in our mind that will foster positive social change or work against it”

The letter further urged the actress to disassociate herself from the image and asked Kalyan Jewellers to publicly retract the ad, thereby setting a positive example and promising to create better and progressive ads in the future.

You can read the full letter here.

Aishwarya’s publicist responded with a brief explanation claiming that the actress only posed for a stand-alone photo and that the other elements in the ad were later added by the brand’s creative team. The publicist even attached an image from the original photo shoot.

Here’s the full text of the response.

Even so, this comes across as a lame explanation from the publicist of one of Bollywood’s biggest stars representing one of the country’s biggest jewellers.

It’s also difficult to believe that the brand would take such creative liberty with the image without running it by the publicist, especially since it involves such a big celebrity.

Do you think Aishwarya Rai Bachchan should – or can – disassociate herself from the ad? Should Kalyan Jewellers retract the image and issue an apology? More importantly, when will India do away with blatantly racist advertisements?

Share, comment and let us know what you feel.