The latest Prega News commercial is an inspired attempt to create awareness around the issue of infertility. Featuring Mona Singh, it raises a pertinent point rather tenderly while avoiding clichés
By Manjulaa Shirodkar
Last week I had the good fortune to be invited to the 12th edition of ‘Bhartiya Patrkaarita Mahotsav’, the annual journalists’ convention in Indore organized by State Press Club, Madhya Pradesh. As a speaker on the panel discussing ‘Women Issues and Media,’ I realised there were two aspects to the subject. One, that it could be about ‘women professionals in media’ and two, it could also be looking at ‘portrayal of women in media’.
And while both merit equal attention, its ‘portrayal of women in media’ which brings to mind Prega News’ latest and very sensitive ad film which seeks to create awareness around infertility.
When it comes to discussing a delicate subject like infertility, there are hardly any conversations going around. And when someone does bring it up, its invariably in hush, hush tones. Yet, studies show that 1 in 6 couples in urban India battle infertility. Did you know that? I didn’t, and am still in shock over this mind-boggling statistic. Plus, infertility is one issue which firmly remains ensconced in the lap of the woman, even if the man needs to double check his own status.
The saddest of all is that dialogues around this very critical topic are highlighted through clichés. Just about no one, not even subconsciously, wants to think beyond the obvious, so strong are our socio-cultural mores. So when Prega News’ ad very bravely celebrates a woman for who she is rather than who she will bear or when, while keeping the focus on infertility – it demands a second, third and fourth look for sure.
Created by SG Dream Media comprising a young, dynamic team helmed by Shweta Sethi Bhuchar and Gaurav Bhardwaj, this ad came about during conversations with Prega News’ team which wanted a campaign for Women’s Day. They wanted “a film with a positive thought,” shares Bhardwaj, the film’s director. “We had actually given them three ideas and they loved this one. We were clear that we needed a film which will bring out the normal, everyday incidents of any woman’s life.”
In the film Mona Singh (you may remember her as Jassi from the cult serial Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin) plays Lata, a school teacher, the elder daughter-in-law in a joint family, and a multi-tasker at home like any other woman. She is clearly the favourite bahu and bhabhi. So, when the younger daughter-in-law becomes pregnant and celebrations begin, Lata is participative and tries her level best to remain cheerful.
Even though she has very supportive in-laws, its obvious that on a personal level she is trying to come to terms with her condition of infertility. Lata is finally acknowledged by her devrani as the bond that keeps the whole family together. The latter wants to name her child Latika – after Lata.
“We were also very clear that in the end, it wouldn’t be a man – her husband or father-in-law who acknowledges Lata’s role in the household. That too would have stolen her limelight – with a male figure being benign. And that too is a cliche. She had to be commended and acknowledged as a hero by one of her own,” offers Shweta. So it’s the younger sister-in-law who walks upto Lata and says that ‘Lata bhabhi is my inspiration’ acknowledging that she is a complete woman. Suddenly Lata is no longer defined by the conventional modes of what makes her special or what completes her.
With all the noise around woman empowerment these days, it appears as though empowerment is the entitlement of an urban woman alone! Somehow all the depictions revolve around that. “As a woman I find it very irritating when I see so many clichés going around in the name of woman empowerment,” states Shweta. “Why is it, for eg. that for a woman to be shown as someone in power, she is always portrayed in business suits carrying branded bags and accessories?” Why indeed.
“Our emphasis,” explains Bhardwaj, “was to set the film in a B-Tier city, in a joint family, where she has to be travelling by public transport, where she is working a regular job, is the primary caregiver to her in-laws, takes care of the younger siblings and more. Where nobody is looking down on her or passing snide remarks because of her medical condition.”
The concept is the brainchild of Shweta and stems from her own life’s story. “My elder sister Ruby Sethi Kanth went through three miscarriages in the first, third and sixth year of her marriage, after which she developed Tuberculosis. She was medically advised not to try for another child for at least another five years.
“I carried around a huge burden in my heart, knowing that while I had conceived in the first year of my marriage itself, she continued to suffer. She is a soft-spoken, lovely human being, loved and respected by everyone who knows her. She didn’t deserve any of this. As a sister, I felt really bad that I was in the midst of celebrations while Ruby was unhappy. There were times when I vowed that I would not dream of having another child unless she too could be a mother.
“Her in-laws are wonderful people from Bihar. There was no pressure on her to have a child, they were entirely supportive of her and encouraged her to build her career, focus on her self-growth – insisting instead, that a child needn’t be the focus of her life. They helped her find her true purpose. She’s a corporate trainer today.
“On his part, her husband accompanied Ruby to the clinics for all her check-ups and was more than open to the idea of getting himself checked and would come back and share his results with the family. Quite unlike the men we see around us. On her part, she tried to be happy and cheerful but I knew she was going through an internal struggle. I have seen her go through so much pain till she could finally conceive and have a safe pregnancy several years into her marriage.”
Singh’s character in the film is patterned on Ruby and, is the voice and portrayal of women we see all around us every day. We just fail to acknowledge how special they are, as they are. Instead they are stigmatized and held responsible for infertility like it’s a problem of their making without realizing the mental damage being caused. We need to be kinder to our women, take better care of them and applaud them for all the roles they play in our lives rather than strait-jacket them into pre-defined roles.
Infertility and the burden of it is really an internal struggle and very much an issue that needs to be highlighted and talked about more often, and loudly. Mankind Pharma, the company behind Prega News works out of a space of creating ‘be kind’ campaigns, and this latest film is easily the jewel in their crown.
Sensitive portrayal of women in media, by media is an issue too and going forward we need to provide safe, non-judgmental spaces for our women so that they may prosper and we as a society evolve too.
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Manjulaa Shirodkar (nee Negi) is an established film critic and author, having worked in leading national publications. She is also a Film Selection Committee member for various film festivals.