This “Call Me Maybe” Parody Perfectly Critiques Sexist Marriage Ads In India
We all agree that “Call Me Maybe” is a modern classic, right? These Indian grad students might agree, given that their reworking of the super-catchy tune in a “Call Me Maybe” parody critiquing sexism in marriage ads went viral. The parody, “Be Our Pondati” (“pondati” means wife in Tamil), features a woman outlining a series of impossible requirements for her son’s future wife and has been viewed over 800,000 times to date.
Marriage ads, which are common in India, are a lot like personal ads in the West but with the openly stated goal of getting married. These ads are often placed by the parents of single people and can be very specific, especially when it comes to prospective wives. Anything from family and religious background to caste, level of domesticity, skin color, height, and social media habits is fair game — much more so for women than for men.
Graduate students Asmita Ghosh and Anukripa Elango, who developed the video and lyrics for “Be Our Pondati,” created the parody to challenge these expectations. Speaking to Jezebel about the video, Ghosh said: “Those double standards stick out to us […] it is not okay to expect something from women, just because they are women.” In the video, a mother (played by fellow graduate student Krupa Varghese) asks for girls who are tall, thin, and fair and who don’t use Facebook or wear shorts to “submit samples of your round chapatis” to prove their suitability to marry her son.
“Be Our Pondati” outlines the restrictive standards traditionally placed upon wives in Indian culture: be a perfect homemaker, entirely modest, fair-skinned, and modelesque, and say goodbye to your social life, even online. “Once you get married,” Ghosh told Jezebel, “you have to put your ambitions, your friends or any social life you had on hold.” As the song says:
“Once you come into my house/ You will have no life/ Cause you’ll be a wife/ You will have no, no life.”
The video wasn’t originally intended as pointed social commentary. Ghosh and Elango simply posted it on YouTube after creating it for a song parody contest at their university. The lyrics were inspired by actual marriage ads, which obsessively emphasized women’s physical appearances (especially the fairness of their skin) and men’s material wealth. “It was solely about what would be funny, and what would help us win,” Elango said in the same interview.
Oppression of women is rife in pretty much every society, and as a result, shows up in advertising no matter where you are (i.e. this U.S. ad for Tom Ford). As Elango said to Jezebel, “Sexism and patriarchy is everywhere. It is just that it exists differently in different places, and this is one way it exists here.”
The creators of “Be Our Pondati” are hopeful that the video will open up discussion around expectations for women in marriage. Women in India do almost ten times as much unpaid work as men, which in turn keeps them out of the workforce and prevents them from getting paid or developing socioeconomic identities away from the home.
Finding new ways to examine these issues, especially in the less restricted space provided by online interaction, may be a positive step forward.