By Team FI
Following Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s PR agency’s defensive response, activists question the actress’ power to control the final output of the ad she is featured in and ask the actress to make a categorical statement for responsible and progressive advertising.
The PR Agency, Imagesmiths issued a statement claiming that the image was photo-shopped and the final layout of the advertisement was decided by the creative team.
Activists who had protested against the advertisement have replied with another open letter questioning the PR agency’s defensive position.
Here is the full text of the letter:
Dear Archana Sadanand,
We were forwarded your message by Scroll.in, in response to our Open Letter to Mrs. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, about her association with a racist advertisement. Thank you very much for the message and implicit acknowledgement that there is a serious concern here.
With reference to the photo of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan that you have widely circulated, which was taken during the shoot itself (without the slave-child holding an umbrella), we have no doubt that this is in fact how many advertisements are shot, first with a single model, and then two or more images may be put together to create a final layout by a creative advertising team.
However, we equally have no doubt that a star of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s stature, and indeed even lesser known models, approve of the final image that will be put out in public. In your response you say that, “The final layout of the ad is entirely the prerogative of the creative team for a brand.” We hope you are not in any way suggesting that a creative advertising team is free to do what they like once Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has done her photo shoot.
Do they really have the license to photoshop her image in ANY manner and simply put out the advertisement? She surely retains some measure, if not full control over her own public image projection. Your response makes it seem that a star like her is powerless, and her image is controlled entirely by the brand she endorses and the advertising agency. That seems not only disingenuous, but quite disrespectful to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. We do sincerely hope neither is the case, and feel compelled to ask if she herself has authorized you to project her in this manner, as the victim of a photo shoot beyond her control?
Therefore, this photo of the ‘actual’ shoot, without the slave-child, does little to absolve a star brand ambassador of responsibility for the advertisement as it has finally appeared – glorifying and creating desire around child slavery. This may not have been the intention, but has been a grave lapse.
As a corrective measure to this lapse, you have suggested in your response that you – “shall forward your article as a viewpoint that can be taken into consideration by the creative team of professional working on the brand visual communication.”
First, we do wish to disagree that this is simply a matter of ‘our viewpoint’ and we have in our Open Letter gone to great pains to demonstrate through photographic evidence the direct inspiration for this enduring fantasy image – which is colonial, racist portraiture of white women posing with black child slaves.
Second, this advertisement has already done much harm – both in terms of its racist and child slavery content, and in terms of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s image. We, therefore hope that she will respond with due consideration to the strong sentiment that has been evoked against her association with this advertisement. And, it is perhaps inadequate for the issue to be merely “taken into consideration by the creative team…,” as you have proposed.
May we therefore suggest that it would be far more constructive and befitting for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to demonstrate that she is indeed fully in control of the ethics of her public image, and has the humility to acknowledge a lapse? Yes, she is a star. But, we hope she accepts her stardom with full sense of social responsibility, and has the power to acknowledge that she is also human and capable of error.
We request that you communicate to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan that she should play a visible role in ensuring withdrawal of this offensive image, and make it publicly known through a statement, that she has done so; making it explicit that she alone has the right to control her image; and stating categorically that she not only stands strongly against racism, slavery, and child labour of any kind, but also importantly stands for responsible and progressive advertising.
We do look forward to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s response on this.
Farah Naqvi, Writer and Feminist Activist
Nisha Agrawal, CEO, Oxfam India
Enakshi Ganguly & Bharti Ali, Co-Directors, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights
Madhu Mehra, Executive Director, Partners for Law in Development
Shantha Sinha, former Chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)
Harsh Mander, Centre for Equity Studies
Mridula Bajaj, Executive Director, Mobile Creches