India Insight

Even corporations get offended

September 26, 2012

My travels in India have brought me into contact with many people, some of whom can be pretty touchy. When you’re a foreigner, you must watch what you say, even if you’re pointing at something that millions of people can see (conspicuous poverty, etc). I used to worry that I was the problem, but now I realize that there’s an argument going on day and night in India about whether to be offended by situation X, and if so, to what degree one should be offended.

In that spirit, I discovered that corporations, which in a sense are equivalent to humans (hence the name “corporation”) can be offended too. And if they aren’t offended, there is an interest group that will be offended on their behalf.

“The song of a yet-to-be-released Hindi film has got players of India Inc. seeing red,” wrote Lalatendu Mishra in the Sept. 26 edition of The Hindu:

Lines from this song make references to big corporate houses, including Birla, the Tatas, the Ambanis, as being “bloodsuckers”. The song carries overtones of the popular anti-corruption mood prevailing in the country. Chakravyuh, by filmmaker Prakash Jha, has a song that goes: “Birla ho ya Tata, Ambani ho ya Bata, Sabne apne chakkar mein des ko hai kaata. Are humre hi khoon se inka Engine chale dhakadhak. [Be it Birla or Tata, Ambani or Bata, everyone has exploited the nation for their own benefits; their engine runs on our blood].”

The Aditya Birla group might “take up the matter,” Mishra reported. The Indian Merchants Chamber, meanwhile, called the song “derogatory,” and the Confederation of Indian Industry described the lyrics as “incorrect.”

Reading this article in The Hindu reminds me of the song in Anurag Kashyap’s movie “Gulaal,” in which the singer entertains us with analogies (some profanity in this link) about how her lover touching her is like the planes hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11. I still find those lyrics chilling for many reasons, but what I kept returning to during the song was songwriter and actor Piyush Mishra’s line about Bisleri bottled water. I couldn’t help but wonder whether his use of the bottle as a symbol for a rich, plastic lifestyle offended the company. My answer at the time was, “probably not.” Maybe I should revisit that idea.

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