Pierce Brosnan-Pan Bahar row: Why Delhi government's legal notice to Bond star seems hypocritical

Gautam Chintamani

Apr 01, 2018 12:09:32 IST

The Delhi government's show-cause notice to actor Pierce Brosnan, over his appearance in an advertisement for a pan masala brand, has more than a hint of hypocrisy.

Let's quickly recap the case: In October 2016, Brosnan — who has starred in four James Bond films and was part of the popular detective TV show Remington Steele — was seen in an advert for Pan Bahar. Twitter had a meltdown, 'censor' chief Pahlaj Nihalani was most shocked, and the ad itself was pulled off air (read Firstpost's report of the row here).

While Pan Bahar stated that the product Brosnan was endorsing contained "no tobacco or nicotine", the backlash did not die down. Brosnan himself said he was unaware of the nature of the product and believed it was "mouth freshener".

Pierce Brosnan-Pan Bahar row: Why Delhi governments legal notice to Bond star seems hypocritical

Pierce Brosnan, the star of four James Bond films, appeared in the Pan Bahar advert in October 2016. Image via Facebook/@piercebrosnan

In February this year, the actor was issued the notice, asking him to explain his promotion of a substance that contains areca nut or supari, which it argues is a cancer-causing agent. The actor has expressed his sorrow and has also said that he was “cheated” by the company which kept him in the dark about the “hazardous” nature of the product. Incidentally, Brosnan lost his wife of 11 years and his step-daughter to ovarian cancer.

Although the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 prohibits all direct and indirect advertisements of tobacco products, the legal notice to Brosnan does seem odd when several Indian celebrities have done the same without inviting the metaphorical rap on the knuckles.

A majority of Indians between the ages of 35 and 45 would have memories of actors such as Ashok Kumar, Shammi Kapoor and Jalal Agha endorsing the pan masala brand, Pan Parag. Yet another star from the 1970-80s who endorsed pan masala was Vinod Khanna. Khanna not only imparted a sense of ‘respectability’ to pan masala but also, in a sense, made it attractive to the younger lot. He was among the first mainstream stars to endorse zarda (Baba Zarda) that is known to contain tobacco — a category that was later banned.

Other stars who have been associated with a pan masala brand in one way or another include Akshay Kumar, Priyanka Chopra, Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Govinda, Manoj Bajpai and Rajneesh Duggal. Most of their commercials leave little to the imagination as they link the consumption of this product with their success. Despite these stars having a bigger influence on young impressionable minds in India, they rarely witness the kind of flak that came Brosnan’s way. Barring mild chastisement, almost all these stars seem to have got a free pass.

Brosnan may have thought of his Pan Bahar outing as an extension of his Reid & Taylor endorsement — a 'foreign' sounding brand that was in fact, entirely Indian. Brosnan’s association with the suiting brand gave it a global touch, and helped create the aspirational value the latter was no doubt aiming for. Pan Bahar of course proved to be a huge mismatch — there's no way anyone might associate the product with 'James Bond'.

In Brosnan’s case, the actor may have been misled, but what excuse do Indian stars — fully aware of the product they are endorsing — have? We have a Kangana Ranaut, Swara Bhaskar or Ranbir Kapoor who have refused to promote fairness creams. Or a P Gopichand who said no to a deal from a global cola giant. But what explains others like Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, John Abraham, Sonam Kapoor, Shahid Kapoor, Ileana D'Cruz, Vidya Balan, Sidharth Malhotra — all of whom promote fairness creams? Or Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn associating with a pan masala brand? When it comes to fairness creams, the chances of some actor not understanding the ramifications of signing up with a brand that also includes fairness or lightening creams under its umbrella are high, but by and large many young actors and stars seem to have no qualms in promoting colourism.

The difference lies in the intent behind it all.

Updated Date: Apr 01, 2018 12:22:45 IST

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