When All Out came up with its “Tough Moms” campaign in early 2018, it became an instant hit for its message – when mothers are tough on their kids, support them, for they do it for the kids’ good. Shared by even the most seemingly-liberal women and hailed as “Bang on!” by everyone, I thought it must be something good. And then I watched it. “Bullshit!” was my first response when the ad finished. Packaged and marketed as a mom-centric ad, trying to explain why it was important for the mom in the ad to punish her young son for stealing 10 rupees from his dad, it portrayed a whole load of patriarchal crap which was called out or criticized nowhere in the ad. But oh yeah! It did have one message – the one they marketed, which fell flat against the entire background of misogyny.
The rest of the family including the kids at the dining table, already having their food, while the younger women, most probably the ‘bahus’ serving everyone instead of joining them and having a meal together is just the start of a cliched ‘normal family’ set-up they portray. It would still have not stood out too much had the family portrayed in the ad was a friendly, happy one. (Not that I would still approve of it personally.) In fact, if the ad showed a friendly family asking the woman nicely if she was being too harsh on the kid considering his age and how it was only a matter of 10 rupees and her explaining to them why it was necessary, the ad would have served its purpose. But the dialogues and expressions given to the rest of the family members are so abusive without even a hint of subtle evil, that you should immediately be able to pick up the fact that the ‘bahu’ in question is no better than a slave in the household. The elder women taunt her in front of everyone including her son, even talking ill about her family and upbringing. What’s worse, her husband, the kid’s father, makes the cheapest statement of the lot when he says “Tere baap ka paisa nahi” which is an outright insult and means “It wasn’t your father’s money he took.”
After all this assholery, the patriarch, the ultimate master of the family, steals the show and shuts them up by raising his voice and telling them how the kid deserved his punishment so that he doesn’t end up stealing more or committing more serious crimes in future. And the viewers were all like “Wah! What a message Sirjee!” When in fact, this guy should have been worried that the kid would grow up to be a complete asshole who doesn’t respect women, especially the one he gets married to – because that was his upbringing in this elite family. He should have shut them up by asking them to treat this woman with respect. He should have asked the elderly women to mind their words and change their attitude. He should have asked his son to have some shame in joining the others and insulting the woman he married instead of supporting her, and worse yet, for being a shitty parent by not correcting his kid’s mistakes and belittling his mother in front of everyone. He should have told them that their mind-numbingly degrading statements and attitude towards the younger women in the family was a bad example for the kids who were going to ape them when they would be grown up. But no, he couldn’t say any of that because he himself was a representative and enabler of the pathetic mindset deep-rooted in that family for ages – which is why he was able to shut them up. Not because they understood even a part of the mistake, the tiny bit he chose to address, but because they feared him.
I was shocked by all the praise that this ad got. I couldn’t believe people did not see how regressive the entire thing was. I understand it now though because for the past so many days I have been reading viewer reviews of “Thappad”. I wanted to see genuine positive and negative reviews of the movie so that I could decide whether to give it a miss or not. I would have understood and accepted negative reviews on the lines of how the movie was slow or any issues people had with other technicalities. But almost every negative viewer review I read on multiple pages and under multiple posts said the same thing – that it was a lame movie based on a lame plot, because no woman should get a divorce only because her husband slapped her once. That was the only problem they had with this movie.
The very point that the movie was trying to make went over their heads because they believe that in any healthy relationship, a slap – that too something that happened once in a fit of rage – should not be blown out of proportion and used as a reason to break the relationship. They couldn’t see that this slap was a culmination of so many other wrongs, which are sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit in a toxic marriage. What’s sad and still not really surprising anymore is the fact that a huge number of these reviews came from women – the ‘uttam naris’ of India who with their pea-sized brains couldn’t get the message that any person – man or woman – who resorts to violence in any form as an impulse is not a person you should be living with, out of love, respect, fear or obligation. That the very fact that a person attacks someone out of anger, frustration or any other reason, even if it is a one-time thing, is something to be deeply worried of. And when that is coupled with cliched patriarchal routines that make up one’s life, it can very well become an entitlement.
A failure to see how respect is an absolute essential for a relationship and a family is precisely why the very same people have lauded the “Tough Moms” ad. Because for them, except for defending a child who committed a crime like stealing, there was nothing wrong about the ad. Theft – most definitely wrong. Harassment and abuse of a woman by her husband and family? – Not so much!